“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth.” ―
When it comes to the horror genre, what is truly terrifying? Is it the popular jumpscare tactic that Five Nights at Freddy’s employs? Or perhaps the zombie shooter Resident Evil franchise that keeps players on their toes? Maybe the nearly-urban legend P.T. that mentally exhausts players is the pinnacle of scary games? Fans of all that is spooky will debate til the end of time what makes a good horror game great, but few will argue for the lingering, cerebral fear mechanics that stay long after the controllers have been put away.
It seems like everyone feels confident in their personally-crafted strategy for surviving the zombie apocalypse, but few can answer how they’ll pull through an existential crisis despite facing one every Sunday night. Where the presence of ghastly figures may be terrifying, how many of us slowly lose contact with friends and family over the years until the sudden realization — “Oh God, I am alone.” And while a jumpscare can be undeniably frightening, it’s only temporary; being abandoned by those you depend upon, however, will permanently change you.
Isolation, abandonment, and existentialism are merely a few of the topics covered in the literary classic Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus written by Mary Shelley in 1818, and it’s these everyday real and present terrors La Belle Games beautifully depicted in The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature.
The premise is simple — players take on the role of The Creature, the abomination produced by Victor Frankenstein. Unlike the novel, where The Creature’s perspective is relayed to us through several different layers of narrators, La Belle Games chose to show us a retelling of his account through his own eyes. The Creature’s emotions, experiences, and personal growth are all conveyed to us from The Creature himself, giving us a very raw, very real depiction of what it would feel like to be a gentle soul whose very existence is an affront to God.
At first, there was nothing; then, there was light. So begins The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature, as players begin to take control of a cloaked figure up against the wall. He moves slowly, the room only coming into a grayish focus as he lumbers rigidly across the room. It’s as if he hadn’t used his limbs in a long time.
After exiting the strange home (which he remarked he’d later learn was a gruesome birthplace), The Creature’s world becomes a little more colorful. Bright and airy, his mood is elevated, and he races around the grassy area, eager to learn everything about this stunning new world. Eventually, he tires himself out, but comes to in a small corner of the woods. This place, with its vivid colors and beautiful lighting, is the first that is truly crisp and distinct; here in nature, this unnatural being feels at home.
The Creature’s world continues to expand as he chances upon a village. At first, he’s merely curious about the town and its inhabitants, but he soon learns they do not return the sentiments; for reasons unbeknownst to him, the beings contort their faces in anger, surround him with pitchforks and fire, and even throw stones at him.
At this point, he is faced with a choice: does he hurt those who have hurt him, or does he turn the other cheek? It is up to the player to make this decision — the first of many.
Licking his wounds, The Creature flees to a small hovel attached to a quaint wooden cottage. He spends a full year here, observing a small family and insatiably learning all he can about mankind. It is here where he tries to be loved, and it is here where he learns rejection yet again. Players watch as the family they’d become attached to for entire seasons — tending their fields, chopping their wood, and learning of their ways in secret — cast him out from the only source of warmth and belonging he’d ever known, even if it was one-sided.
I could keep going, but I don’t think I’ll spoil the story — even those who remember reading Shelley’s masterpiece from high school will find slight differences in this insanely gorgeous retelling, so this experience will feel only slightly familiar even to the most veteran of English lit fans. Still, it pulls enough from the classic novel that it will most certainly enhance players’ understanding of the book, acting as a companion piece of sorts.
Going into this, like most people, I was immediately drawn to the awe-inspiring visuals of The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature. The water-colors are reminiscent of another French indie game, Gris, and the vocals also evoke a similar feel. But where Gris told a story left up to interpretation, The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature boldly takes one of Halloween’s most beloved yet most forgotten tale and masterfully consumes the player, transporting them into the very mind of this wretched being, his experiences becoming their own.
For example, there was a point where some village children, too young to have learned fear, invited The Creature back to their homes. The Creature followed, not knowing what was awaiting him at the other end. It’s easy to assume it won’t go over well since, on the player end, we can anticipate what happens next, but the bucolic, serene atmosphere hinted at nothing but a pleasant experience…
…until the first rock was thrown, and suddenly the charming, delightful mood went cold and dark, with jarring music matching the tense, confused tone. While playing, my hair stood on end, and even now as I write this I feel the familiar goosebumps.
La Belle Games has achieved something so few teams can even dream of doing, and that’s making players legitimately come from a place of birth — of knowing nothing — to learning fear for the very first time. How confidently I approached the deer in the woods for the first time, my first encounter with another sentient life form. How curiously I studied the children playing ball, even kicking it around with them at their amusement. Yet how cautiously I approached the family in the cottage, feeling my heart rate nearly explode as I snuck in to borrow their books.
I felt joyful when making a connection with the deer, and pleasantly surprised while playing with the children; after being surrounded by the angry mob with every intent to harm me, I — through every fiber of The Creature’s being — learned what it was like to feel fear for the first time, as if the first time I tasted it at the age of four had ever happened, as if I had never known fear. Why did I feel this way? Because I was so in-tune with The Creature’s psyche. He had never felt this way before, so it stands to reason that I wouldn’t have either. That’s how well the game conveyed a sense of character to me, and that’s why this game deserves the highest of praises.
I could continue on about how the music is incredible (if Gris met Octopath Traveler) or how the visuals are some of the best you’ll see this year, but honestly, words feel cheap when it comes to recounting what I experienced. This is really one of those games that can change you because it makes you feel something that you thought you’d lost in your youth and would never experience again. Yet that reaction I had after the first stone was cast awakened in me something absolutely visceral — the pain and suffering of rejection by others due to the abandonment of those who were supposed to care for you. My creator, neglectful, should have gently eased me into my understanding of the world and shielded me in my youth; instead, I painfully learned that others feared me, and I, in turn, feared them.
After playing The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature, I immediately ordered a copy of the original novel and read the Spark Notes version until I fell asleep. This tired, forgotten Halloween classic suddenly became the most fascinating, and absolutely begged the question — in a season focused solely on all that is scary, certainly abandonment by everyone you know and love, feeling completely and utterly alone, wandering listlessly through life without reason with your only purpose being to hide from everyone is truly terrifying?
Or, perhaps, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — at least, learning what fear is all over again.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Switch, Android, iOS; Publisher: ARTE; Developer: La Belle Games; Players: 1; Released: October 31, 2019; MSRP: $15.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature given to the reviewer by the publisher.