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The Wreck (XS)

The Wreck (XS) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 14 April 2023 / 2,597 Views

Reviewer’s Note: Due to how specific story elements inform my critiques, I should stress there will be MODERATE SPOILERS down below.  Obviously, I’ll try to avoid spelling out as much as I can, but read on at your own risk.

Were I to give anyone five free chances, it's unlikely they'd guess The Wreck's opening seconds.  The title and synopsis seem simple, after all.  Instead of hopping to an accident, we're staring at the title's namesake as a new file on the Screenplayer app.  The industry-standard Courier 12 pt font starts coloring the blank page and subsequently transporting you into the script.  The player-character, Junon, shortly arrives at a quaint countryside hospital for her ill mother.  From there, a quick succession of events prompts her to fly away in her car, inevitably leading to an accident.  It's an uncomfortable start – especially for the faint of heart, which is what writers Coralie & Florent Maurin are after.

Junon leaves the hospital after processing her mother's situation: she has a nasty aneurysm that’s likely to be deadly or disabling.  If the latter, the responsibility falls on Junon as the ill-fated signer on how to proceed.  Now a cocktail of stressful emotions, she bolts to the car and takes off.  After a deer strolls into the road, she careens out of its way, over-corrects the wheel, and rolls the car.  Various loose items are floating every which way as she’s in a suspended state behind the wheel.  One of those objects comes into frame – be it a toothbrush or compact mirror – with a subtle white outline; clicking on it transports you elsewhere in her unconscious mind.

Although you're moving a mouse cursor and clicking on something – typically white-colored words scrawled within the world - your interactions aren't necessarily about solving puzzles.  It's more akin to Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind: Jonun’s a disembodied voice examining moments within a vignette and constantly fast-forwarding or rewinding the endless loop to find the white font nestled in certain areas.  Clicking these will prompt her to continue monologuing as you uncover the next one and the next one.  Think of it like an extended tracking shot circumnavigating around a donut that can spin in either direction; sometimes the means of progressing/rewinding is subtly tweaked, but the principle remains the same.

It'll quickly make sense what The Pixel Hunt is going for: you're not so much solving a basic puzzle but instead mining for greater clarity.  As you're spinning this donut in either direction, she's expounding about what each of these little breadcrumbs means until reaching a natural conclusion.  After that, you're transported back to the hospital to see how the present-day events actually played out; a reset button for the next cycle.  Once back there, the only gameplay comes from occasionally clicking her internal thoughts to reveal another potential dialogue option, which only alters some lines.  As you conclude square one (again), Junon gets another excuse to escape the hospital, get in the same slow-mo accident, click on another item, and investigate the next pivotal point in her life.

For such a limited template of a visual novel, there's substantial thematic context supporting this cyclical structure.  To see how present-day Junon is so used to dissimulating her feelings and then exploring her authentic past bit by bit is a great approach.  It also says something about her familial & romantic relationships when this recycled accident is the catalyst for her honesty.  Similar to Hindsight, The Wreck is a good candidate to examine mechanics & meaning in a game school: crafting a time loop mechanic that’s analyzing previous cycles of one's life.

Unfortunately, the tactile sensations of mining are lackluster.  I’m practically compelled to recommend the PC version by default simply so you avoid the controller-cursor plague.  No matter the sensitivity, I never found a suitable sweet spot – never mind disliking this template on principle.  And though revisiting the car accident carries important weight, the repetition (with only subtle tweaks) feels like slamming the gas and brake pedal at the same time.  After the fourth, fifth, sixth time you've already internalized the point but still have to see it over and over for a 4-hour runtime; moreover, you're more anxious to skip past the initial present-day scene since you know it's fabricated. 

For a mechanically-limited visual novel (as most are), it's a case of half-measures more appreciated in a scholastic setting than when playing.  True, the time loop structure is a satisfying conceit, yet I'm often yearning to do more beyond dragging a cursor to click on big-font words.  Give me more options to interact with the environment or indulge in small detours.  Things that can distract from its rigid structure and sluggish pacing.

It's a shame too because Junon's story has some novelty in today’s age.  The way she has to navigate her past loss while her haughty single mother is at her weakest point is unexpectedly mature in its approach.  The toxic femininity both her and her sister had to deal with is diligently explored.  One such example examines Diane's new lesbian relationship.  Instead of being elated to see a happy couple, she focuses her cheers towards them "smashing the fetters of heteronormativity" (paraphrasing her words).  Several disparate time loops interrogate this corrosive viewpoint, as though she primarily raised them as agents of activism instead of young daughters. 

One of the storytelling's best qualities is tying seemingly scenic detours back into the highlighted accident.  Junon reframes each crucial bond in relation to this colossal wreck, from her mother to her ex-husband.  While most character dynamics feel adequately explored, the resulting fallout between her and Alex is the odd one out.  Saying "people are complicated" can be easily understood as to why a marriage can fall apart, yet something about the rationales in this case don’t feel as earned.  Tie this in while also getting bored with the recycled accident footage and it’s safe to see why the middle chapters are the least engaging.

Story presentation is… not quite as consistent for such a narrative-heavy title either.  Sharlit Deyzac & co. do their best with "Frenglish," but not enough for me to try switching to French voice with English subtitles; to my surprise, you're stuck with this crew.  It should come as less of a surprise for yet another visual novel to run on Unity too.  It’s not a real looker by these limited standards, but makes up for it with panache.  It's the little touches, like the pause menu being Junon's screenplay or the creative methods of visual storytelling in some vignettes - complimented by Adrien Larouzée's nice soundtrack - that keep your attention.  The Pixel Hunt knows a few tricks to cover up other blemishes.

After all the pieces have been placed and THE END is scrawled onto Junon's script, there's a true sense of finality once the last dialogue choice is made.  While the draft is complete, it's also somewhat at odds with its cyclical structure.  How it explores these themes – the recurring cycles of trauma, reckoning with losing a loved one, the inability to fully appreciate events in the moment – and marries them with its limited mechanics can be red meat for good YouTube essays.  But how it ties mechanics with meaning leads to annoying repetition and diminished involvement over time.  A hearty recommendation for visual novel aficionados based on its story, but I wish The Wreck left more of a dent on me.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of The Wreck for the XS

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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coolbeans (on 14 April 2023)

Game aside, the boxart is one of my favorites of the year. 10/10 on that front!

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