App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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I have built up a pretty high degree of skepticism heading into experiences like The Wreck over the years. Games focused emotional narratives are all well and good, but I've played a few too many that feel content to just make emotive moments without doing much with them or saying much about them. I had some amount of hope knowing that this game was from the developers behind Bury me, my Love, though, a game that I really enjoyed for its strong writing and compelling story despite being pretty visually bland. As it turns out, I had good reason for my optimism, as The Wreck tells a brilliantly crafted and meaningful narrative with incredible art direction to boot.
The Wreck tells the story of a woman named Junon arriving at a hospital to learn that her mother, a famous artist, has had a medical episode leaving her impaired and unable to make decisions for her own care. This kicks off a series of conversations, flashbacks, and other vignettes that examine familial relationships, misogyny, generational trauma, grief, and more.
The story plays out through a kind of "stop-motion" polygonal style where people and scenes are 3-D modeled but generally switch poses or make simple movements as opposed having full range of smooth motion. Your viewpoint acts as a camera on the action, though, and typically does move smoothly and cinematically through scenes as needed. For the most part, gameplay consists of making dialog choices for Junon, though certain sequences will also have you using limited camera control or tapping on words written over scenes to activate the next narrative sequence.
No puzzles, just pacing
The primary focus of The Wreck is on storytelling, to the point that there aren't really any puzzles or other moments where you aren't just moving to the next set of dialog. Certain scenes are somewhat interactive, but even those are directed to the point that you can only activate certain things in a specific order. This may sound somewhat dull, but it helps ensure The Wreck doesn't lull around and drag out, which ultimately works in its favor.
In the moments where you do get player agency, it's typically around choosing how Junon responds to a certain situation or continues down a certain line of thought. With so many dialog choices, you may think that The Wreck is this branching narrative that can reveal different stories or content based on what you choose, but again, this isn't really the case. The choices are the way you end up connecting with and embodying Junon, and making these choices helps prepare you for some of the late-game reveals and make them that much more impactful.
Stylish and smart
Describing how The Wreck plays makes it sound pretty uninteresting, and it probably would be if not for the games impeccable sense of style and sharp writing. Over the course of playing this game, there are countless examples of perfect little visual flourishes or surprisingly cinematic framing. These things act as the backdrop to some intense and deep writing of a style that takes a little bit time to warm up to and doesn't always land the way it feels like it should, but definitely has more highs than lows and is capable of being quite funny, insightful, or even devastatingly sad (and sometimes all of these things at once).
The Wreck is also fully voice acted and is generally well done. There are some small moments where it feels like characters drop or change their accents on some line reads, but otherwise all of it is really well delivered and further heightens the drama that plays out. The only real complaints I have about The Wreck are its somewhat uneven start (before you really get a sense of what the story is about and how the game is structured, which is also basically the free portion of the game) and the fact that this mobile version controls fine but seems to have an invisible cursor that will sometimes highlight dialog choices in ways that can be a little distracting and confusing.
The bottom line
The Wreck is exactly what I was hoping for as a next step from the creators of Bury me, my Love. The same high quality writing and storytelling is here intact, but now with a budget that allows for much more compelling visuals and audio. More importantly, it tells a meaningful story of painful introspection and does so with grace, style, and a lot more nuance than most other games that have tried to do something similar.