One man indie games seem to be a total toss-up as far as their quality goes. Some of them, like Dust: An Elysian Tail and The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile are noted for their quality. Others, like anything made by Digital Homicide, is more noted for their lack of quality. This Strange Realm of Mine is a first-person shooter that combines some horror elements, poetry, and a bunch of other genres into one interesting art style. Does it manage to stand with the good indie projects, or should you forget about it?
At the beginning of Strange Realm, you'll be asked to create a character who then promptly dies. However, it seems like death isn't really the end as you then wake up again inside of a mysterious cave full of monsters with little other than a torch to help you. It isn't long before you come across a nearly empty tavern, with only its owner Ulrich there to explain whats going on. You then begin hopping through various realms, trying to figure out the meaning of life, what lies beyond death, and a whole lot of philosophy in between.
As you journey through the realms you'll meet various characters, each of whom has their own philosophical views that they're more than happy to share with you if you bring them back to the tavern. An anthropomorphic rat (named Rat funny enough) always wants to share her poetry with you, Pistil provides a barrage of overly optimistic feelings, while Jack-Daw muses on crowd control and how to retain free will in a mob. If you're interested in philosophy then you should get something out of Strange Realm, as the game is more than happy to shotgun theories at you to see what sticks. If you're not, you at least don't have to listen to it as you can always just not talk to your friends at the tavern.
The story itself plays more like a group of short stories, with each realm having its own self-contained tale. You could be helping an astronaut fight back Facehugger-esque aliens that he accidentally created or saving a woman who is trapped on a floating island by building a raft. All of the stories are simple, though the only one that really drew me in involved a cult taking over a small town and brainwashing its citizens. While I may not have been engaged by all the stories, I did appreciate how they all tied in with the general philosophical themes of the game and how the characters would be shaped by each experience.
A good chunk of Strange Realms is a first person shooter, with you going through simple levels and shooting what ever stands in your way. The game is closer to a classic early 90s FPS like Wolfenstein 3D or Doom thanks to its use of 2D pixel art for all of the characters and enemies, and you won't be aiming down your sights during combat. There are only a few different guns in the game (I counted five total) and they'll all act exactly as you'd expect. Most of the enemies aren't unique either, either being weird zombies that try to close in to strike or a section that involves a gang of anthropomorphic rats that shoot at you.
While there's not much unique in Strange Realms' gunplay, what's here is quite satisfying. Each shot feels powerful, with a solid bang and good feedback when you land your shots. Blood spurts out of your targets, and getting up close with a shotgun blows them to chunks just like I'd expect. While all of that is fun to use, the game makes constant attempts to stick you with melee weapons which don't feel nearly as good. Often I was left confused as to what my range was and felt that I was taking more hits than I really should have. Ultimately I wish the game stuck to its guns more often.
Interestingly enough, the game doesn't seem very content to stay a first person shooter very often. The opening segment of the game reminded me more of Slither.io and had me playing as a blob of light that needed to eat smaller blobs of light. A later segment turned the game into a 2D sidescroller where I needed to kill spiders to gather string for a raft. Even when the game is in the first person, it's not always content to be a shooter. One level had me flying down a river on a raft trying to dodge traps, while another played like a Minecraft parody and required me to punch trees to collect wood.
These breaks from the shooting can lead to the game's strongest moments. I think it reached a peak with the level Confronting Discomfort, a strange level where you play as someone with severe social anxiety. Your goal is simple: just deliver a piece of mail that accidentally showed up at your door to the post office. When you leave your room, the citizens you see are strange and ghoulish and approaching one causes the character to have a panic attack that is complete with hyperventilation, messed up visuals and a slowly draining health bar. You can retreat to your room to recover (that's where the health packs are), but ultimately your goal is to navigate your way through the city without losing yourself. It's a strong level that provides the type of easily relatable conflict that you don't see in games too often.
Unfortunately, these breaks can also lead to the game's weakest moments. The aforementioned 2D platformer segment never felt good, both because the platforming felt overly sensitive and because I was totally invincible during this segment. Since there was no challenge presented, it felt like the job of having to collect webs from the spiders was just sort of filler. Another annoying segment saw me piloting an airship, but all I really had to do was spend about ten minutes wandering around looking for an exit. It was always a bit hit or miss if I would enjoy the breaks from shooting, but thankfully there were at least more hits than misses.
I also really enjoyed the visual package that Strange Realm was presenting. The 2D characters in a 3D space stand out, and there's some strong pixel art that makes everything look unique and well made. Each character's design was well done, and the way the later game really made use of crazy art to try and convey some message was really interesting. The game's soundtrack is especially strong, and there are several tunes on it that really helped pull me into the moment. Even if I hated the airship piloting segment at least I had some nice tunes to accompany it, making it a little more bearable.
I was quite happy with This Strange Realm of Mine by the end of it. It's held back at times from some weaker moments, but a weird psychological story and some fun gameplay help carry the game. Even during the game's weakest moments, I was always impressed with the fact that only one person worked on This Strange Realm of Mine, and there were several times I actually couldn't believe the game was the work of a solo developer. This is a realm you should get lost in.
Our This Strange Realm of Mine review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
Containing some really interesting philosophy between bouts of fun classic FPS gameplay, This Strange Realm of Mine is worth checking out.
- Philosophy Heavy Plot
- Fun Gunplay
- Real Standout Levels
- Great Soundtrack
- Some Realms Have Dull Plots
- Focus on Uninteresting Melee Combat
- Some Breaks from FPS Don't Work