A beautiful monster
I have been interested lately, (because of the recent Elden Ring accessibility discourse), in the amount of information withholding or knowledge barriers that should be exercised to encourage the players to discover and introspect on the hidden meanings of the narrative. The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature nails this aspect in gaming, and not does it only speak volumes through its silent yet beautiful landscapes, but it can also be considered a new stride in the evaluation of games as an art form, in a very similar manner to GRIS and Behind the Frame.
There is a lot of love that went into creating this amazing experience, but understanding most of it depends on knowing the original story and themes of the Gothic novel Frankenstein, written by the English novelist Mary Shelley. I will try to provide a small summary of the original story and hint at the relevant points to the discussion of what this game achieves. However, to fully appreciate this game, you have to consider it as a companion piece to the story of Frankenstein, and not as its own stand-alone experience, or at least, that’s how I have personally come to appreciate it.
Release Date: March 15th, 2022 (USA) March 16th, 2022 (EU)
Developer: La Belle Games, ARTE France
Publisher: ARTE France
Availability: Microsoft Store, PSN, Steam, Nintendo eShop
Note: Before attempting this game, it’s important to try the prequel story that is available for free on the developer’s website.
Frankenstein, often called the “modern Prometheus,” tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. I think everyone knows or has heard about this story, in the simple context of gothic horror, and most of its real influences and motifs often go undiscussed. It’s very important to realize the literary and religious influences that were a big part of the discord between Victor, the scientist, and the monster he created, along with the setting of the novel, as it will play a great deal into the artistic direction of The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature.
Probably the two main prevalent themes in any work inspired by Frankenstein. which the developer of the wanderer has captured perfectly. The monster lies at the centre of the ongoing action, tall and hideous as it is, rejection by society becomes a common occurrence for it, but more than just society, the monster itself lacks faith in the world. A big portion of the story is a critique of humanity, and constantly asks about who or what is the monster really?
The wanderer tackles this subject in a way that only video games can, but allowing you to choose how to contain and direct your anger and loneliness at others. Unlike the original novel where the monster has threatened to massacre victor’s loved ones with the goal of easing his loneliness through creating a companion, here there are other choices available that can completely put you on a safe pedal along every step of the journey, without hurting anyone, and without admonishing your creator.
The original novel argues that Social Alienation is the primary cause of evil and the punishment of it, both for Frankenstein and the monster. It causes them to make bad decisions, and reject good feelings, but here and only in this game you are allowed to help others, learn from others, and listen and get involved with them despite their hatred and contempt. Reaching this conclusion and peace of mind requires a lot of well-written introspection from the monster on the true meaning of his life, in which the player will have a hand in writing and creating along the way.
The novel is also considered one of the earliest works of Science Fiction and is considered a landmark in the genre, because as we have described here, it tackles many themes in line with what the genre can achieve, and what it’s directly concerned with, and it’s human beings above all.
The pursuit of knowledge is at the heart of Frankenstein and The wanderer as well. Just like Victor has tried to surpass his human limits and access the secrets of life by creating the monstrosity, The monster (The player), seeks knowledge instead of him as an act of creation and rejuvenation. There are many texts and references in the game that often parallel the story of the Monster and his creator to many literary figures in history, The main ones are Paradise Lost by John Milton and the story of man’s creation through Adam and Eve (Here I solved the hardest puzzle in the for you as well, though you might not get it now.).
The developer certainly did not omit the biblical references in creating the puzzles that the player will interact with throughout the game. Actually, Victor is a reference to how god’s referenced as the Victor in Paradise lost, and conceptualized the monster as satan who rebels against his creator, but the game includes a route that allows you to find true solace in the true creator of things, the Lord himself, and not the human who created you, therefore leading you to a peaceful solitude without wandering aimlessly looking for revenge and seeking to quench your animosity.
Half of the puzzle sections in the game reflect your insatiable ambition to pursue things that are beyond the common reach of man. You try in a very similar manner to your “father” to create a human being in the image you think it’s right, and prove that divine intervention happens at the hands of normal humans, but it personally hurt me how people are quick to dismiss any rationale at the mere sight of the monster, despite how much I struggled to keep doing good deeds and avoid conflict.
The other half reflects interpersonal relationships and the dire need for a family to feel the gaping hole in the heart of the monster. There are also clever puzzles and well-written discussion choices that portray how the Monster is struggling to learn the language of others, emphasize with them and be a part of them as the idealized form of the happiness he envisioned. The puzzles don’t take much time to resolve, and the whole game itself can be completed in less than two hours, but each of them leave a long-lasting impression on the player beyond the scope of any other puzzle game.
In order for the monster to achieve Spiritual Renewal, they endeavour on a journey through many breathtaking landscapes. The original novel itself was set in many parts of Eurasia such as Germany, Russia, Switzerland, and Italy, and not just the cities but the mountains and the forests in between. The effect of nature heals both characters but later reminds them that they cannot escape from each other, but in this novel, the artistic design serves a great purpose in reminding the player that it’s not necessary to seek answers for everything, and it’s enough to just enjoy the beauty of life as it is, without any outside intervention.
The prologue in my opinion was the perfect embodiment of how art can complement a message. You start in a pallid white screen, extremely pale and lacking in life, but as you take steps, the universe starts to take shape, the colours start to burst and overflow, and the music starts playing too! But if you stop, or take a few steps back, the colours disappear and the music fades away. From a design perspective, I felt as if the writer wants to say that there is no perfect answer, but continuing to seek one is very important.
There isn’t much else to say about this short but mysterious and entrancing adventure, but all I can hint at is that the author has delivered a wonderful ending twist that adds another metafictional layer to the story, and exacerbates the pain of the monster beyond the constraints of the narrative itself. The ending was very worth it, and it elevated the wanderer from me from a simple homage product to an amazing literary critique that understands the heart of the source material, yet knows exactly how to transcend it and take what we know about it to the next level, and in a way only video games can do.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS4.
Summary - Must PlaySummary - Must Play
- Every location in the game speaks volumes about spiritual healing and artistic expression
- Cleverly built puzzles that deliver the biblical aspects of the game and the alienation aspect that was prevalent in the original story
- Engaging and well written dialogue choices that gives more freedom to determine the course of the original events
- Most of the puzzles are not difficult nor interesting from a gameplay prespective
- Not much replay value. Players need to play it only twice for both endings and just that.