Deep within the ancient stone walls of Castle Örebro in Närke Sweden, Philip Johannson‘s (@thatsnillet on twitter) forged “Wake Up” in the flames of creativity, a surrealist Hitchcockian thriller experience inspired by the works of David Lynch and classic survival horror fare.
The game is an experience that feels like getting splashed in the face with ice cold seltzer water, shocking but oddly refreshing. Every aspect of the experience permeates your senses, taking you down a stark maze of riddles and impossible architecture that evokes 90s experimental CGI adventure titles and liminal spaces found in custom maps from obscure half-life mods.
I went in with no expectations for what was in store beyond another normal jam entry, however Wake Up didn’t just raise the bar, it slapped me with it. The intentionally clunky yet perfectly tuned tank controls creates a sense of unease alongside the game’s alternative to a sprinting mechanic: the fast forward button. This humble button speeds up time as a whole instead of simply increasing the player’s pace, proving to be just as useful as running while instilling the player with a dangerous sense of complacency. Fast forwarding forces the player to budget their movement and think of it in a way that’s quite reminiscent of a tile-driven game with action points, one wrong turn or holding the movement key a little too long can lead to unexpected ends.
The game’s strange atmosphere coupled with its majestic feverdream visuals give way to terrifying sequences that play on the darkest aspects of the protagonist’s psyche. In the ever-present game of cat & mouse between a man and his subconscious adversary, you race down hazy corridors surrounded by gaudy wallpaper in search of any meaning to the rich, opaque symbolism.
Peppered throughout this claustrophobic patchwork world of elusive metaphor, the game presents you with well paced puzzles that ramp up the momentum without weighing you down, each scene transition flowing seamlessly into the next. It’s an experience that gets the adrenaline pumping and the mind racing, and one in which you’ll find yourself sweating in your sheets after you finally wake up.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice