By Leah McDonald / September 16th, 2020
|Title||The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature|
|Developer||La Belle Games, ARTE France|
|Publisher||ARTE Experience, ARTE France, Arte, Arte G.E.I.E|
|Release Date||Steam: Oct. 30, 2019, Nintendo Switch: Feb. 7, 2020|
|Platform||PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch, Android, iOS|
In philosophy, there’s a concept known as anti-natalism, which is the belief that all human beings are born without their own consent. The theory posits that life cannot be without pain, and that by giving birth to a child, parents are subjecting that child to suffering against its will. It is an existential quandary that pits humanity’s natural proclivity to, well, procreate, against the intrinsic harshness and uncertainties of existence. Is it right to bring life into the world? Do the benefits of living outweigh the cons? Where do we draw the line, and who gets to decide?
As a concept, anti-natalism isn’t exactly new. Philosophers have been questioning the reasons for existence for millennia. As an argument against procreation it’s certainly more novel, and works as an interesting foil to theories about artificial intelligence. We have no shortage of science fiction that posits what happens when our machines gain consciousness. Isaac Asimov famously coined the Three Laws of Robotics, and ever since we’ve been writing fiction about the inevitable failure of those laws. But humans have been playing at god for longer than we’ve had computers, so what happens when that artificial life we create is just as human as we are?
“Your presence does not herald anything good,” says the old man in the cabin to Frankenstein’s Creature, an artificial amalgamation cobbled together from the dead and discarded pieces of other humans. This simple statement is the core theme of The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature, a retelling of Mary Shelley’s famous contemplation on the awesome – yet horrifying – power of science. Dr. Victor Frankenstein set out to create life, and in its stead wrought a monster destined to suffer through no fault of his own.
“Everyone rejected me,” says the Creature.
Much like TellTale’s games, The Wanderer‘s core gameplay is in its dialogue and how the choices you make affect the story. You cannot make the humans in the game accept the Creature – this is Shelley’s Frankenstein, after all. But you can determine how human the Creature himself is. You can decide how he lives with the sorrow and loneliness of his non-consensual creation. Through your myriad choices, you can relish in the beauty of nature or wallow in its horrors. You can choose passivity in the face of human aggression, or you can retaliate. You can choose to play God and so continue creating life that will find no fulfillment, or you can erase yourself from existence. You can love, and you can hurt, and sometimes both at the same time.
The Wanderer is pessimistic and nihilistic, but it isn’t devoid of beauty. It offers up a lens to the inherent selfishness of humanity and our need to not be alone. If he must suffer, the Creature will create a companion to suffer with him. If Victor can create abominable life, so too can his monstrous creation. There can be beauty in this suffering, the game suggests, not only through its narrative, but through its presentation. This bleak treatise on the morality of creating life is stunningly vibrant. There were times I’d just stop playing to take in the gorgeous changing of seasons, or a windswept hillside popping with color. The Wanderer uses color to its advantage, bathing the player in light or removing it altogether when the suffering of life becomes overwhelming. There’s a fantastic bit early on where you can drink the clean, clear water of a brook and the game becomes over-saturated with pastels in a euphoric high, only to come crashing down into stark black and white at the bite of an adder.
Interspersed through the branching dialogue and clunky traversal are an assortment of simple minigames, again in the vein of TellTale games. They serve mainly as short roleplay sequences to put you in the Creature’s shoes, but a few actually feel poignant. My personal favorite was the basic rhythm game sequences, mostly because the music in this game is amazing and hearing the piece swell once you’d finished was a joy. Mostly, though, you’ll simply be making choices. Do you save the deer from the adder, or let nature take its course? Do you fight back against the torch-wielding townsfolk, or do you flee? Do you choose to create life, or do you accept your lonely existence? These choices are where the game is most impactful and offers some marginal replay value. While the overarching story doesn’t change much, how you get there does. What kind of person do you want to be? What choices do you make when sorrow clouds your every waking moment?
If you enjoy meta-fiction the way I do, I think you’ll enjoy your time with The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature. Clocking in at around two hours, the game is brisk but does offer replay value. The game touches on several concepts near and dear to my heart, including the idea that fiction exists beyond its creator, as well as what constitutes immortality. It’s a somber look at depression, but also finds the beauty in a flawed existence. There’s very little gameplay to be had, but like a good book or film, the questions The Wanderer poses about life, love, complicity, and free will stick with me.
AdventureARTELa Belle Gamesnintendo switchReviewThe Wanderer: Frankenstein's Creature