Like its protagonist, Junon, The Wreck is flawed, but breathtaking. Its narrative unravels like a mind on the edge — it’s piercing. The characters and their relationships are some of the most real I’ve seen in video games. And its repetitive structure enforces all the touching and heartbreaking themes contained within the five-hour experience. The execution, however, smothers much of its brilliance. Distracting animation, finicky objectives, and performance issues transform artistry into aggravation.
Diving into the action from a screenplay’s flowing words, I find Junon on the floor. Her scattered mind wonderfully influences the shot which bounces and snaps to different views. Her thoughts focus on rom-coms and how the dashing male lead always knocks on the door just as everything hits rock bottom. And there is a knock on the door, but it’s not Ryan Gosling. It’s a doctor and Junon is in a hospital’s bathroom.
The introduction is spectacular. I’m connected to Junon, concerned for her predicament, and impatient to discover why she’s in this position almost immediately. The stakes and emotions only grow from here as I learn about the tragedies and triumphs in her life, and the manipulation that’s brought her crashing headlong into reconciliation — or resignation — with her closest family members.
The titular wreck hits sooner than expected. And I relive it every time I attempt to run away from the hard work of examining my place in the world and connecting with others. In slow-motion, I see the force of the impact scatter my belongings across my field of vision. Clicking on one pulls me into an artfully-constructed memory where I confront my mental blocks. At its best, the result is astonishing but the game doesn’t always get out of its own way to let its brilliance shine through.
The artistic choices are both captivating and unsettling. The Wreck mimics the look of visual novels though its fully 3D graphics constantly fight the illusion. Imagine a live-action scene where the actors are told to hold a freeze frame, but still talk.
The game’s characters often bear a striking resemblance to life-size animatronics, with jerky eye movement, uncomfortable blinking, and mouths that remain gaping and still while dialogue pours out. Pile on some frame rate chugging and hard-to-find objectives that leave me looping frustratedly through a memory, and the mechanical hiccups are too distracting to focus on its awe-inspiring use of light, bold aesthetic, and raw emotions.
It’s difficult to wrap my mind around The Wreck. Even after finishing it, my thoughts keep coming back to chord-striking moments. Absorbed in these tableaux, the game’s problems fall away. But it’s difficult to imagine recommending it to any but the most ardent adventure game fans or story-driven players.