Review: This Strange Realm Of Mine
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Review copy provided by developer
Setting a game in the ever-twisting landscape of the mind might seem like a copout to some, and indeed there are plenty of games that squander the opportunity. Journeys through mental constructs can draw from nigh-infinite possibilities, but they still must mean something tangible to the player. This Strange Realm Of Mine gets that, it gets it incredibly well, because each of the pocket worlds you visit has a purpose and a part to play in the overall narrative. It might get a bit lost in all the word salad surrounding the main course, but there’s enough meat to this game to make it worth digging into.
You’re dead, as it so often happens, but death is no end for a beautiful mind such as yours. Emerging from darkened halls of bizarre horrors you find yourself in a tidy tavern, a safe haven within your roiling thoughts. The proprietor, Ulrich, is all too ready to guide you in your journey of self-discovery and doubt. Along the way you’ll meet several important figures across the many realms of your mind, and even befriend them if you’re of a sociable persuasion. Pretty much everything else in your path is there to be shot, and fortunately you have a fine little arsenal of firearms to make that happen with.
It’s important to clarify that TSROM isn’t a first-person shooter in the traditional sense, but rather an adventure (or even walking simulator) with strong FPS elements. The strongest of these is your arsenal, which includes a pistol, uzi, shotgun, and rifle. You’ll generally be limited to just one or two of these per world but each is an absolute joy to fire. The sound is heavy and meaty, the weapon kicks with appreciable force, and your foes crumple into blood-spattered piles after only a round or two. There’s locational damage so aiming high can save you bullets, and a realistic reloading system that discards unspent rounds when changing magazines so you’ll need to count your shots.
The real takeaway is just how gratifying it is to shoot things in this title, despite the emphasis falling on the story and environments. And the environments certainly don’t suffer for the comparison, because each is a colorful and creative slice of dreamscape. You’ll explore dingy streets ruled by ratmen, a Minecraft-esque floating archipelago, a stranded starship, and far stranger places as you progress. Your tasks won’t exclusively be shooting either, as 2D platforming and shmupping will make some welcome appearances. There was one bit in the Minecraft world where I was charged with chopping down eight trees for wood, which was a bit too on the nose for me but immediately after I was sent on another errand that ended far differently than I expected. And my reward was a raft ride down a channel of peering eyes and grasping hands.
While exploring the compact dream worlds to divine their symbolism and murder their less-friendly denizens is a fantastic bit of fun, the actual story parts are a bit of a mixed bag. The game has a strong poetic bent that comes out in the loading scene lyrical quotes and philosophical musings of the characters. Honestly you’re going to get far less story from the NPCs than you are ruminations on the nature of consciousness and the boundaries of the universe. Don’t get me wrong, some of these talks are pretty interesting and even a bit poignant, like the girl who details her social anxieties. But by the end of the game they’ll be prattling on about the heat death of the universe and grappling with one’s ego. I kinda lost interest in the whole narrative side since there was no great denouement of the main character to be had.
It’s not an issue that should distract hugely from your two to three hours of enjoyment given the strength of the game’s other features, so long as you approach it with calibrated expectations. And I strongly suggest you do so, because indie games with this sort of vision and polish are worth their weight in gold (if they weren’t digital downloads). The end result of the creative world-building and solid gunplay feels situated between classic DOOM and Anodyne, and that’s a space I’m very happy to see occupied. This Strange Realm Of Mine has proven to be a true diamond in the rough, a title of surprising depth and quality that nails that all-important fun factor.