‘Wayward Strand’ review: a slow-burning, emotional work of art

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Of all the concepts that have remained untouched by gaming thus far, “three days wandering in a nursing home” is certainly one that you would expect to stay firmly on the shelf. Yet Quirky Beach—a dynamic, interactive story from Australian indie studio Ghost Pattern, released this month on PlayStation, Xbox, Switch and PC — takes this strange idea and transforms it into an experience worthy of a Wes Anderson film.

And like Anderson’s filmography, Quirky Beach really isn’t for everyone, but those who give it a shot will be rewarded with a compelling, slow-burning, and surprisingly powerful tale of the human condition that stays with you long after you put down the controller.

Located in 1978, Quirky Beach puts you in the role of Casey Beaumaris: a curious 14-year-old girl with a notepad whose mother, Ruth, is the head nurse of a floating airship hospital docked off the coast of rural Victoria, Australia. Your mother, rushed by understaffing and a demanding boss, asks you to spend part of your summer vacation helping her by spending time with her intriguing group of geriatric patients.

The airship—formerly known as the Gräfin Isabella, a German-made airship apparently lost forever in a storm—appeared out of nowhere as a floating Mary Celeste-esque shipwreck, tying up locals to the shore and turning in a care unit. It’s a mind-boggling concept, made all the more fascinating by the fact that so few people question its existence, let alone its feasibility.

If the setup alone wasn’t Andersonian enough for you, the 2.5D cutaway format is from Quirky Beach feels influenced by ‘s iconic ‘let me tell you about my boat’ series Life in the water with Steve Zissou. Meanwhile, the characters – voiced to perfection by an incredibly talented and believable cast of voice actors – offer just as much quirkiness, warmth and depth, as long as you invest yourself in learning more about them.

Each of the key patients, supported by staff, has their own story to tell, and their routines play out in real time whether you interact with them or not.

  • Ida Vaughan (voiced by Anne Charleston) is the perfect description of a loving grandmother who loves to knit;
  • Tomi Hummel (Susanne Nielsen) is a mysterious, nonverbal Danish patient whose room is filled with foliage and awards from a previous successful career;
  • Neil Avery (Michael Caton) is a bestselling author whose success has clearly gone to his head;
  • Esther Fitzgerald (Michela Ledwidge) is an eccentric, sassy gossip who has a passion for fortune-telling and clairvoyance;
  • Heinrich Pruess (Erhard Hartmann) is a quiet Austrian gentleman with deeper ties to the ship’s past; and
  • dr. Margot Bouchard (Jennifer Vuletic) is a woman who taught some of the staff who now treat her, whose condition is remarkably frail due to a recent serious diagnosis.

Quirky Beach is as far from high octane thrills as you can get. However, your curiosity will be rewarded. While the core themes and emotions may not appeal to many, it carefully and honestly portrays what it’s like to grow old, and all that comes with it: loneliness, loss, fear, compassion, illness, kindness, and patience.

Learning about . in the beginning Quirky Beach‘s characters is a combination of luck and chance. Each of the game’s dozens of faces adheres to relatively fixed regimes, and you can learn more about them by talking to them directly, following them, or eavesdropping on conversations. Along the way, you’ll scribble notes about each character, discover the stories that interest you most, and get plenty of questions.

Many remain in their rooms or at their stations; some are happy to talk to you; others are wary; one or two may seem downright hostile; they all begin to reveal deeper feelings and issues that first support and ultimately dictate the wider story.

For every good memory from one’s past, another person struggles to remember things because of old age or a deeper condition. Personalities change with good and bad news; when people behave strangely, you worry about them; you soon start to pick favorites. You find yourself actively looking forward to seeing someone again right away, or later in the day. Sometimes you come by to see someone out of a sense of obligation.

Unlike any game before, Quirky Beach finds a unique way to take advantage of the human condition. Playing as a young teenager initially removes you from the fear of growing old, but the youthful Casey soon takes a backseat to the stars of the show, for whom you build genuine affection, not least because their stories and acting are so. be real – even if they lack tension, spills or major shocks. After all, they are only human.

Just like you. Casey’s lack of life experience and age-related interpersonal skills show how much she still has to learn. Combined with her outright curiosity and occasionally arrogant self-identification as a journalist, her role can make the most of any interaction, showing off the character traits and flaws of everyone involved.

While you’re playing against a clock – something I’ve always personally hated in games – it’s surprisingly forgiving. For three days you work a shift from nine to five and each minute lasts about five seconds. While dialogues cannot be skipped, it is never comprehensive and gives you every opportunity to leave. You see things happening around you, or conversations you miss.

Saying nothing is often an equally good option. Some patients just love the company. Soon you will have the feeling that you are doing a good job, even if you sit in silence for half an hour. Someone can break it by asking you something, which makes you learn a little more about a character. Sometimes they don’t. It is well.

After playing once, Quirky Beach lacks closure. At the end of your three-day stint, you’ll leave the hospital with your mom and only learn what you could by being in the right place at the right time. But that’s totally the point — something that’s subtly underlined when you get out of the hospital one last time, where you find yourself asking if you can come back to help in the future.

You can, but that means going back to the beginning and telling the same story again, even if it will be different. Quirky Beach is meant to be played multiple times so you can use your knowledge to shadow different people, explore a different story more deeply, try to prevent something that happened before, or just see what it’s like to see someone on another time to visit.

All this is combined with a beautiful art direction by Marigold Bartlett and Aspen Forster, combined with a beautiful and sometimes nerve-wracking score by composer Maize Wallin. While the game can be visually glitchy – wheelchairs, maps and trolleys can duplicate or appear in the wrong place, or disappear altogether – it never comes close to distracting from the carefully crafted storylines that run through the airship.

It’s safe to say you’ll get away from Quirky Beach a better person. The deeply emotional storylines cater to a wide range of feelings and fears, but crucially, the stories underline the fragility of life – and the importance of treating people individually, trying not to pass judgment and just listen. Sometimes you don’t have to talk to appreciate your presence — or even feel it.

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