“Most people don’t grow up. Most people age.” – Maya Angelou
Wayward Strand is a heartfelt and curious interactive fiction set aboard an airborne hospital. Players take on the role of a budding young journalist called Casey as she gets to know the staff and patients and tries to help out where she can!
Developer: Ghost Pattern
Released: 15th September 2022
Price: £14.99 – £17.99
Platforms: Windows, Switch, Xbox One/ Series X|S, PS4/5
Available on: Steam, eShop, Microsoft, Playstation
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
As 14-year-old Casey, players must explore the hospital, spend time with patients and find ways to be helpful such as filling Tomi’s watering can or finding Esther a cushion. The gameplay is quite casual and consists mostly of conversations with each of the wonderfully eclectic characters that range from kindly to eccentric to grumpy! It is also possible to eavesdrop on the conversations of others to gain extra insight about things. Casey carries a notebook in which she writes down everything that she learns, organised by character, this is viewable by the player at almost anytime and is helpful for recapping important details.
Wayward Strand takes place over three days and will take around 4-5 hours to play. Save points are sparse and occur after the cutscene at the start of each day and at the end of each day meaning players should be prepared to invest 1.5-2 hours in each sitting. Time passes for all the characters in the game as Casey’s day progresses meaning that it is impossible to see everything in one playthrough which, along with multiple achievements provides a good amount of replayability.
The game is set in January of 1978 and a teenage Casey accompanies her nurse mother to work at an airborne hospital to help out for a few days before school starts again. She also wants to write an article about the ship and its various inhabitants for the school paper and must find out as much as possible. Players can get to know each of the different characters, learning about their varied pasts, the goings on in the hospital and the vessel’s history. These things make up the bulk of the branching narrative that is delivered gradually as Casey explores.
The laid-back style of the gameplay belies the tactfully handled but ultimately hard-hitting nature of some of the subject matter that arises including death, illness, and ageing, as well as turbulence between Casey and her mother. The prominent conversational mechanics, believable characters and immersive audio and visual elements mean that it is easy to get emotionally invested in the staff and patients’ well-being making certain moments increasingly poignant.
Wayward Strand has a delightful and unique hand-drawn art style in a colourful but slightly muted palette. The in-game art is intricate but cartoon-like with the layout for the ship’s rooms and the framing of different scenes giving it something of a comic book feel. In contrast, the cut scene art is more painterly and vibrant. The combination of styles is really beautiful and fits perfectly with the style and tone of the game.
The music is very relaxing, featuring gentle sounds from instruments such as a guitar, piano and some sort of xylophone across a number of tracks that play as Casey visits different patients and explores the hospital. It is the ideal backing track for her meandering and chatting and along with the visuals creates a stunning aesthetic and emotive ambience. Expressive and varied voice acting also adds an extra dimension to the characters and experience, really bringing things to life!
Wayward Strand is a beautiful game that combines a complex and heartfelt narrative with eclectic characters, an unusual setting and a stunning aesthetic. The slow pace of the gameplay is essential to the narrative design, encouraging connection between the player and the story and leading to some emotive and poignant moments that really stand out. Overall, it is a mesmerising experience that I would highly recommend to fans of meaningful interactive fiction.
If you enjoyed this game you might also enjoy:
Alzheimer’s: Memories – Emotive New Interactive Fiction – Behind the Frame: The Finest Scenery – Artistic & Emotive Puzzle Game! – Arise: A Simple Story – A Time Manipulation Puzzle-Platformer with Heart!