Torn Away is a gripping interactive story set in 1944 during the Second World War. We follow the story of ten-year-old Asya, who has escaped life as an Ostarbeiter on a labour camp and is now fighting to return home. Due to be released in 2023, I took a look at Torn Away’s demo.

Torn Away is set in Germany, in which we navigate through a mix of side-scrolling and first person environments to find our way home. As Asya, we are not only defenceless, but she also refuses to harm living creatures. We must find other ways to survive despite being hungry and in danger from German soldiers.

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After escaping from a labour camp, Asya is trying to make her way home

Asya is not alone, however. Accompanying her is her imaginary friend, Comrad Mitten, a mitten with a face made out of stitching and buttons. Comrad Mitten is the only speaking character within the demo, and not only serves as a narrator, but also motivates and supports Asya on her journey.

Torn Away uses a mixture of different perspectives and gameplay types. For most of the game, we are traversing a side-scrolling 2D environment, in which we’ll interact with different objects to get over obstacles. When inside buildings, we’ll shift into a 3D area and be able to zoom into different areas of the room in a first-person perspective, interacting with objects on tables or shelves.

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Torn Away switches between 2D, 3D, and first-person gameplay

Torn Away will shift from a combination of point-and-click gameplay, stealth, platforming, and first-person cinematic cutscenes. We saw all of these throughout the demo. Though they weren’t very challenging, we can expect the demo features gameplay from the beginning of Torn Away, so hopefully the game will put up more of a challenge later on to fully utilise these features.

The artstyle of Torn Away is very unique as the graphics make the game look like a chalk drawing or painting. The demo is set in the forest during the winter, so the colours are quite washed out in this level: it’s hard to draw an impression from this alone. But the graphics style does suit the game and its themes well. The music, despite being inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, didn’t really stand out. Though it may come out better when the full game is released and there’s more of a chance to listen to the whole thing.

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The Torn Away demo also gave us a taste of the stealth sequences in the game, where you must avoid the German soldier’s sweeping torch light

Torn Away’s main feature is its harrowing story, inspired by the diaries of Soviet children. Torn Away delves into the topic of the Ostabeiters: Eastern workers forcibly removed from Eastern Europe and sent to work in Nazi labour camps. Asya and her mother were of these workers, and both spent many months in the labour camp before Asya escaped.

Torn Away promises not to skim over the tragedy of the Second World War and is likely to touch upon some grim topics and scenes. We see a part of this in the demo, where Asya takes shelter in the abandoned home of a Jewish family, and discovers the corpse of a woman and her baby in the cellar, who was waiting for her husband to return home from getting some medication. That being said, these scenes are being portrayed through the eyes of a child. Although we the player know what’s happened to this woman, Comrad Mitten will chirp that it’s best not to disturb them and wake up the baby.

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The demo ends with a quiet moment of reflection as Asya ends the day warm, well fed and able to get some sleep

Speaking of Comrad Mitten, this is where Torn Away became unappealing to me. As the only voiced character in the demo, it was important that Comrad Mitten was pulled off well. Unfortunately, his voice acting is really bad, and the way the dialogue is edited seems choppy and awkward. As the comic relief for a game played through a ten-year-old child’s eyes, I can understand the need for his character during certain scenes. But the mitten has an input or comment for your every action, and it gets tiring very quickly. Especially when it’s every time you interact with and object or craft something; he’ll always have something obvious or patronising to say to “help” you along the way, despite how self-explanatory the situation may be. Personally, I felt that Comrad Mitten’s dialogue could be cut down just for story purposes, because he was very overbearing and annoying throughout the whole playthrough. On top of this, Torn Away delves into some really serious topics. During some scenes, it’s better to leave the player to just simply reflect on some things themselves rather than having an American voice come blaring through the speakers with some light-hearted remark to completely steal the touching mood.

The Torn Away demo gave us a glimpse into its mixed gameplay style, as well as the harrowing scenes and topics that the game will dive into. I’m looking forward to seeing how the story pans out, but unfortunately the talking mitten really puts me off playing any more of the game unless some of his dialogue is cut.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how this story pans out

Jess played the Torn Away demo on PC with a demo code. Torn Away is scheduled to release in 2023. 

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