Torn Away, by perelesoq, is a puzzle platforming game about the young girl Asya escaping prison camps of World War 2 and making it home to her family. Her journey is treacherous and somewhat improbable. Will you be able to help her get back home?
The story premise of Torn Away can lead to some intense emotional situations (check out This War of Mine if you want to have a good cry). Unfortunately, the story fumbles all over the place. On multiple occasions the cutscenes try to depict a dramatic scene, but it’s not clear what’s actually happening. At one point when a scene cuts to black a gunshot is heard, but no one was shot.
There are obvious points in time in Asya’s life, but it seems the developers didn’t know how to fill in the gaps between the pivotal moments. The solution seems to have been filling it up with meaningless dialog that adds nothing to the story. There is a constant nagging character, your imaginary friend Comrade Mitten, that doesn’t allow the player to think for themselves. The mitten constantly says something along the lines of “Too bad that happened, let’s keep moving.” Give the story time to breathe! By constantly leaving the location of a tragic event ignores the severity of the event. The mitten is terribly annoying and unnecessary. What would have worked better would have been a delicately timed set of inner monologue pieces so we could understand how Asya was feeling and we could emphasize with her. If the entire story was a flashback, like she was reciting it as an adult, would give the story more emotional context.
There is a vagueness to Torn Away. It’s one of those games that go by the rules of “Just put these things into a game and that’s what makes it a game.” Okay, sure, platforming, mazes, and completing objectives are all aspects of games, but there is a correct way to tie them all together into a cohesive experience. None of the mechanics that Torn Away introduces is fully explored and it doesn’t improve upon or change any standard mechanics. The level of depth the platforming gets to is jumping over gaps and pushing over logs to climb across. There was perhaps one puzzle near the end that was the essence of a puzzle, where I had to find a different route to get across a hazardous gap. I didn’t realize it was a puzzle until I completed it, though, because my challenge/obstacle was given to me until the end, meaning whatever actions I did were linear.
Most of Torn Away involves moving right across the screen as the mitten yammers on about how you should be feeling. At other times in the game you are doing chores around a house (seriously, the same looking house as the one in the beginning), and other times you are playing in the first person to traverse across an area. None of these aspects progress the story in very meaningful ways, it’s only the cutscenes that show what’s happening. All the actions are boring; a dreary game with dreary gameplay. I didn’t truly understand this until I was peeling potatoes, then forced to walk to the right some more. Torn Away should have focused on a single kind of gameplay to tell the story through because with each different gameplay style there were problem spots. In the small puzzles where you’re doing chores dragging items didn’t follow your mouse and flew around the screen. Platforming was challenging because it was so easy to fall off the edge or trip over a root. You could end up walking through the first person scenes indefinitely without a trace of where you’re supposed to go. Just a poorly pieced together game.
As problematic as Torn Away is, at least the art is pretty good. Most of the puzzle and platforming scenes have this constantly shifting fuzzy shader over it, making it all look painted on. The animated cutscenes look actually painted, and made me wish that the whole game was just the cutscenes. If Torn Away was the cutscenes with dialog then there could be a more interesting (albeit, much shorter) game. The music followed the art poorly, sometimes being completely absent when needed the most. While the audio was very cinematic, it was poorly mixed. Even muting it while someone was talking had barely audible dialog at times. More sounds were needed to help solidify the player’s actions.
In summary: Clunky and boring gameplay with a story that only vaguely makes sense. Audio is poorly mixed with too much dialog than necessary. The only redeeming quality is the art, which at this point I could’ve gone for a visual novel over something interactive.
Jordan played Torn Away on PC with a review key. Torn Away is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch starting September 29th.