Hands down, this title wins every award going for the most unusual and enigmatic name for a game ever produced. All I know about the name in fact is that it derives from Afrikaans heritage, and in itself it has no translation, but is there to create mystery and Intrigue. Which very much sums up my whole time playing ‘N Verlore Verstand. What is it? Well buckle up, get yourself a nice cup of tea and I will hopefully try to explain.
There are games that you’ve played in the past that deal with the abstract, and try not to hold your hand through a linear narrative path. Inside is an example of that type of game, with its non-verbal world and visual clues to bigger and larger stories. Now ‘N Verlore Verstand takes this level of basic storytelling to a new level of abstraction. We don’t know what your role in this game is; you could be a man, woman or a monster. It’s all played in first person and you can move, run, crouch and jump. In the first level you are placed in a barren landscape, with cracked earth and a white sky. There is a desolate tree in the distance, so you head towards the tree. When you reach it, the scene ends and you’re onto the next level.
Now, there are 18 levels in total and the first level I’ve just described is the easiest and simplest to complete. The others are much more tricky to navigate and finish. The tree is the one consistent thing in all the levels and it’s the end point you should always try to find, wherever you might be. The levels are separated into five different worlds, which expand and develop every time you visit them. There is the landscape with a tree at the end, a sort of broken down mansion, a cold Valhalla type world, a desert with moving rocks and a city. Each of these levels needs a fair amount of exploring, and as there is no map, a very good memory. There are some puzzle elements that are not too complex, but the difficulty levels do ramp up considerably towards the second half.
Then there is the jumping…
Now jumping in first person games, from platform to platform, is a rare thing. There might be a reason for this… you’ll spend a lot of time missing a jump, starting again from the checkpoint, and then missing the jump again. You will then scream to the gaming gods, question your life and what the meaning of existence is, before slowly taking a breath and beginning again. Why? When in a first person viewpoint, it’s very hard to find the edge for the optimum lift off point and work out where you are going. There was one instance in the city level that sent me mad, trying to make a jump before, in the end, fluking it.
The main problem I have with the game is that it was seemingly made and designed to be played in VR. This would have been a whole different prospect and makes sense with the pace and shape of the game. Some work well in both environments, like the most recent Resident Evil, but the story is the glue there, and here there is something fundamentally missing. When it does work though it’s very good and I especially enjoyed the disturbing house levels with the puzzle elements. In fact, should the jumping mechanic be removed all together, then I could see myself having a much better experience.
‘N Verlore Verstand looks fantastic at times – atmospheric, brilliant lighting and great effects. The level design can be haunting and disturbing, and whilst it is not necessarily scary, feels like you’re travelling through a never-ending nightmare. The city level design really disturbed me with its size and bland intentional world. There are a couple of designs like the Valhalla world that are a bit generic, but overall it looks great and would be even more amazing through the VR experience. The soundtrack is excellent as well, with unusual tracks and hypnotic beats that feel like a 1990’s trance album. There are good creaks and effects all the way through, building a great atmosphere throughout.
Overall my experience with ‘N Verlore Verstand is a mixed bag of blessings and curses. I’m a big fan of unusual games that think way outside the box. But I do like small threads of structure and narrative to hold on to. It’s interesting that the developers call their levels ‘scenes”, because they are just that; a collection of different scenes to experiment with. The exploration elements of the game are great, but the jumping mechanic is poor and leads to deep frustration in its latter parts.
If however I do get VR, I will be among the first to venture back to ‘N Verlore Verstand.