When I first saw Strayed Lights, the art style immediately sang to my inner connoisseur. An absolute visual feast of striking orange and blue luminescence danced across the screen, all as the trailer played. I was hooked. Then the words “Soundtrack by Austin Wintory” rolled along; it had me completely sold. You see that very name was responsible for one of the greatest games of all time sounding so fantastic – Journey.
So I was very excited to get my hands on Strayed Lights on PC for preview, ahead of an April launch on Xbox, PlayStation, Switch and PC.
Strayed Lights is an action-adventure game set in a mysterious and beautiful world, where you control a tiny body of light that must fight inner demons to restore balance. The exploration can range from wild nature-themed stages to dilapidated corrupt cityscapes. Variety is set to be a huge focus come full release.
The main gameplay mechanic in Strayed Lights is combat. Fighting against neon monstrosities, you must utilise blocks and parries to defeat them, however, there is a twist to the old party/dodge set-up at play. Strayed Lights uses colour as not just a pretty-to-look-at art style, but as a main part of the combat mechanic itself. There is exploration and light platforming throughout the game also, but the clear focus is on the almost puzzle-like fights with enemies.
Blue and orange must be shifted in sync to build up energy. Successfully rocking back and forth between the colours will allow you to unleash a devastating finishing move on the creatures. This is all done with a superbly stylish flair, combining with fluid and fast paced battle mechanics. Most battles are fought one-on-one in areas rather than being mobbed by constant enemy forces, yet it is when more than one monster has to be fought, that things become tricky and fast swaps will come into play.
Combat like this may be a shock to the system for fans of games such as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, however, those who have got on with the likes of Flower or Journey will find that Strayed Lights feels like an evolution of those experiences.
Journey, Flower and other games that are disguised masterpieces hiding in the indie marketplace, had small amounts of actual gameplay. Strayed Lights feels like a step up from those art pieces, as it adds in a combat system. Fighting the monsters still manages to encapsulate the relaxed and dreamlike state the levels and sound design create. And yes, it may seem very strange to describe a fighting system as relaxed and dreamlike, especially when fighting is stereotypically anything but.
This could in all honesty be one of the best and most complete out-the-box action game fighting systems I have ever played. Parrying is quite forgiving as the window is large and so the tricky part is the swapping of colour to correctly pull the parry off. I’ll also say the rumble mechanics programmed into Strayed Lights for haptics all work, pulling off the feelings required despite being held back on Xbox due to a lack of newer vibration features other controllers incorporate.
And then we get to the dodging and that found in Strayed Lights is probably my favourite dodge mechanic I have ever used in any video game. In fact, if there is a 2023 game award for dodging, Strayed Lights would get my vote. See, instead of a roll, your character dashes in a lightning-like swoosh to the side, and moving out the way successfully using a dodge is superb. There is a skill tree system to add new abilities as well, and not being a huge fan of the overuse of skill trees across gaming as a whole, I was glad to see that this one was not three pages deep.
Away from the gameplay and calling the audio a ‘soundtrack’ would be an unfair label – an audible atmosphere would be more appropriate, as the haunting melodies paint the picture of each area as you enter. The craftsmanship should be expected from the same talented minds that worked on Journey, ABZÛ and The Banner Saga. I don’t know how one sits down and decides that X instrument combined with Y will recreate the feeling of being inside a windy, dark cave, but Austin Wintory does, and he is a wizard at his craft.
Visually, Strayed Lights is one of the best-looking games too. The style is very reminiscent of Ori and the Blind Forest, with dark blue shades mixed with bright luminous highlights and beautiful mood lighting making for an atmospheric marvel. There are very few games that make such an effort in the looks department to the point of the environment becoming a character of its own. Many times I would stop and just gawp around at the new area I had wandered into, just for a few moments to savour it and soak in the atmosphere.
Reading this whole piece may have seemed like I played the whole demo wide-eyed and smiling ear to ear. That’s because I did. Strayed Lights is beautiful and mysterious, feeling like the most luxurious game of pass the parcel as you go about uncovering its depth and working towards the final stage.
I genuinely look forward to experiencing the full game to uncover all of this myself as Strayed Lights, like Journey before it, truly treads the line between entertainment and pure art.
I can already tell this will be on my Game of the Year list.
Strayed Lights will launch this April 25th for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC (Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG). Keep an eye out for our full review nearer that time. Until then, check out the gameplay trailer below.
Huge thanks go out to the team at Embers for allowing us access to Strayed Lights on PC.