TRAUMA has its heart in the right place, but fails to execute anything that remotely lives up to the initial concept.

User Rating: 4 | Trauma PC
Pros: Game excels at making you feel unsettled; Here's to trying to make a more meaningful experience

Cons: Not much content at all; Unnatural sounding voice acting; Gameplay is lacking; Most of the game doesn't make much sense

Mainstream games lack emotional depth. Obviously that's an over simplification, but still, several of the most popular games are shallower than a kiddie pool. Kill or be killed; you are good, they are bad; achieve victory and feel good. It's all the same and unfortunately doesn't look like that's going to change. Meanwhile, in the indie scene, there are experimental games like TRAUMA trying to achieve something deeper. Unfortunately a very flawed execution takes a lot of the steam out of TRAUMA's effort.

TRAUMA sees you as a woman who's just survived a terrible car crash. She has trauma, hence the title of the game, and is in therapy. The game takes place in four therapy sessions playing through different dreams, as you attempt to overcome the woman's pain and move to a normal life.

Actual gameplay is essentially a version of those I-Spy games that everyone played as a kid. You click around a series of photographs that form a world and look for a way to complete the level's objective. Along the way there are several hidden photographs and alternate endings to achieve by carefully observing and clicking them. Frequently you will have to draw symbols similar to Okámi's paintbrush to perform an action in the world.

That's the extent of the gameplay. It doesn't get any deeper than that: click around and draw symbols as needed. With only four short levels, there's only about an hour's worth of content here as well (and that's if you have the patience to shoot for 100%). And since it's all incredibly shallow and simplistic, there's no reason to revisit the game beyond the initial completion.

Of course, to measure the game on gameplay exclusively would be missing the point-one of the main points of the game is to convey a traumatic experience and make the player feel the woman's emotions. Unfortunately the game still doesn't succeed particularly well here either. Strike one, the writing frequently makes very little sense. Even taking into account that these are supposed to be surreal dreams the sections frequently seem to have very little context (though the overall theme does make sense in the end at least). Strike two, the voice acting is sleepy and feels unnatural (presumably the voice actor didn't speak English as their first language).

However, the presentation doesn't have a strike three. The rest of the presentation is the one really good portion of the game. The mix of surreal still photographs and dreamlike music is unsettling, which is perfect for the context. While I don't feel like the game was that engaging to play or that the majority of the experience was related to the game's point, I can say that I felt reasonably unsettled at all points.

But being unsettled isn't enough of a reason to get a game. A game can be fun and have no meaning: it's a fine game. A game can lack great gameplay but provide a great experience or meaning: it's a fine game (and TRAUMA comes closest here). A game can be short if it's good, and especially if it's cheap like TRAUMA. But when a game that isn't very fun, has a muddled meaning, and lacks content, it's tough to recommend. It's a shame, since TRAUMA tries something new and that should be commended, but there's not much reason for anyone to play a poorly executed game, no matter how novel the ideas.