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Video Game / Strangeland

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"If a man writes 'death' a thousand times, he starts to wonder: 'is that even a word?' But it is, oh how it is."
The Operator

Strangeland is a Surrealist Psychological Horror Point-and-Click Adventure Game, developed by Wormwood Studios (developers of Primordia (2012)) and published by Wadjet Eye Games on May 25th 2021. The game cites Sanitarium, Dark Seed and the works of H. R. Giger as its main inspirations, and it shows.

A stranger wakes up just outside a grotesque carnival tent. After stepping inside the tent, he witnesses a woman with golden, shining hair jump down a well to her death. The stranger recognizes the woman, but cannot recall her identity. He decides to follow her down the well, to his own death, and wakes up just outside the carnival again, right where he started. Death doesn't work the same way in Strangeland.

The stranger decides he has to get to the bottom of this. He has to remember who that woman is, who he is. He can save her. He just has to keep trying. Right?

Strangeland is available on PC, via Steam, GOG, and Humble.

Strangeland provides examples of:

  • Amusement Park of Doom: The game refers to the titular Strangeland as a carnival, with pitched circus tents, flashing signs, midway rides, and other attractions. You enter through the giant mouth of an animated sculpture of a Monster Clown.
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • "A stranger in a strange land" (Exodus 2:22) provides the title, the name of the eponymous Amusement Park of Doom, and the name given to the nameless Player Character.
    • Gershom, the version of the stranger who replaces Fimbul Fambi under the tree in Deadland, is named after the firstborn son of Moses. In Hebrew, Gershom means "a sojourner there" — alternatively, "a stranger there".
    • You can win a bottle of Balm of Gilead™ from the shooting gallery in Deadland. The bottle is empty — there is no balm in Gilead.
    • The tree in the courtyard is metaphorically both the World Tree from Norse Mythology and the Tree of Knowledge.
    • Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria before it was sacked. Among other mentions, it was one of the places where the prophet Jonah was commanded by God — when Jonah refused, he was swallowed by a whale or "great fish". Nineveh is the true name of the half-fish Streammaid.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The stranger finds, and later rides, a giant albino seventeen-year cicada to the very bottom of the roots of the tree at the bottom of the well. In Deadland, it saves the stranger from the Bottomless Pit at the bottom of the well instead, and gives a Rousing Speech, telling him that despite the brevity and pain of life, it is worth it. After all, cicadas live in darkness for seventeen years, only to finally emerge for a few weeks of frenzied life and love.
  • Body Horror: Strangeland is home to many horrific creatures that look Frankensteined together from other creatures. The Streammaid is one such example, being a mermaid pieced together from other living humans.
  • Cave Mouth: The entrance to Strangeland is through the gaping, animated grin of the giant Monster Clown. In Deadland, the clown is replaced with your own enormous head, jaws achingly wide and stringed with drool.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Several of the items the stranger acquires over the course of the game are used several times. Most prominently the daggers and the bottle of acid.
  • Creepy Crows: The stranger encounters two talking ravens in his journey. The first gives him information about Strangeland, the second only speaks to an old man who writes down everything it says.
  • Crosscast Role: Parodied by the Masquettes, who are very obviously women wearing grotesque masks that make them look like men, though with some slightly effeminate features. They also lampshade it constantly, as they keep reminding each other that they are supposed to play three guys in this particular story, since there really is only one woman who matters in it.
  • Dark Is Evil: Played straight. The Big Bad is a spiky, shrieking cloud of darkness known as the Dark Thing. The Reveal is that it is quite simply The Stranger's own inner darkness, his shadow, following him all the days of his life. It cannot be escaped — but it can be lessened.
  • Dark World: You catch occasional glimpses of a grayish, ghostly, disturbingly organic version of the already bleak amusement park setting while contacting the spirits of the dead. After seemingly defeating the Dark Thing atop the roller coaster tracks, you wake up in that even more nightmarish version of Strangeland, called Deadland.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Strangeland is depicted mainly in sepia tones, with scattered hues of yellow, purple, and red showing as the only colors that shows up outside them. Deadland takes it even further, being actually monochrome, with purple and occasionally spots of yellow being the only Splash of Color.
  • Easter Egg:
    • Writing Stranger, which is what the protagonist is called by others, Abe Goldfarb, the name of the stranger's voice actor or Horus, the true name of the protagonist of Wormwood's previous game Primordia in a guest register instead of the correct answer will lead to unique responses.
    • All of the character the player encouters have a unique response if they are offered a coin.
    • The masked women have new dialogue if you die by looking under their masks and come back.
  • Enemy Within: The Dark Thing, the Big Bad which is killing the woman over and over again, is simply the manifestation of the stranger's own depression, guilt, and self-loathing, which has dogged him all through his life. In a very literal sense, he is his own worst enemy, creating his own demons and pitting himself against them. He even lets the Dark Thing out of its cage, and, it is implied, drove himself to forget all this, causing the (metaphorical — or is it?) amnesia that has led him to repeat the cycle anew.
  • Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory: In-universe. Various characters pointedly note the heavy symbolism that surrounds the stranger, including themselves. Specifically, everyone is the stranger, despite the masks they wear, and all this is taking place inside his own head, using metaphor and allusion to try and process his own pain, but only succeeding in concealing it, living it out again in a hundred different ways.
  • Exact Words: The first two times you ask Eight-Three to "Make me something", he tells you to bring an order and metal. The third time you ask, he declares "I will make you ash" and burns you to death.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: The Dark Thing takes the form of a giant black cloud/crab when you battle it above the roller coaster tracks. This is not its true or final form, however.
  • Golden Ending: Using the light on the Stranger at the very end is the only ending that's even vaguely positive.
  • Greek Chorus: Invoked by the Masquettes, three women wearing grotesque giant masks in the form of old men. They claim to be the peanut gallery and chorus of the stranger's story.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The end of the game implies that the stranger has been undergoing more than a Resurrection/Death Loop, as his shadow brings up "jamais-vu", the opposite of deja vu — rather than something you've never done that seems familiar, he's been through all this many times but cannot remember it at all.
  • Homage:
    • To Dark Seed and Dark Seed II and Sanitarium, among others. A dark carnival features prominently in Sanitarium's "Circus of Fools" chapter and is a central location in the latter Dark Seed. You can also catch occasional glimpses of a dark(-er) world of the dead while using the torch to capture spirits, the art style of which is heavily influenced by the art of H. R. Giger, with its hideously organic monochrome shapes, which both Dark Seeds licensed for their background art. The second half of the game takes place in that dark world, Deadland. Writer Mark Yohalem said he wasn't consciously inspired by Sanitarium's carnival level (he remembered the other levels more clearly), and that it was artist Victor Pflug's idea to shift from the gothic mansion Yohalem originally envisioned — but that the comparison was inevitable, and flattering to the devs.
    • With its Amnesiac Hero and otherworldly, gothic setting, the game wears its Planescape: Torment influences on its (straitjacket) sleeve, albeit less prominently than Primordia.
      • The stranger's hair and facial structure are similar to the Nameless One, minus the scars. The ghostly woman, in addition to resembling The Lost Lenore Beatrice of The Divine Comedy, sets up a similar trio to Deionarra, the Nameless One, and the Transcendent One, with the Dark Thing standing in for the shadows which pursue you throughout the game.
      • The game features a series of evocatively named daggers as your primary weapon. Torment was a Dark Fantasy which specifically eschewed the typical heroic sword in favour of ugly shivs and animal teeth.
      • Among your prominent early advisors are a disembodied head (two if you count the clown) and an elderly scribe with a death wish; the first raven snarks in a similar way to Morte, even if she's limited to the central hub. Murmur the Oracular Head, meanwhile, is based on the head of Mimir from Norse Mythology — Morte claimed to be a mimir, a skull-shaped repository of planar lore named after the same mythical figure.
      • Eight-Three, as a giant mechanical smith, resembles the golem smith Coaxmetal, The Ultimate Blacksmith who will craft the weapons which will end the multiverse. His booming voice and burnished metal exterior are also reminiscent of Animated Armor Vhailor, and his inner fire of pyromaniac mage-turned-Elemental Embodiment Ignus.
    • A man with memory problems searches for the woman he loves through a Psychological Torment Zone, only to keep watching a version of her die, accompanied by a strain of Medical Horror. James Sunderland might never have entered Silent Hill's Lakeside Amusement Park, but it appears prominently in several of the game's other entries.
  • Institutional Apparel: Playing on the cliche, the main character wears what is referred to in-game as a "retro-straitjacket". He manages to undo his straps in the first minute of the game, and the overlong cuffs dangle past his fingers when not rolled back to allow the use of his hands. In fact he does not seem to have been institutionalized in real life — the straitjacket is simply shorthand for his fractured mental state in the dreamscape of the game's setting.
  • The Killer in Me: It's suggested at one point that the stranger may actually be Alberich, who along with Eitri and Rotta were responsible for turning Nineveh into the monstrous Streammaid — but in the same breath it's suggested that it may just be symbolism for the stranger's own sense of guilt over the death of the woman, projecting blame on the doctors who couldn't save her and himself. Later, when asked to write his name in the guest register, the stranger can write 'Alberich', but the being in charge of the register rejects it and asks if he really thinks that's his name.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: The old sage in the park gives his name as Fimbul Fambi — Old Norse for "mighty fool". In truth, he knows very little about your current situation and cannot give a straight answer about anything, with various quotes that sound wise but often serve as more of a guide about what not to do.
  • Last-Second Ending Choice: At the very end of the game, the stranger can either stab himself, submit to his shadow, jump into the void, or accept the light and fly away. Only the last one is a Golden Ending, while the other outcomes are Downer Endings.
  • Losing Your Head: After a certain point, the stranger is separated from his own head. It turns out he's capable of functioning without it, but is unable to communicate with the world, so reuniting with it is a priority.
  • The Many Deaths of You: There are a multitude of ways to die (and come back) in this game, to the point where there's an in-game "prize" and Steam version achievement for finding them all.
  • Medical Horror: The game drops several hints that the real woman died of medical complications, from the long list of seemingly random words spouted by the raven in the park to the fate of the Streammaid, sewn back together wrong by cruel and incompetent doctors.
  • Me's a Crowd: Once the stranger reaches Deadland, he finds quite a few things with faces that look exactly like his own, such as an old man, ravens, and entryways. This culminates in meeting a trio of doppelgangers in matching straitjackets, with one appearing younger than himself, one older, and one the same age, but clean-shaven.
  • Monster Clown: The entrance to Strangeland is a giant clown's head that tells cruel jokes at the stranger's expense. It also tells jokes in the Downer Endings related to how the stranger "dies".
  • No Name Given: The protagonist and the woman remain nameless throughout the journey.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: The Streammaid is an artificial Taxidermy Terror sewn together by a trio of Mad Doctors, then abandoned in Strangeland's freakshow. Partially mummified, she is shriveled, blackened, and monstrous, unrecognizable even to herself, with three eyes and a mouthful of sharp teeth. She remains mercifully unconscious — until you activate her by solving the puzzle of her exhibit.
  • Overly-Long Gag: The raven in the park delivers a long string of one-word nonsequiturs which the old man writes down. In Deadland, it very slowly lampshades the fact that if the player thinks that it will eventually give them some kind of hint, story secret, or Easter Egg... it won't. It takes several minutes to finish the sentence.
  • Permanently Missable Content: With multiple ways to solve various puzzles which consume the items used and can lead to various characters leaving, dying, or becoming otherwise unavailable, it is possible to miss out on various interactions, some of which are necessary for the game's Gotta Catch 'Em All achievements, such as finding every possible way to die. If you give away the rat skin without gathering its spirit, for instance, you will not be able to unlock the achievement for gathering all possible spirits to your torch in one playthrough.
  • Press X to Die: Order Eight-Three to "Make me something" without a work order or metal three times. Ask to see under the masked women's masks. Stab yourself with a dagger. There are plenty of well-signposted ways to die, and nothing stopping you from taking them.
  • Psychological Torment Zone: It's implied that Strangeland is one. The ending makes it clear that it is, with the stranger's shadow berating him for trying to evade real issues by masking them with symbolism, and the "woman" a representation of a wife that gave him hope but has passed away.
  • Resurrection/Death Loop: Every time the stranger dies, he just wakes up in front of the sign outside Strangeland once again. You are actually required to die several times over the course of the game.
  • Riddle Me This: The starfish in the Mysteries of the Deep sideshow asks you a number of riddles. Contrary to what you might think, the correct answers are the ones that anger it - once you get enough right, the starfish spits acid at you, killing you. But you can then bottle that acid for later.
  • Rule of Three: You acquire three knives over the course of the game, serving as your primary weapon: Beak, Tooth, and an unnamed third. The Dark Thing notes that it "always comes back to the knife" with you. There's an achievement called "Always Come Back to the Knife" for giving up and stabbing yourself in the throat at the very end of the game, thus starting the whole cycle over again.
  • Shaped Like What It Sells: The giant clown fronting for Strangeland forces you to walk through its mouth to gain admittance to the carnival.
  • Shout-Out: Heavily symbolic, the game is dense with allusions, literary, biblical, mythological, and otherwise.
    • The close-up shot of the stranger talking on the payphone is a visual reference to Phone Booth.
    • While separated from his head, the stranger can't talk with anyone, only prompting the thought "I have no mouth, and I must talk."
    • Many of the side characters have names in reference to beings from Norse Mythology:
      • The credits name the tree and well ravens as Huginn and Muninn, respectively — Thought and Memory, Odin's two companions and spies.
      • Murmur is a reference to Mimir, likewise an Oracular Head. Known for his wisdom and cunning in life, after he was killed during the Aesir-Vanir War, Odin carried Mimir's severed head with him and occasionally sought his advice.
      • Fimbul Fambi is Old Norse for "mighty fool".
      • The tree in Fimbul Fambi's courtyard is a yew, like Yggdrasil, the World Tree. There is also a worm gnawing at the roots of the tree — actually a cicada grub, rather than the wyrm Nidhoggr.
      • The ride which takes you to the top of the park is called the Valkyrie. The three women standing in front of it say that they aren't the Three Fates, Norse, Greek, or otherwise.
      • After one trick too many, Trickster God Loki is bound in a cave awaiting Ragnarok, where a serpent perpetually drips its venom on him — his wife catches the venom in a bowl, but when she must leave to empty it, the venom drips in his eyes. In Deadland, the blind scribe Gershom sits under a tree as something like a snake drips venom on his shoulder — having already lost his eyes. The stranger can try to help by catching the venom in an empty bottle — but because Gershom isn't bound but merely indifferent to leaving, it seems a great deal more futile.
      • The being in the furnace, Eight-Three, is named after the dwarf craftsman Eitri. This is made explicit when Outside-Rotta reveals that Eight-Three's original self was Eitri, one of the three men responsible for the Streammaid's current fate.
    • From Greek mythology and theatre:
      • The prize for winning the shooting gallery the first time is a bottle of Nepenthe™, a drug of forgetfulness.
      • The three masked women outside the Valkyrie claim to be the Greek Chorus of the game and refer to themselves at one point as strophe, antistrophe, and epode, the three parts of a Grecian ode.
    • The shooting gallery in Deadland Rhymes on a Dime, to the tune of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven". The prize for winning the second time in Deadland is Balm of Gilead™. Poe's poem was referencing both the biblical verse and the African-American spiritual, popular in his day.
    • The Stranger at one point mentions making a fake moustache out of hair, a reference to an infamous puzzle from Gabriel Knight.
    • There are at least two references to The Secret of Monkey Island: the "tainted meat" used to eliminate the dog is named the same as the drugged meat that Guybrush uses to bypass the piranha poodles. And in the ending of both games, the Big Bad attacks the player character and forces them around several screens until they grab items they need to make progress.
    • In Deadland, one of the masquers suggests that "Beneath all those overcoats, there's only a dead rat!", something that happens in one of the Wayside books.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: The clown's jokes become increasingly morbid, bizarre, and metaphorical, to the point where the only way in which they're jokes at all is in his delivery and the Annoying Laugh that accompanies each and every one.
    Clown: I don't wanna tell you a joke. I don't wanna tell you anything at all. But you know the problem with me? I never could keep my big mouth shut! Gaheeheehaw!
  • Speak Friend and Enter: Towards the climax, the stranger is asked to do a seemingly impossible task: an eye tells him, an amnesiac, to "write your name" in a guest register. The correct answer is "your name".
  • Tarot Motifs: The Oracular Head Murmur The Magnificent can see the amnesiac stranger's past, present, and future through the cards of the tarot. Towards the climax of Deadland, the stranger must associate three NPCs — himself as a youth, adult, and old man — with the same tarot cards he chose in order to get past them.
  • Taxidermy Terror: Overlapping with Body Horror and Medical Horror. The Streammaid was human in life, but cut apart and sewn back together with pieces of animals and the tail of a fish. She's now on display in a giant bell jar with the other freaks in the Mysteries of the Deep sideshow.
  • Tradesnark™: Nepenthe™ and Balm of Gilead™ are branded tonics, cures for what ails you, winnable at the shooting gallery in both worlds.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Several puzzles have alternate solutions which allow the stranger the choice of whether to be crueler or kinder. You only need five spirits of the dead to relight the spirit lamps of the Valkyrie's engine after it is destroyed by the Dark Thing, for example. In doing so you are shown to have interrupted the peace some of those beings found in death, and there is no benefit to gathering more — other than an achievement unlock for having all possible spirits collected at the same time before putting them to work.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: A possible Aesop in one of the Multiple Endings: such darkness within you requires that there must be some light to cast it — if you cannot see it yourself, that is because the light is you, the light you are to those who love you.