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Review

The Wreck Review

Getaway car

I rolled credits on The Wreck on a gloomy Sunday arvo, swaddled by my largest hoodie and nestled between pillows and a napping dog. My second coffee of the day went neglected on the table as I found myself engrossed in the game in much the same way I get with a good book, a comparison point that developers The Pixel Hunt seem very happy with. There are a litany of stylistic and tonal influences felt in The Wreck, from the dry tragedy of Fleabag to indie cinema and, naturally, the page-turner.

A 3D visual novel played out through branching, cinematic memory sequences and conversation-heavy dialogue choices, The Wreck puts you in the head of Junon, a late-thirties screenwriter who is called to the hospital one afternoon after her mother suffers an aneurism. Unbeknownst to Junon, her mother Marie has forged her signature and given her daughter medical power of attorney, effectively saddling her with the decision of whether or not to pull life support on her now comatose mother. Over the course of a single day at the hospital we must navigate Junon through a series of emotionally exhausting conversations with several people, including her sister and ex-husband. Through these vignettes, Junon must untangle her complicated relationship with her mother, and death, before making the call on how to proceed.

The Wreck puts you in Junon’s noisy head

It’s a heavy premise, complicated even further by the recurring motif of a looming car crash that plays out each time Junon gets into a fight with someone and leaves the hospital distraught. Throughout conversations you’ll often hit major trigger points, during which large, stylised words appear over Junon, but before you can grab at the concept (by moving your cursor to click), they fade, leaving Junon only capable of reacting poorly and triggering the wreck cutscene. As the car rolls and the contents of Junon’s bag spill out around her, you can highlight items to enter into memories that hold the key to processing Junon’s trauma, allowing her to return to the conversation and choose the better path.

This comprises the essential loop of The Wreck, a repetition that strengthens the game’s concluding moments but can wear thin during the second act. You learn very early on that Junon’s life is a bit of a mess, between her failure to launch (well, sustain altitude actually) writing career and her broken relationships, she is a woman not entirely present. Often characters will need to pull her back into conversations because the majority of her dialogue is internal, a rolling commentary and analysis spoken to the player via the game’s other narrative device. Junon’s issues reached a breaking point after the death of her four-year-old daughter, and now many years later the waves of that event are finally breaking on the rocks.

Over the course of the game’s five-ish hours, Junon will walk her daughter through major life moments, played out in scenes that give you control over time by fast-forwarding or rewinding with the shoulder bumpers. As you roll through these moments you’ll feel a rumble and find highlighted words to trigger Junon’s dialogue, oftentimes needing several passes to unpack the truth behind these memories. These instances were always fascinating to play through, each deploying unique camera work and framing devices to best suit the lesson Junon needs to learn. One plays out scenes from her failing marriage inside a doll house, another follows the life cycle of a lobster, another still the events of her 25th birthday as seen through stunning, flowing camera choices.

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Junon’s relationships are frayed and in need of mending

The game looks tremendous, an expressive mix of simple, bold character and world art, vibrant colours and blooming lighting. But The Wreck also uses its style to explore the nature of memories, the time manipulation mechanic a nice bit of interactivity that also does a great job at visualising the idea of self-examination. Often Junon’s memories will appear to be something on the first pass but as you nudge forward and back through them, deeper meaning and truth can be found as she comes to terms with what actually happened, or even didn’t happen. It’s a lovely meditation on the fraught nature of self-perception, having to literally alter perspectives to better see your choices and the impact they’ve had.

All of this style wouldn’t mean much without The Wreck’s stellar writing and performances though. Sharlit Dayzac’s work as Junon is gorgeous, effortlessly switching between the humour and melancholy of the character. The supporting cast is likewise brilliant, a range of French actors recording the lines in English giving the game a melodic tone. I don’t want to sound like an awards speech thanking people in quick succession but flowers for Antoine Fleury, Jaynelia Coadou and Marie Chevalot are entirely in order. The script can occasionally veer into the heavy-handed as certain emotional beats are underlined too keenly but this was rare, especially as you work through the game’s gut-wrenching third-act. The Wreck is undeniably sad at times but it is much more concerned with its study of post-trauma, asking how to move on rather than dwell. Its character work is a standout in the medium too, the game allowing for nuanced and messy adult drama that forfeits easy answers or neat conclusions.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to convey the best of The Wreck in a review because so much of its joy is found in the moment-to-moment writing and performances, something I can’t capture for you here. Through tight mechanics and smart camera work it crafts a personal tale that uses the best of several mediums to deliver a gorgeous little experience all of its own kind. After I had finished the game I found myself actively missing these characters, and that noticed absence told me everything I need to know about The Wreck.

Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher

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The Wreck Review
Page turner
A smart, compelling, and deeply warm examination of memory and identity, The Wreck gives players the tools to turn tragedy into catharsis.
The Good
Nuanced, warm character writing
Smart memory gameplay mechanics
Outstanding voice performances
Striking art style
The Bad
Minor pacing issues in the second act
Writing occasionally gets too heavy-handed
8.5
GET AROUND IT
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  • The Pixel Hunt
  • The Pixel Hunt
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC / Switch
  • March 14, 2023

The Wreck Review
Page turner
A smart, compelling, and deeply warm examination of memory and identity, The Wreck gives players the tools to turn tragedy into catharsis.
The Good
Nuanced, warm character writing
Smart memory gameplay mechanics
Outstanding voice performances
Striking art style
The Bad
Minor pacing issues in the second act
Writing occasionally gets too heavy-handed
8.5
GET AROUND IT
Written By James Wood

One part pretentious academic and one part goofy dickhead, James is often found defending strange games and frowning at the popular ones, but he's happy to play just about everything in between. An unbridled love for FromSoftware's pantheon, a keen eye for vibes first experiences, and an insistence on the Oxford comma have marked his time in the industry.

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