It’s an undeniable fact that World War II has always been a popular setting for video games, placing players on the frontlines of what remains the deadliest human conflict in history. There are countless first-person shooters and tactical strategy games that use the backdrop of one of humanity’s darkest hours, but there are far less that focus on the impact felt by those who were left at home when the war began. Torn Away does exactly that, telling a heartbreaking tale of a young girl who is torn from her family when war strikes, and the extraordinary journey she undergoes in order to return to them.
Based on the diaries of children that lived throughout World War II, Torn Away quickly introduces players to Asya, a ten-year-old Russian girl living with her mother in Stalingrad. She awakes from a bad dream in which she recalls her father leaving the family home when the war began, and is comforted by her sentient toy friends Arkasha and Madame. Things initially start off rather wholesomely as she interacts with her talkative toy buddies, preparing the home for her mother in the hopes of cheering her up, and repairing a damaged mitten that her father left behind, creating another friend known as Comrade Mittens in the process. All of a sudden sirens begin to blare out as Stalingrad is attacked by German forces. Mere collateral damage in this battle, Asya and her mother are among the 60,000 civilians that were removed from their homes and forced to work in labour camps in Germany. The story picks up a few years later, and sees Asya and Comrade Mitten embark on a journey across Germany and Poland in the hopes of returning home.
The war is about to change Asya’s life forever
From working at the labour camp, to scavenging for food and seeking shelter from the freezing cold and harsh weather of winter, Asya’s quest is dark, drab, and downright depressing. The horrors of the realities of war are keenly felt here, made more poignant by experiencing it all through the eyes of a child. Even in the darkest of times however, Asya benefits from the unexpected kindness of strangers, in what serves as a reminder that despite the atrocities being committed all around them, not all humanity has been snuffed out. The narrative of Torn Away is definitely the roughly three hour experience’s strongest asset, and isn’t one afraid of pulling its punches either, so be prepared.
The visuals of Torn Away are quite unique, sporting a predominantly two-dimensional aesthetic that developer perelesoq claims is inspired by social realists and French animation. It’s a visually pretty cartoon-style look, with a sort of grainy look that gives it the appearance of a drawing or painting. I say predominantly 2D because some levels are 3D, but still largely utilise Torn Away’s fascinating 2D visual look. It’s a good looking game, the visuals doing a great job of presenting the bleak nature of Europe during WWII.
Voice acting is also executed well in Torn Away. I opted for the recommended Russian voice acting for the sake of it feeling more authentic, but I also found the English casting to be solid enough for those that would prefer it. The soundtrack is also great, with its more emotional piano pieces enhancing the atmosphere of some of the game’s more powerful moments.
Torn Away’s visual look enhances its sense of atmosphere
In the gameplay department, Torn Away for the most part functions as a point-and-click adventure game with some relatively light puzzle solving. The first section of the game for example sees you exploring Asya’s family home and running some errands, such as finding and playing her mother’s favourite vinyl record, and tracking down some pencils scattered amongst the house in order to complete a family drawing. In true adventure game fashion, you make your way through the environment and interact with everything you possibly can, with the hint ability a handy way to highlight objects of interest if you can’t find what you’re looking for.
There are also some 2D side-scrolling sequences that are akin to something like Playdead’s Limbo, where Asya traverses environments such as the harsh German cold, and must crouch, jump and manipulate objects like ladders and crates in order to proceed. The side-scrolling approach is also used for some platforming and stealth segments, which don’t set the world on fire given their basic nature, but do still succeed in keeping the adventure fresh. Torn Away even shifts into the first-person perspective on occasion, allowing you to see things from Asya’s point of view. While these instances are largely just interactive cinema-style moments, they again are handled well and are yet another example of Torn Away’s willingness to dabble with various approaches to gameplay.
The continual shift in gameplay styles keeps things feeling fresh
While not all of the gameplay ideas come together as well as others, and overall it’s rather elementary, Torn Away is still an enjoyable game to play, and the game’s short length ensures that its simple mechanics don’t overstay their welcome and become stale. Its narrative is definitely what will keep players invested, but the gameplay is serviceable enough.
Torn Away succeeds at telling an emotional and engaging story about a little girl living through the horrors of war and continuously reaching for the light in the darkness. While the gameplay doesn’t do much to reinvent the wheel, it’s fine for the most part, with its point-and-click adventure sequences among its strongest. An interesting visual style, solid voice acting, and a high quality soundtrack all aid in making Torn Away a short and gripping adventure that will surprise with the brutal reality of its narrative.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- perelesoq, Hawthorn Games
- PC / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One
- September 29, 2023