When I was fifteen years old, I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the first time. The tale of a young scientist who created life and became horrified by his making, it’s a story familiar to many even if they had not experienced the novel. Two hundred years after its original publication, the book has inspired films, television, comic books, and especially video games.
While not the first game ever to use the character, The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature closely captures the tone from the novel. It’s a point-and-click adventure where you play as the monster and guide it through its life. You encounter humans, learn from them and try to find peace in an otherwise hostile world. It uses the book as a springboard for the story, but the decision-based gameplay allows it to veer off into other directions and lead to new outcomes not seen in Shelley’s original. Despite that, it still keeps in line with the themes of the book without going too ridiculously off-track.
One big diversion it makes is in the physical presentation of the creature. Shelley described its features as having yellow skin, watery eyes and straight black lips to create an almost zombie-like appearance. The game instead leaves this more to the imagination because of the top-down perspective that never shows the monster’s face clearly. It’s better to leave something that’s supposed to be hideous to the individual’s interpretation, making this one of the game’s biggest strengths.
Because of its interactive form, there are minigames to be completed at certain points. They’re not too complicated, with tasks such as chopping wood or playing the organ being the crux of it all. Adventure games like this also usually let the protagonist comment on objects within the world, thus helping to build character. For a story about an abominable creature discovering the wonders and vices of humanity, there is very little of this on display. You can’t really interact with unimportant things, only the stuff that advances the plot. It’s disappointing to see an opportunity wasted like this.
Just like books, The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature conveys its tone through written language. As in the original story, the monster doesn’t understand English (or German, I guess) when spoken by humans. This is represented onscreen by inexpressible symbols in place of dialogue boxes. As its knowledge of human culture grows throughout the game, appropriate words are inserted as coherent speech becomes a more common sight.
In addition to this, the creature’s internal monologue is presented by onscreen dialogue that pops in and out of the story. Unlike Shelley’s work, which palindromically flickers between multiple perspectives, the entire plot is solely delivered through the creature’s perspective, thus making these inner dialogues crucial in delivering it. Reading them allows the game to become a meditative experience when combined with the colourful landscapes and serene music. Every frame looks like a painting you’d hang up on your wall, with an excellent attention to colour grading that effectively expresses the tone of the scene.
The music, on the other hand, combines well with the creature’s thoughts to portray a sense of both sadness and discovery, as you watch this creature struggling for acceptance in a world that rejects it as melancholy harmonies play, only for a more exciting fanfare to be heard when it is travelling across the country. The dialogue allows for introspection on the part of the player, asking them to empathise with a character they may see as monstrous and hostile if experiencing this story from a different point of view. As a result, The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature successfully adapts the themes of Mary Shelley’s novel while excellently reworking it for an interactive space.
Tested on PC
Developer La Belle Games
Publisher ARTE France
Disclosure a copy of The Wanderer: Frankenstein’s Creature was supplied by ICO Partners