Wide Ocean Big Jacket

PC, Switch

I absolutely fundamentally flat-out do not like camping. I cannot imagine why anyone would choose to separate themselves from the outside by the thinnest imaginable material, and then sleep on the ground, when humans invented buildings and beds absolutely ages ago. Even cavemen lived in caves. That’s why they’re called “cavemen”, not “outsidemen”.

So I want you to understand that it’s from this foundational belief that I found playing Wide Ocean Big Jacket made me wonder if camping might be something to do. It isn’t. But I caught myself wondering for a moment. Which is testament to what an absolutely bloody lovely game this is.

This is the tale of four people going camping for a single night. There’s Brad and Cloanne, married aunt and uncle to 13 year old Mord, along with Mord’s friend and now-boyfriend, Ben. Mord and Ben have never been camping before, Brad and Cloanne are frequent tent-inhabitors. Ben and Mord are freshly arrived at being teenagers, Cloanne and Brad have no kids. Brad is the Fun Uncle. Cloanne is really not comfortable around kids. You’re up to speed.

This is, for want of not calling it a walking simulator, a narrative adventure. There are a couple of choices to be made along the way, but this is mostly about being variously in control of various combinations of the four characters as they go through their two-day camping trip, walking about the campground, birdwatching, peeing in bushes, that sort of thing. But more than that, it’s about enjoying the conversations between them all.

It looks lovely. A peculiar combination of 3D and 2.5D, the simple blocky cartoon style reminiscent of Frog Detective made really special by the lighting as the time of day changes throughout. The narrative tone meanwhile is somewhere between Night In The Woods and Oxenfree, if either game were suddenly optimistic.

There’s so much told in this short, sweet story, most of it unsaid. What is said, meanwhile, is a delight to read, presented in a unique fashion with an all black screen but for a silhouette of the speaker’s face under their name, and their dialogue beneath that. Which has every line look like it’s from the front of a t-shirt. In so many cases, they absolutely should be.

Mord is incredibly confident, quick-witted, and very funny. Ben keeps up with her, but lacks her confidence. Brad seems super chill, although always a little concerned about getting into trouble with his sister, Mord’s mum. And Cloanne is super out of sorts when the kids are around, then transformatively relaxed when they’re not. The whys behind each of these personalities are mostly alluded to in passing, but much more present as gently bubbling undercurrents, and on one occasion bursting forth as an argument.

But what’s so special here is there’s no deep dark secret. There’s no awful reveal. This is a positive game! It’s about nice people having a good time! Goodness me, it’s extraordinary that this is such a rare thing as to feel notable, but yes! It’s not dishonestly upbeat, but it offers a reflection of a really normal part of life that most media so peculiarly ignores: when things go well. Lovely moments sometimes get to gently peter out, rather than end in Sudden Calamity.

We’re so madly trained by most television and film to assume all instances of loveliness are inevitably portents of impending horror. “This is a perfect moment,” are words only ever uttered before the murderer springs from the bushes, or at the very least, everything goes “hilariously” wrong. But through those tensions aside, and allow yourself to enjoy a story where, you know, everything’s fine for a bit!

My highlight is the most honest and sweet and awkward conversation between Mord and Cloanne about sex, which just imparts truth from start to finish. But what I love most is that for most of the hour or two it lasts, it’s about small, non-eventful moments, perceived by decent people.

It always takes me a while to relax and accept that my role in these games is to progress the linear tale, but the moment I did, I would have been happy for this to meander on for days. Instead it ends when I still wanted more, which is always the best time for anything to end. I completely understand why this is up for an IGF narrative award next month. Gosh I’d like to see some other sites reviewing this before then, proactive rather than reactive.

Meantime, get ahead of the curve yourself and pick it up right away.

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3 Comments

  1. “a reflection of a really normal part of life that most media so peculiarly ignores: when things go well. … We’re so madly trained by most television and film to assume all instances of loveliness are inevitably portents of impending horror.”

    I think that’s why I love the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset films. They’re not my usual genre, but I adore them. So perfect in the way they capture those lovely moments and a kind of rhythm of life.

  2. A lovely recommendation – I too have an aversion to camping (a symptom of my general neurotic mentality) and so it’s lovely to spend a bit of time with lovely people “doing a camp out”. This, and Florence, shows there’s so much opportunity for video games to not be a movie/TV show and just offer heart-warming snippets that engage different parts of our monkey-brains.

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