Torn Away - PC Review

Torn Away by developer perelesoq and publishers perelesoq, Hawthorn GamesPC Steam review written by David with a copy provided by the publisher. Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this product from #keymailer #TornAway

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.

Fleeing across Germany and Poland would be hard for anyone in trouble, but for a little Russian girl in World War Two, it would prove to be a nightmare. We’re going to follow Asya on her journey home as an escaped ostarbeiter in search of her family. “War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.” Hawkeye from M*A*S*H said this, and the friends I’ve spoken to who’ve seen live combat agree; Torn Away goes on to show that quite clearly.

The game opens with Asya waking up in Stalingrad, on the morning of her mother’s birthday. Mother isn’t home, so we go about our efforts as a little girl to make mother a birthday present. We learn some details about life here. Father is on the front lines, mother seems upset lately and Asya blames herself. We get glimpses into her self image through her conversations with her two friends, a doll and a broomstick horse.

We are introduced to another companion during this process, as Asya creates Comrade Mitten when she repairs one during her tasks for the day. Comrade Mitten served on the front, and knows Asya’s father, of course. Mother doesn’t make it home for her birthday though, because it’s August 23rd, 1942. Today, the battle of Stalingrad begins. Bombs are dropped, and Asya is taken prisoner.

The game skips around a bit in the timeline, some parts as active fleeing across the countryside and others told through dreams or flashbacks of earlier points in her imprisonment. From working with Asya’s mother on a time-based task that’ll determine if you two get rations as the war prisoner slave labor you are. During her flight portions, we get direct views into the world around her as she escapes and explores. A note from a family begging their Nazi son to change his course. An abandoned hut, with the skeletal remains of a hidden survivor in the cellar completing a tragedy you begin reading about upstairs as you search for firewood to ride out a storm.

Asya’s story is a tragic one. Every time things look up this war slams her back down face first into the snow. It took two of her companions right at the start. Her father is somewhere on the eastern front. She has nobody to turn to after she escapes the war camp due to an Allied bombing raid on it. Everyone who shows her kindness, everyone who helps her along the way, gets hurt by the horrific, oppressive Nazi regime she flees from.

Torn Away is functionally an interactive novel. While primarily a 2d side scrolling platformer with some stealth mechanics, it is incredibly narrative focused, and has a mix of first person exploration and nicely varied puzzles to accent that narrative. The snowstorm I mentioned earlier has you running between boulders to keep from being pushed back down the hill from the hut you take shelter in. At one point you help a crashed pilot by fixing his arm, and another you simply cook breakfast yourself as an independent young girl.

The emotional rollercoaster that is this game is combined with some of the most beautifully done, and incredibly fitting visuals I’ve seen in a game in a long time. Described on the Perelesoq website as “inspired by social realists and French animation,” it really sets the mood as soon as you see it, and then they pair it with excellent, tone-setting score that they did. The story just swallows you, keeping you moving Asya through her journey home, determined as this little girl is to keep standing up no matter what happens.

 Torn Away is a heavy-themed reminder that video games are art. Every level of this piece is art from every direction you look at it. Every story beat, every note, every color placement, contributes to a combined art piece that multiple skills and visions came together to create in order to tell us a story based on the diaries of wartime children, to tell us their story. The top games every year are war games, but they’re never games that show just how beyond-hellishly full of innocents war truly is.

Score: 10 / 10



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