Land of Screens Review
From the moment I saw the title, Land of Screens, I was apprehensive. Is this going to be some sort of judgmental screed about making ‘real connections’ in the ‘real world’ as we cast our electronic devices into a volcano? Fortunately, Land of Screens approaches those themes with subtlety. But unfortunately, the nuanced writing is the only part of Land of Screens that impresses.
Point, Click, Walk, Chat
Land of Screens self identifies as a point-and-click adventure game. This is technically true. Just point your cursor somewhere, click it, and your protagonist Holland will walk there. You can also navigate with the WASD keys. And then, you will find yourself in different environments full of people to talk to, and objects to observe. Here’s the thing though. In a point-and-click adventure game, I expect puzzles, maybe an inventory system. As it stands, Land of Screens feels like a strange hybrid between one of those old Lucasarts adventure games and a modern walking simulator. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the manic energy of the former, or the sense of immersion of the latter.
You see, Holland has just gone through a breakup. (Ah, that old indie game chestnut, becoming as prevalent as an amnesiac hero). She wants the support of her long time BFF, but a misunderstanding leads her to a very awkward house party. Throughout this rather short narrative, you will be thrust into a number of socially awkward situations, including a work function, a concert, and a family gathering.
This Screen Belongs to Somebody
There’s a competence to the writing in Land of Screens. The characters feel specific. That makes criticizing it sort of hard, because my biggest problem is that I didn’t connect with any of it. Despite being an anxious millennial myself, I didn’t recognize any of myself in the youthful ennui of Holland and her friends. For example, Hollands aforementioned BFF is now into kayaks. There’s a memorable little anecdote where she won a kayak in a work contest, it sat in her living room for a while, and then her roommate pushed her into taking it out on the water, and now they kayak once a month. That’s definitely a narrative. This character was a couch potato, tried something new, and now has a thrilling new hobby.
This is where those subtle themes impress. Part of Holland’s implied problem with social media and perpetually online people is how often she finds herself comparing to other people’s lives and feeling bad about herself. This isn’t spelled out in so many words, but it’s clear that Holland feels sad and alone and unaccomplished. Would something like kayaking make her feel cool again? Is her friend being genuine or just putting on outdoorsy airs? It feels so real that it must be drawn from the writer’s real life; at least a little bit.
But without some more involved gameplay, the story lacks impact. In fact, the gameplay choices are what really sinks Land of Screens. There’s no a lot of choice- in each environment you can choose the order to have certain conversations. You can choose to skip over some dialogue entirely. Sometimes, you get a binary dialogue choice though, this rarely changes the course of the scene. And you can direct Holland around the room.
Navigating a Hostile World
The navigation is tedious. Perhaps this story would have been better delivered as a visual novel. I definitely could have used more feedback, like visualizations of where I stood with the other characters or perhaps a meter tracking Hollands existential angst. Or maybe this would have worked better in the first person, to let the level design tell a story, and to give the player a reason to meander through each location. The current compromise draws the worst from both worlds.
Perhaps though, there are those who would really respond to the art style. The iconic paper doll style oozes indie sensibilities. Some of the animations are pretty good; I especially liked the way one character kicked up her back leg as she worked the griddle. A lot of personality in that little kick. But the art is flat, the music serviceable. It stylistically makes one think about A Night in the Woods, which also had simple colorful art, and a linear story. What Land of Screens lacks is a sense of mystery and discovery. The world is as thin as the paper people who live in it.
There are definitely people out there who could get a lot out of Land of Screens. Maybe they too are struggling with themselves after a breakup. Or maybe they are having a bad time with social media. I get it. I’ve felt those feelings. But nothing about the Land of Screens brought me to a personal catharsis. I can see where the developers are coming from, but they did not convey their message in a way that applied to me. With a more interesting execution, perhaps this could have been an exciting, moving indie narrative. As it stands though, there are better things you can do with your screens than play Land of Screens.
***PC code provided by the developers for Review***
- More subtle than the title would imply
- Authentic Millennial anxiety
- No meaningful choices
- Premise feels overdone
- Stylistically flat