Version tested: PC
An esoteric point-and-click adventure in which you navigate dreams rendered in Polaroid snapshots, Trauma borrows the ambiance of sombre European cinema. It combines lingering night photography of Cologne, Germany with CGI motion graphics to haunting effect. Its lead character is voiced by a Björk-ish woman who wouldn't sound out of place in an Ingmar Bergman film, while a soundtrack of ambient pianos that lose their train of thought mid-melody adds to the trancelike atmosphere.
For those who believe indie game visuals are limited to pixel-art homage or neon space vectors, Trauma offers a striking alternate vision: one that, through its use of photography, is rooted in reality, even as it attempts to uproot that sense of reality through composition and context.
But plunge through the swirling, opaque glass of Trauma's aesthetic and there's a focused, somewhat orthodox core beneath. It's not clear whom you play as in this game, but your task is to save a girl from her recurring, trauma-inflicted dreams.
The opening film suggests she was the victim of a car crash, but at the moment of impact - if indeed that's what happened - the world dissolves into streaky lights and the incessant blips of a heart monitor. It would imply a clearer objective than is given to say your task is to piece together her fractured identity. Rather, you collect snapshots of her past while trying to solve the simple mysteries of her dreams, a task that aids her recovery from the Trauma of the title.
The girl is troubled by four dreams - levels, in game terms - that must be navigated and 'solved' in a variety of different ways. Each dream has one main ending (rewarded by a short film showing the woman's waking interactions with her doctor) as well as three alternate endings for completists. These are endings in the literal sense only: they end your progression through the dream, rarely attempting to make sense or order of what you have seen.
The dreams all take place on Cologne streets at night, in four distinct locations, each one mostly deserted. You move around the locations by clicking on hotspots in the environment, snapping your way forwards and back to the sound of a camera shutter going off, a little like moving down a road in Google Street View.
As you explore the dreams, the woman explains in abstract, ambiguous terms what you are seeing before offering echoes of objectives. She speaks not as an omniscient narrator but as a confused victim, uncertain of what needs to be done, offering clues toward clues, unsure of herself and her exact needs.