The first thing I noticed when I checked out Strayed Lights at PAX East was the haunting beauty of the world that developer Ember had created in the game. Once I was able to check out the full experience I was wowed by the lights, vistas and environments I discovered playing through the adventure.
One of the key things I had to learn as I played is that there is a very different set of narrative tactics at play in Strayed Lights. There is no dialogue, no explicit mission markers or story transcripts. Instead there are subtle hints in the air, or open areas that beg to be explored.
This method of inviting instead of directing exploration was both captivating and initially a tad confusing. Once I understood that I needed to explore to find my next path forward, the game clicked with me and I let the beauty of the environments and subtle but haunting soundtrack guide me forward.
The music in Strayed Lights is an atmospheric soundtrack that reflects states of feeling in creatures you encounter, composed by Grammy award-winning composer Austin Wintory. The music here truly helps to set a tone and feeling that shifts from area to area, helping to define the emotions or state of the next creature you may encounter.
The game proper has us controlling a being of light that evolves and grows as the game progresses gaining skills and abilities to adapt the the ever-challenging creatures. In Strayed Lights other beings like you have been corrupted or led astray and through encounters with them they are freed and returned to their original form.
The game is a very interesting mix of the calming exploration game Journey, melded with some action sequences and platforming. The key mechanics revolve around parrying attacks while matching the color (red or blue) of the enemies who switch between states often.
By parrying (or attacking, which becomes more effective as the game progresses) an energy meter fills up and then can be triggered, once full, to destroy or restore the enemy. There is a push-and-pull mechanic that feels like a dance at times as colors are switched, attacks parried or dodged and occasional counterattacks delivered.
While there is some free form to the game, Strayed Lights does have a game loop and it is quite enjoyable. Explore a bit, find a path, take out some mid-level enemies while collecting some glowing orbs, then find the areas “boss” and fight it in multi-level encounters.
While on paper the game loop seems typical it actually is quite stimulating as the environments themselves are just so captivating to explore and experience. The lights, colors, tucked-away hidden areas and stylish enemies are enhanced by the lovely soundtrack that pervades the entire experience.
I would have liked a little more variety in the combat mechanics, but it may well be that the game is narrow in the combat focus for a specific design purpose. The focus does seem more on the discovery and exploration, with combat being a way to transition between experiences.
Strayed Lights is a compelling experience that does not go overboard with mechanics or narrative but instead guides us through a truly lovely experience as we explore and evolve with the on-screen avatar. It is available right now on PC via GoG, Epic Games Store and Steam as well as PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, X|S and Nintendo Switch.
We received a PS5 code for review purposes from the publisher.