Have you ever travelled? I don’t mean travel to work or the like, but taking a trip to another town, another country entirely. That break in routine, the change of scenery, people, sights, smells and not being somewhere you are familiar with is something special. It can change us in ways we weren’t expecting and some of the best stories that people have are from their travels, sharing wisdom, anecdotes and mindset shifts that occurred when away from the standard regimen of waking up, heading to work, heading home and sleeping because you were too tired to do anything else.
Wanderlust: Travel Stories taps into how powerful, how personal and how transformative travel can be. In this adventure game, you are put in the shoes of several different travellers, who are sharing their stories during a vacation to Easter Island. Get ready to travel all around the world, and sometimes jumping back and forth in time to follow the narrative of some truly interesting individuals, while learning a lot about the places they visited. It is up to you to manage finances and stress and fatigue levels of your character. Small details, like picking the right way to travel, what to wear or pack could be important to one traveller, while another will need to decide how they approach their shift on a yacht sailing to Antarctica.
I found myself finishing one story just to dive straight into another, hungry to see the beautiful photos and help these people on their journeys.
Let me tell you a story
Each person in the small group takes a turn to tell their story, at which point you are in control of how they react to situations and approach things. Will you stay in a more expensive hotel? Will you take a smaller bag that is lighter, or lug a big bag around to carry more essential items? Will you look out the window, or try to engage with others on your journey? These myriad decisions will impact your mood and your energy levels, and even your pocket. Small things will cause changes to the narrative, with sections of the text getting a comment to their side to indicate what caused the interaction. Your outfit might impact your hiking prowess, or lead to someone’s response to your appearance. Some options are locked off if you aren’t in the right frame of mind, or just too tired, making you pay special attention to what you do and say. Of course, travel can be chaotic and your mood and energy can be affected by unfolding events as you get swept up in the narrative.
I don’t want to spoil any specifics of the tales that were told, but if you enjoy reading, this is one of the better interactive text adventures you could hope for. Free of the normal video game requirements of grinding and boss fights, you are free to explore the world, with time, energy and money being your only constraints. The tales that are told are based on real-life adventures and let me tell you, some of them are really adventures. In one of them, you join an expedition to the Antarctic on a small yacht, a difficult, dangerous trip that requires planning, physical and mental fortitude as you press into places so cold that nothing man-made seems to survive. In another you follow a retired journalist who returns to Africa for a funeral and ends up going back to the places she covered many years ago, meeting old contacts and seeing how time has healed or replaced the ravages of past conflicts. There are also journeys of self-discovery, with a student on a gap year travelling in Thailand and someone breaking out of the routine of work to track down a mysterious stranger and let go of the need to control every small detail.
Books to life
The variations make for pleasant reading and I found myself finishing one story just to dive straight into another, hungry to see the beautiful photos and help these people on their journeys. These aren’t images you will just find in a stock photo folder or with a Google search either: Many of these photos are from private archives or personal collections, and Jacek Brzeziński, one of the developers, took many pictures specially for the game, acting as a backdrop for the various beautiful locations.
When not looking at pictures, the sounds of the places you visit take over. The rush of rain, the chatter of people in a busy marketplace, the noise of the icebergs groaning and cracking as the ship’s engine sputters past all add to the tale, with some beautiful music joining everything together. During the trip to the Antarctic, I could feel how the chilling music and sounds were making me feel cold on a fairly warm day as the narrative swept me along.
Wanderlust: Travel Stories is like a new genre of audiobook, where you read a book while hearing the sounds of the places that were visited, instead of the narrator reading the text. You stare at the map and marvel at the distances, seeing how everything fits together as you get to visit places you might never see and what an experience it is. It isn’t easy to capture how overwhelming and complicated and fraught with tension travelling can be, but Wanderlust does a great job of showcasing the essence of it, and the transformative power travelling can have.