Wander lands on PlayStation 4 today but, and I don’t say this lightly, you shouldn’t touch it with a very long barge pole. The game is described as a “collaborative, non-combat MMO where you explore a lush, wild rainforest filled with hidden secrets to discover.” This is almost accurate, but the execution of the game has left myself and others wondering how the developers thought it was ready for release.
You begin the game as a tree which, as you would expect, walks at the pace of a tree. It’s never a good sign when the game lumbers (aha!) you with an ungainly character to begin with, but after what appears to be an eternity of slowly climbing up a jungle path you encounter a stone for ‘Fireflies’. The game tells you to summon and control the fireflies using the touch pad. It doesn’t work.
Pushing forward along the path, I began to hear singing and the obvious thing to do is to head towards whoever is chirruping away. Here is the next problem – using sound to locate something when you only have left and right speakers just doesn’t work. There are multiple pathways and I ended up taking the wrong one twice as the singing was actually coming from higher above me, which left and right speakers simply can’t indicate.
Eventually I managed to find the ruined temple and walked forward straight into an invisible wall. There was clearly nothing blocking my path, but the game gods had decreed that I had to walk around the sides of the temple, and whilst doing so, through a number of large stone archways. By through I mean by clipping right through the bricks, not through the archway itself which was too small for a tree-beast to walk through, and since every player has to pass through that archway, why was it not simply made bigger?
Reaching the source of the singing transforms you from a walking tree into a humanoid woman who’s DNA also seems to include a little bit fish – she has fins on her calves – and a smidgen of tree squirrel as she can glide. Sometimes. Not all the time. It just seems to be random, but even on foot she is a much more useful character to explore the forest that the game proudly trumpets was “Achieved in CryEngine”. It’s terrible.
It is, as I like to put it, a ‘Foliage Disco’. Imagine if you will a large nightclub packed full of lasers and lights which flash on and off, but now replace those flashing lasers and lights with trees, plants and shadows that flash on and off. That’s Wander. Check out this video of my character running along the beach and watch the trees and plants pop in and out like organic strobe lights.
The game is meant to be tranquil and relaxing, but your eyes are constantly flicking across the screen as plants, shadows and objects vanish and reappear. The world occasionally goes darker, perhaps as an invisible cloud in the totally clear blue sky passes overheat, and the sound of the ocean can be mysteriously missing.
Back to my journey and the glitchy forest is alive with the sounds of insects and birds, except there are none. Aside from the vegetation, it is totally lifeless and through my entire playtime I have seen just one other character, a tree that walked right past me. There is no way to talk, no indication who the player is so you can find them on the PSN, nothing. How you are meant to “collaborate” with them, I have no idea, and even though I was playing before release, the complete lack of other players – reviewers, developers or anyone at all – makes it difficult to justify the game’s description as an MMO.
The play area is massive, with great distances between the various points of interest, but getting to them is a chore when, after much running around, my character starts to pant and stops running. Fair enough, let’s have a little rest and we can run some more, but her stamina lasts all of two steps before she stops running. Worse, this isn’t even consitent, as restarting the game can potentially cure her breathlessness indefinitely, or see her out of puff in a matter of seconds. Jim – who we shall hear from later – also had this problem.
After running – but mostly walking – around the forest for what seemed an eternity and trying to locate some more of the singing rocks, I stumbled across a stone with a symbol glowing from its sides. Clicking X on the stone and more instructions pop up on screen. “Draw” it told me, showing a + shape, so I guess I draw on the touch-pad. This is followed by “Speak” popping up on screen with a picture of the touch pad, but how do you speak using a touchpad?
I actually shouted the words at the touchpad a couple of times thinking it may be voice controlled, before remembering the PS4 controller doesn’t have a microphone. I have tried every button press and touchpad swipe I can think of but nothing seems to work, and while I think the game is trying to teach me a language, it’s completely unclear as to how I can do so.
Continuing to explore the huge map, I found a large and very empty house on beach, and then a second, identical house. Then about ten of them, all identical. There are also stones scattered around the map which play a recording of a young woman who talks about sniffing flowers, transforming into fish and the people who lived in the houses. It’s about as dull as it sounds.
So I decided to swim off to the island to explore a large shimmering purple structure. This is an imposing landmark, you can see it in the distance in the previous video, surely the developers made sure this was well tested? Well, watch the video below and find out.
A starter of clipping, a main course of glitches and then a delightful pudding of falling through the map and swimming about under the land and not being able to get back to the play area. When I went back to the game – which weirdly did not seem to make a save file on the PlayStation – it respawned me back under the map.
If you have watched the pre-release trailer you would have seen that you can play as fish, birds and other creatures, after many hours of play neither myself nor Jim have found one of the singing stones and managed to be a new character. His thoughts on the game are similarly unflattering.
The worst thing is I was really looking forward to the game. Zooming around a tropical landscape as an eagle, exploring and discovering hidden alcoves sounds like a great way to unwind, especially if you can have some friends to help, but at the moment, Wander seems to be a half finished alpha with many months of work still to go. We’ve tried to contact the developers, but they are yet to reply, though their twitter account at least acknowledges that they need to squash bugs. It’s just that there are so many.
This was meant to be a review, but it’s difficult to score a game that is so clearly broken – apparently I’m not allowed to score it 0/10 either. Perhaps if we could have found the way to transform into a bird then they game would have been more enjoyable as we could explore more, but we couldn’t and this wouldn’t have stopped the myriad of technical problems spoiling the game.
All that’s left to say is that you should not buy this game in its current state, and I leave you with some more footage of vanishing pony tails, glitching vegetation, air walking and continually running out breath.