The mysterious travelling sage known only as The Mooseman is capable of interacting with the world in ways most mortals only dream of. In this brief but beautiful experience, players submerge themselves within the folklore and of the native Finno-Ugric culture. Released last year for PC to positive reception among PC Gamers worldwide (currently sitting at a 92% positive rating for all time and 75% positive rating for recent reviews), this title has received many game awards and will release tomorrow for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox globally.
While it’s something more of an artistic showcase rather than a traditional game, open-minded folks definitely love it. If you’re the type of person who puts gameplay above all else though, you might want to steer clear. You’d be missing out on an educational and interesting experience, but The Mooseman isn’t for everyone.
STORY / CHARACTERS
In the experience provided, we will see the journey of a mysterious figure known as “The Mooseman” in legends who will journey through the Middle World (land of the living), Lower World (land of the dead), and even the Upper World (land of the old gods), learning all kinds of esoteric knowledge along the way. We are taught a number of metaphysical lessons through the tales of old which would have perhaps been lost to history if not for this game. Although a lot of what is revealed would spoil the game’s experience, and a lot of the legends are given in an unclear way as to provoke the imagination, I will briefly describe some of the characters from them.
- Yen – An ancient god who filled the Middle World with the animals and humans that inhabit it, as well as spirits deemed worthy. All other spirits were banished from this plane by Yen and thus the Lower World was given its own inhabitants. A warning to humans about the sun and its aid in keeping our world separate from that of the dark spirits cast aside by Yen, “The fire guards against harm. But the fire cannot last forever.”
- Meknvs – Perhaps best compared to the elements of nature. These are spiritual beings that are given immortality by Yen but lack any consciousness, free will, or awareness. Instead, they can provide explanation for the atmosphere, weather systems, currents of water, and the feeling of peaceful wisdom that comes from the trees.
- Chud – These are spirits which did not reach the end of the Final Road. They are not all bad, but they are not all good either. It is said that those who understand how spirits like the Chud work can actually control them.
- Osh – The spirit of a great bear who protects the underworld allowing only the dead to pass. He was created for this purpose.
- Kudym-Osh – The legend of this being is that of tragedy. He wedded to a bride who was proposed to by many men who were horrified of her true face, and then executed by her father for their betrayal. He was also half beast, like her, and the both of their existence caused fear among mortals who eventually teamed up to kill him. It is said that his spirit remains in waiting for the awakening, at which time he will rise from the grave to protect the tribes of man from a great evil.
There are many more legendary characters in The Mooseman as well, mostly represented in artistic scenes with descriptions unlocked at each idol. Though these are essentially myths that often represent metaphors to explain the unknown back in ancient times, there is also some physical evidence given to select pieces throughout the artifacts that are found hidden in the game.
The Mooseman opens up by giving players control of a silhouette character who lights idols (resembling totems) to decipher myths that are based on the real life Finno-Ugric tales. These myths become expressed by gameplay elements on the screen. At one point your player will get a bow and arrow, but this isn’t a very action-heavy title and instead focuses on witnessing the spiritual world interacting with that of the physical via 2 – 4 hours of interactive story-telling.
For example, in one myth we are told that only “The Ones Who Know” may find a bridge between the Middle and Lower Worlds, which in this ancient culture’s belief system refers to the land of the living and the land of the dead respectively. When players take control of The Mooseman and observe this myth it causes a change in the environment enabling the myth to become reality or fade as needed. This means that some areas you’ll need to cross are covered by a bridge that only The Mooseman can find.
Other sections of this title similarly enact myths that are revealed to the player through idols. While these can be seen as puzzles, the actual complexity to be deemed a puzzle often isn’t there. These are very basic, vaguely shrouded moments that are figured out rather quickly with little effort. The whole experience does feel like a very interesting story-telling piece of art, but gameplay elements themselves are disappointingly lacking. At one point I thought I was meant to help guide souls from the Middle World to the Lower World only to find out I actually just needed to walk by them a certain way and avoid their death. Missed opportunities to marry deep gameplay with cultural awareness are prevalent and will put a bit of a damper on the overall product for gameplay-centric gamers.
GRAPHICS / ART / PERFORMANCE
Visuals in this title are very abstract, mood-setting, and artistic. As discussed elsewhere in this review, the game relies more on its narrative and sense of atmosphere than traditional gameplay. In regard to graphical quality, that’s actually a positive note. The title does well to provide watercolor and smokey charcoal style graphics that feel like a painting come to life. Performance-wise, The Mooseman maintains a steady but cinematic frame rate, without any glitches observed in our play-throughs although it does stutter slightly between loading some of its scenes.
SOUND / MUSIC / VOICE ACTING
The sound effects and music are a big part of what make up the game’s emotional tone. The general vibe given by the audio in the game is that of bewilderment, although at times sad, foreboding, or creepy. Lore and legends are discovered and displayed on-screen in the hieroglyphs of native culture while being read aloud by a Komi-Permian voice actress as the cryptic text fades into English for western gamers to read. This can be changed to Russian, French, or Deutsch as well.
The one aspect of this game that provides for replay-ability beyond just showing it to a friend / loved one or experiencing it for a second time is the collection of hidden artifacts. They aren’t frustratingly hard to find but do well to reward those who are used to checking every corner of a game’s world. Once obtained, each artifact in the collection will give real life evidence to the legends depicted in The Mooseman. These are based on academic literature and given as a sort of educational accompaniment to the rest of the title’s artistic portrayal of this mythology.
It’s really tough to score The Mooseman, as the developers have certainly done a great job telling the historical folklore of a tribal culture from the native ancestors of Finland and Russia. However, by choosing to stick to the folklore of their heritage as the primary content while advertising for the title suggests more of an adventure or puzzle game seems like it will mislead some folks.
The end result feels more like an interactive visual novel than a video game. While there’s nothing wrong with that, and we are excited to see a unique method to present culture has flourished here, it stops short of being worthy of our Bronze Game status. We do hope this format is continued and expanded on by this team in future projects. The Mooseman receives a 6 out of 10 from us and we recommend potential buyers research it as an art piece rather than game before jumping in.
RGN Rating: 6 / 10
Developed by: Vladimir Beletsky, Mikhail Shvachko
Publisher: Sometimes You
Available On: PS4, Switch, PC, Xbox
Played On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: July 18, 2018 (Consoles)
Also Available on iOS and Android
*File Size (PS4): 619mb (708mb with updates)
*Original Price: $6.99 USD ($6.99 CAD, €6.99 EUR)
Review Copy Info: A digital copy of this game was provided to RGN for free by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
*File Size & Original Price noted at the time of the review may not reflect current size and pricing after a while as future updates get released.