We’re on a mission from God.
After making a poor first impression via an opening crawl banging on about some pseudo-biblical nonsense (your character’s name is Zoah, geddit?…because it’s like Noah but with the “N” turned ar-oh forget it), Laraan sets you off on a dangerous journey to find eight rocks, in order to appease the Almighty himself. That’s right, you’re on a mission from God (Make sure you say that in Dan Aykroyd’s voice, Blues Brothers fans).
Other than the aforementioned preamble of verbiage, the relatively vague story of Laraan is largely told through symbolism and other forms of visual imagery, but the narrative lacks the evocative power of the titles it’s clearly inspired by. The whole thing rushes by so fast (you can complete it within an hour), that’s there’s no real sense of pacing, destroying any hope for a sobering third act or cathartic denouement.
Even so, Laraan can sometimes be a strikingly beautiful game, with a minimalist art style which accentuates the power of the memorable locales and bold design choices. The environmental diversity ensures that this artistry is used to full effect, as you’ll find yourself gazing around at some truly impressionistic scenery.
Sometimes the low-poly effect can work to the game’s detriment, however, with certain areas or objects appearing a tad too simplistic to elicit any reaction other than apathy. All that being said, Laraan’s stark visual aesthetic is undoubtedly the game’s finest asset and allows the experience to stand out amongst many other titles within the genre.
Unfortunately, the camera seems to be bizarrely reluctant to capture the scenery with any modicum of grace or basic competence, as it can bounce around in all sorts of directions as you move your character around the terrain. This seems to be a result of the odd manner in which Zoah walks, runs or jumps since his dimensional field for motion feels somewhat limited. It’s hard to describe, but you’ll understand the problem almost as soon as you attempt to perform something more ambitious than his default pace of a slow walk. This isn’t a huge problem for the most part, but the later stages of the game feature platforming sections, which become much more difficult than they ought to be solely as a result of these logistical issues. For a game that’s seemingly meant to be calming and serene, Laraan too often left me bogged down in frustration with the tedium of trying to co-operate with its finicky controls.
These platforming sections are about as interactive as the gameplay gets, and the focus seems to be on enjoying the sights more than anything else. There are a few particularly “video game-y” sections, including a vehicle-bound obstacle course and a poorly designed boss fight, but these tend to further highlight the jankiness of the controls.
I also can’t stress enough how pointless it would be to pick up this game if you don’t own a controller to use with your PC. The keyboard controls are awful; and I don’t mean mouse and keyboard either, just keyboard. For some unknown reason, Laraan only allows you to move the camera using four hotkeys rather than just a mouse, and it feels awful.
The game does warn that a gamepad is the best option for this experience, but it just seems an odd design limitation to exclude a huge proportion of people who might not own a controller of any type, or simply want to stick with their usual mouse and keyboard.
“Laraan’s stark visual aesthetic is undoubtedly the game’s finest asset, and allows the experience to stand out amongst many other titles within the genre.”
All in all, Laraan represents a perfectly fine way to spend an hour or so with an interesting but flawed experience, more so to enjoy the game’s distinctive visual style than engage with its uncooperative gameplay elements. It won’t appeal to all tastes, but if the screenshots for Laraan have already peaked your interest, then it might be worth a shot.