Welcome to “January Back Catalogue”, where we’re taking advantage of this quiet release month by catching up on all the games we’ve been meaning to play.
Once the credits started rolling in Dr Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, I wasn’t quite sure what I had experienced, only that I loved it. I guess I should have known from the title that I was in for an interesting time, even though little did I know I was being deceived.
But first, some context. Dr Langeskov is the first release by indie studio Crows Crows Crows, and is free-to-play on Steam. It first came to my attention in a conversation I had over Christmas lunch when I mentioned The Stanley Parable, and I was told Dr Langeskov features the same director, William Pugh.
Known as a “walking simulator”, The Stanley Parable challenged linear gaming tropes in a very hilarious fashion, using clever narration and player curiosity to tell its narrative. Naturally, anything new from those involved was certainly high on my list of things to try, and despite its 20-minute runtime, Dr Langeskov’s did not disappoint.
I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum as best I can, but basically the game begins with one huge trick. If you were expecting to play a game where you conduct a heist in order to take some kind of emerald from someone named Langeskov who may or may not have a tiger, then prepare to be confused.
A strange narrator informs you that there is indeed a heist game to be played, you just can’t because only one person can play it at one time. He asks instead that you assist him in working the mechanics behind the scenes and insure a successful run-through, as some kind of strike has led to all the staff leaving.
From there, it is almost like being backstage for a theatre production. There’s effects to turned on, points when you’re super close to the player/audience and need to be really quiet, and of course a lot of things go wrong.
All of this is presented with very little interactivity from the player, far less than The Stanley Parable’s ability to ignore instructions, but much like that game the strength in the writing and voice acting of the narrator makes all of this incredibly compelling. Think Stephan Merchant’s performance as Wheatley in Portal 2, a befuddled British overseer who is just as confused by what’s going on as you are, and whose reaction to your buffoonery paints an amazing picture as to your character.
The whole thing is over so quickly that I at first I thought it was just a silly bit of zany humour and nothing incredibly profound, but it soon dawned on me that the whole thing is an interactive look at the relationship between a game designer and their game. Only we, the player, are the game.
Any given game may be functional, clean and polished (not every game, mind) but there is certainly a plethora of madness going on behind the scenes, and when things go wrong they seem to go wrong for no reason. And just when things miraculously pull themselves together, another play through can go completely the other way. You’ll have to try the actual game to understand how…
At least, this is my interpretation of Dr Langeskov. Much like high school English teachers, I could be completely over analysing some good bit of silly, zany humour, but I at least get the feeling developer Crows Crows Crows has a lot to say. And I look forward to hearing it!