One of the perks of being an indie developer is the freedom to choose topics that might otherwise be blocked by more mainstream game studios and publishers. This autonomy can lead to some interesting themes and experimental gameplay that will appeal to many gamers. Indie studio Serenity Forge focuses on creating narrative-driven and meaningful games designed to expand players’ horizons. The developers chose to go the unconventional route with Land of Screens, a point-and-click story-driven game designed to remind people of the benefits of putting down their devices and paying attention to the world around them.
Land of Screens follows protagonist Holland as he grapples with a five-year relationship that ended abruptly. Due to a series of random circumstances, Holland often found herself unable to use her phone to check social media, ending up disconnected from the online world for days. Not reading what people are saying about her recent breakup is a blessing in disguise, as without constant feedback from friends and would-be friends, Holland manages to think about other things and enjoy life in the moment. It’s a little untrue, because the Netherlands is now more receptive to being unplugged than most.
Land of Screens’ art style is certainly the game’s greatest strength, but it may also be its only strength. The game is presented in an attractive vector style, with a semi-pastel color palette, and most of the images look pleasing to the eye. But, frankly, that’s about it. The music makes people forget, the story makes people forget, and so does the protagonist. It’s not a game that will stay in people’s memories for long.
The characters in Land of Screens also get a slight nod. While none of the people Holland encountered were particularly noteworthy, they stood out in a game that desperately needed player interest. Unfortunately, all the characters are stereotypes. There’s an uncle watching sports on the couch, a selfie junkie, a fan of niche TV shows, a passionate rock band lover, a courtesan in need of a party, and no less than three apathetic teenagers. While Serenity Forge has done an admirable job of creating characters with distinct personalities, at the end of the day, they’re all the same.
Land of Screens has an important piece of information that most people already know. Sometimes it’s a good idea to disconnect, put down your devices and social media, and spend quality time with real people. Throughout the game, Holland visits a high school buddy she’s lost touch with, makes some new friends, attends a concert, visits family, and goes on a nice hike in the woods. It might be inspiring to see Holland’s unexpected “adventure” and the positive impact it has had on her prospects, but it’s doubtful it will ultimately cause anyone to truly disconnect for a while. It can’t be ignored that Serenity Forge is trying to get its message across with a game that requires people to spend hours on PC or Switch.
Ironically, Screen Nation will struggle to capture the attention of many. While this news is good, unfortunately it’s not a very exciting one. Although Land of Screens is classified as a point-and-click adventure game, it doesn’t quite live up to that moniker. Instead, it’s a lot of conversational reading with minimal movement from person to person to initiate said conversation, followed by more conversational reading. It’s not too bad if the dialogue is funny, but hardly any of it is. Instead, players are prodded into mundane interactions that aren’t very enjoyable in real life, let alone in recreational games.
Land of Screens contains a small amount of content that could roughly be called a game. The game is divided into five chapters, and Holland’s goal in each chapter is to get everyone to put down their devices and socialize face-to-face. For some, it takes a little thought. For example, in one chapter Holland needs to convince her friends to play volleyball. To get Julia involved, the player must notice the puppy in the backyard, learn through dialogue that Holland’s new friend is a dog lover, and tell her there’s a dog outside to meet. It’s really complicated. Every player will have the exact same experience. There is only one set path to complete each chapter, and each chapter doesn’t require much brainpower.
Luckily, Screen Nation isn’t overly welcoming. Serenity Forge correctly gauges how long it will keep most people playing before pulling the plug. A game that can be completed in a few hours will be a threshold for many people. Just when the player starts getting restless and concludes they want to do something else, the game is over.
Ultimately, Land of Screens may provide useful reminders for some players, but most already know that sometimes it’s important to look up from their device. As a non-developer, it’s hard to see how Serenity Forge could convey its message in a more engaging way, but some developers have managed to sneak social calls to action into their games. This is often accomplished by focusing on gameplay first and spreading the word throughout for people to discover themselves. Instead, Serenity Forge revolved the entire Land of Screens around this message, and only slightly focused on anything else. This results in a bland experience that lacks inspiring power.
Land of Screens is available on PC and Switch. Game Rant obtained the Steam code for this review.