Developed by Jason Oda and published by tinyBuild, Waking is a highly personalised game where you play as a character who is in a coma, and you are living out their dreams in a quest to wake up.
The game starts by warning you that if you have had a history of depression, anxiety or self-harm, then Waking might not be the game for you. I put this to the side and continued on, aware that the game could have potentially triggering elements. This is largely due to the fact that you play as yourself to some degree. You have to input your name at the beginning, and throughout the game you will make personal choices about your past, and what struggles you may have faced.
Waking presents itself as a deep, meaningful story but sadly it suffers from a lot of glitches as well as odd design choices that kept breaking the serious tone. You have an insane jumping technique which propels you super high, leading to me spending way too much time jumping everywhere I could to see where I could go out of bounds. Jumping is impossible in certain areas, which definitely helped to refocus me.
Your character is battling through their own mind in the story of Waking, as your physical form is actually in a hospital bed in a coma. It’s a story of wanting to wake up, to free yourself from the nightmares of your mind and to recover. You reach a point very early on in the game where you can choose to go towards the light, or turn back and keep fighting - and I breathed such a sigh of relief. I genuinely thought this would be where it ends. So I gladly walked towards the light - determined not to wake. But nope - you are then guided to continue on and I realised it wasn’t over.
The art style of Waking is very dividing for me as I quite enjoyed the enemy character designs - albeit very samey - and some segments had a pretty, ethereal vibe. However, everything looks to be from a previous generation of consoles and coupled with the awkward movements from both yourself and other characters just makes everything feel super weird and janky.
Controls wise, it is frustrating at best and downright infuriating at worst. Movements feel floaty and unnatural, and combat is done in such a bizarre way through the use of emotions and telekinesis that everything feels like a disjointed mess. The in-game “currency” of Neurons are required for everything you do also, which further added to my exasperation.
I really wanted to like Waking. I love a good game to emotionally invest myself into, and a lot of the stuff going on here seemed poised to keep me interested but it just couldn’t keep a hold of me. Repetitive mission structures and a number of unintentionally hilarious scenarios just kept breaking me out of the whole point of the game and made it more of a chore to get through.
It tries to be too many things at once, and while warning you up front of the potential for mental health triggers, it completely falls flat from its intentions. It’s an ambitious game meant for a lot of self-reflection, and includes guided meditation which tries its hardest to immerse you fully but again this just seems forced and doesn’t add anything substantial to a playthrough. I had really hoped this to evoke some of the emotion that Hellblade did for me - that game absolutely broke me by the end of it with everything it threw at me - but it simply doesn’t.
In the end, we decided to give Waking the Collecting Asylum rating of 3/10. Priced at £16.74 on the Xbox Store, I would highly recommend waiting for a price drop if you’re still interested in playing, but I’d really just advise to give this one a miss.
Have you played Waking yet? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!
- V x
Thank you to tinyBuild for the Waking Xbox One Review Code!