Trauma [$2.99] gives us few concrete facts. There is a hospital, a woman in a bed, a doctor offering an uncertain prognosis. Beyond that, a series of dreams pieced together from photographs and memories, narrated by the woman, a victim of a traumatizing accident.
Taken on its surface merits, there isn't much to it. As with its original desktop release, Trauma is a tiny game, an experience of no more than an hour or so at most. There are a few ways to explore its virtues, but only so much to discover. What's there is, however, interesting to examine in a way that few mobile games manage.
The goal is to work through four dreams, each with a specific challenge: a teddy bear crushed under a large weight, a ghost that cannot be caught, a road that must be followed, and path that must be found.
To explore the dreams, you can tap through a series of connected photographs, each one drawing you to a new area of the dreamscape. The photos are real, to a point, and may occasionally seem like immersive environments. As you learn gestures to turn and step back and spin around, you may feel you should be able to get anywhere. You can't. These dreams will only show you what you need to see.
You solve the riddles of the dreams by learning other gestures, glowing symbols found in the world and in scattered, hidden polaroids. These do different things: lift, cut, catch, and drain, and discovering how to use them takes only a moment or two. When you've lifted what needs lifting or cut what needs cutting your treated to a short cutscene, one which continues the story of the woman in the hospital. All four together can be completed in very little time.
Trauma can't be resolved quite that easily though: each dream has three extra endings to discover, and enough polaroids to find to keep you busy a bit longer. The endings can be found by going back; by using the new gestures you learn in hidden or unexpected places. By applying what you learn to things that once seemed inexplicable. Each adds a little more to the emotional weight of the game, and also transforms the dreamworld with a new, surreal scene. Nearly all of them are worth discovering for that alone.
When you've found all the endings of a dream, you're granted a photographic sense that helps you to find the polaroids you've missed. It lets you know when one is near, and though it's not foolproof—"near" is within only a click or two in this instance—it's a much better option than poking around endlessly.
The polaroids add to the story, giving more hints of the woman's life through often expressionless narration. This distance can be frustrating, and little is made clear: we're examining loss and change, yes, but the exact details are open to interpretation. Perhaps that's not so bad, though. Trauma isn't endlessly deep, but it allows for thought and consideration, both uncommon elements.
From a technical standpoint, Trauma works well on mobile devices. Mouse gestures naturally become touch gestures, clicking becomes tapping, and everything else stays the same. The game also integrates with Maps, tying its dreams more tightly with reality by linking them to real places in and around Cologne.
Technology is second to emotional resonance, though, and here Trauma falters at times. The music, photos and dream scenes create a curious, intriguing landscape; the narration doesn't always sell it. And there's only so much to sell.
Still, Trauma is worth exploring. It may be flawed, but it's interesting and uncommon. It explores the places where memories, dreams and photographs intersect, and looks to find meaning in those things. When it succeeds it sticks with you, hanging around in the back of your mind. When it fails, there is little to lose. Trauma is a game with small frustrations and big ideas, well proportioned.
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