Brukel by Bob Schutter
Featured as a nominee at this year’s IndieCade online festival, Brukel by Bob De Schutter caught my eye because it seemed like a game aimed at those wanting to learn more about historical firsthand experiences.
It seemed very personal, and I wondered if its narrative approach would transfer well into a game. After playing through it, I must say it’s an enlightening and very engaging experience.
A Camera’s Eye View into the Past
In Brukel, you play as the developer of the game, Bob De Schutter. On his quest to learn more about his 92-year-old grandmother, Bie Verlinden, he explores the house she grew up in, which is known as Brukel. To learn more, you must take pictures of relevant items for research purposes. Here lies the core mechanic of the game.
You can explore the Brukel home in first-person and use your camera to take pictures. You have a list of things you must photograph to move the game forward. It’s a simple mechanic in service of the game’s main focus, which involves audio recordings.
Every item of interest you take a picture of is accompanied by Bie’s audio recordings of that item’s significance. This part of the game feels very much like a museum tour of this woman’s experiences.
It’s fascinating to learn the way she lived. Memories can be mundane, like detailing facts about her family and how day-to-day life was: how excited her family was when they first had electricity installed or how they used to store pigs in salt because they lacked refrigeration.
These details give the game a real historical touch and make the experience feel deeply personal. I personally found this part of the game to be very educational and rewarding the more I learned about Bie’s life. I was actually hoping this section would be longer, to get an even more complete picture of Bie’s life.
Aside from audio recordings, what also helps this game feel authentic is that the environment you explore is so lovingly detailed. Pictures of family members hung up on the walls. Rusted and weathered items make for a more believable space to sift through. The game also helps keep a very subtle uneasy vibe, thanks to great lighting that aids in its more isolating atmosphere.
There is a moment in Brukel where it takes a darker turn. I was suddenly thrust into what amounts to a linear horror game experience resulting from Bie’s more traumatic memories. Since Bie grew up during the Second World War, she recounts instances where German soldiers directly affected her and her family. This makes for some tense moments that kept me glued to my monitor.
The developer does a good job of taking Bie’s memories and translating them into a more horror game vibe. It’s not too fantastical, nor is it filled with cheap thrills. It’s more atmospheric, as if you’re trapped in a haunted house.
I liked that it didn’t go too over the top, which would have made it feel less authentic. Brukel’s horror elements are effective and really made me feel for Bie and the experiences she had to endure.
More Than Just a Game Setting
A lot of modern World War II games would use something like the Brukel house as a novel setting for the game, a place where you shoot in which – or perhaps from which – to shoot Axis soldiers. This game’s narrative details how the victims who lived in such places were affected, particularly during the final section of the game, where all hope seems lost.
It’s compelling and made me really think about how most games dealing with the Second World War don’t touch on how the people living in those war zones were affected.
Brukel blurs the line between game and interactive diary. It’s an engaging and effective hour-long experience.
It details history from someone who lived through it. It makes the whole experience that much more important in regards to our understanding of history and those directly affected by it.
Brukel is available via Steam and Itch.io.
Check out the official trailer for Brukel below: