The Collage Atlas Review – A Hand-Drawn Map of a Dream

The Collage Atlas Review – A Hand-Drawn Map of a Dream

Platforms: iOS, Windows PC, Steam

Game Name: The Collage Atlas

Publisher: Robot House Games

Developer: John William Evelyn

Genre: Adventure

Release Date: October 16th, 2020

The Collage Atlas by John William Evelyn

The Collage Atlas is a sketchbook-style abstract adventure game filled to the brim with uplifting affirmations and calming exploration. Released several years ago on iOS, it’s making its Steam debut later this month.

The game’s near-monochrome aesthetic is paired with poetic phrases sowed throughout the adventure, dealing with themes of memory, hope, and aspiration. The entire experience is hand-drawn, an effort that yields beautiful results in the serene, dreamlike world presented here.

Falling Out of the Cloud Atlas

The Collage Atlas features a relatively abstract story that begins with the protagonist sailing the skies on a fragile ship. A storm sunders the vessel, and a journey on foot begins.

A monochromatic grassy field serves as the first environment to explore, with the wreckage of the ship strewn across the ground nearby. A brief wander leads to a group of floating letters that soon form together to spell out “it begins with nothingness.” A little further on are the words “then flowers bloom.”

Little phrases like this are dotted throughout The Collage Atlas and whilst they are wholesome, they don’t tend to achieve the sense of reflective profundity that the soundtrack and stunning environments evoke.

The environments are absolutely beautiful, and the hand-drawn art is jaw-dropping in its detail. Symbolism is put to extensive use throughout The Collage Atlas, from countless clocks in a section dedicated to time and memory to great anchors that must be dislodged by unlocking them with keys.

I was particularly struck by the layered spectacle of a greenhouse with light pouring through its latticed walls.

Walking in a Dream

Those with an aversion to “walking simulators” may find the experiential nature of The Collage Atlas less appealing than some; there isn’t much in the way of challenge here. Each section is completed primarily through exploration and a little searching. There are hidden areas and items to find, but this still comes back down to exploration.

Things are switched up here and there; I found a brief flying segment to be particularly stunning, and it made for a nice change of pace.

One of the stranger aspects of the game is how there is very little potential for collision throughout the environments. Most objects, even apparently solid ones like walls and the crashed boat, can be passed through without obstruction.

This gives the whole game world a kind of intangibility that, depending on your perspective, either reinforces the dreamlike, sketchbook feel of the story or robs it of interactivity.

I tend to fall into the former group; the lack of solidity contributes to the focus on the imagery itself, and interactivity is provided via other routes. Most aspects of the environment react on approach: little windmills twirl, lamps burst to life, and every action adds to the audio landscape with chimes and other pleasing notes.

The Verdict

The Collage Atlas is a gentle, atmospheric adventure built around exploring a stunning hand-drawn world that feels like a particularly peaceful dream.

There isn’t much challenge here – some may label it a “walking simulator” and move on – but there is a rich experience to be had, and while some of the writing lacks the impact necessary to match the visuals, The Collage Atlas nonetheless sets out with a kind and uplifting spirit that permeates every aspect of the game.

The Collage Atlas is available via the Apple App Store and Steam.

Watch the trailer for The Collage Atlas below: