Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a game set in one particular location but covers a range of places. That’s because as this oddball quartet of people goes through their camping excursion, they ruminate and realize that those two aren’t quite the same idea. You can be in one spot while feeling like you’re somewhere else altogether.
It’s a big, thoughtful exploration that happens just over 90 minutes, putting you squarely in the shoes of the long-married adult couple Cloanne and Brad and the young teenage semi-couple Mord and Ben. You don’t quite control anyone in particular for very long; instead, you bounce between them all in pairs or one big group as they all interact in one taut little bottle experiment.
Cloanne and Brad are the aunt and uncle of Mord, hence how two disparate age groups are together in the woods. And this dynamic invites some fascinating conversations. These are full-on adults, set in their ways and still trying to understand what those are. But throw in the unknown wildcard of a teen that has neither of those things and you get something alchemical.
Sometimes it’s a question from the younger side, pulling out some tender awareness and advice from the older half—a desperate but sedate grasp at guidance that only teens ever seem to manage. Other times it’s being blindsided by a revelation from a youth that should spark something inside the elder but doesn’t—an unspoken stubbornness that only adults ever seem to manage. And then there’s all the moments in between where just no one knows what to say.
That, however, isn’t unique to the mismatched age combinations. Living is largely defined by Figuring It Out, after all. Case in point: Mord and Ben are dating insomuch as any pair of 13-year-olds are dating. And they are kind of on the cusp of realizing what pushing past that fog of adolescent war means for them. Best friends, genuine romantic interests, something else?
It’s a confusing time in many ways, but it’s clear that something sweet and heartfelt is there. In my absolute favorite moment of the game, the usually quiet and reserved Ben kind of lures himself out of his shell by telling a campfire story. And by that, I mean unnerving the shit out of Cloanne and Brad (and, at times, myself). But for Mord—as everyone else’s faces gradually contort further into terror, hers gains a widening, maddening grin. She may find other parts of her life inscrutable, but she does know she loves the way Ben tells this one.
And that’s what I mean about places. You don’t ever leave this tiny little campsite, but you really go elsewhere. Hearing Ben tell that story is a favorite and familiar haunt for Mord. Cloanne and Brad discussing their future is a new, scary place. Through these intimate moments and impeccable, potent writing, you go on a grand adventure of relationships and understanding without ever leaving the woods.
I don’t want to talk much more about this game. There’s a lot to unpack for a two-hour experience, but every part that I talk about is another part you don’t get to be surprised by. But Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a delightfully unexpected punch of chill introspection and everyone should make some time for it.