Ether One – Review
Dementia is a subject matter rarely explored in a video game setting. It certainly isn’t the most exciting topic for AAA publishers, but this isn’t a game build for AAA appeal. Made by a studio of six, Ether One clashes with stereotypical tropes associated with modern games; there are no guns, killing, cataclysmic threats, or over-the-top action. Instead, the purpose of the game is more intimate and down to earth.
The entirety of the game focuses on exploration and puzzle solving as the player delves into the forgotten memories of a 69-year-old woman by the name of Jean Thompson in attempt to restore said memories from her battle with dementia. Retracing her former home of Pinwheel, this English village slowly reveals the height of its industrial relevance to its sudden demise. Uncovering the lives of its citizens through notes and remnants of the village’s past is a remarkable example of passive storytelling. Recurring names subtly appear in abandoned messages to reinforce the fact that this was once a lively community. The details in each room really bring the village to life despite never seeing an actual person.
In order to advance through the story, players must collect ribbons hidden around each level of the game. These ribbons tie into Jean’s memories, and once a level is fully collected, it unlocks a room further uncovering her lost memories. Although brief, it wasn’t enjoyable and could have been implemented better. Your character enters an empty, colorless home with a camera. Taking pictures of specific areas in the home reveals a segment in Jean’s life with strong emotional attachment.
Ether One’s subject matter is brilliantly executed, but it is in the actual gameplay where the game begins to fall apart. Many puzzles, although not necessary to complete the game, don’t seem to follow logic, often times requiring to really go out of your way to solve them. There are subtle hints to every puzzle ingrained in the environment, but many will go lost to even the most observant of individuals. Aside for unlocking an alternate ending (which is worth seeing by the way), these puzzles initially didn’t feel to be worth the time. In fact, I wasn’t even aware there was an alternate ending until after I had completed the game.
The most severe problem I encountered was a game-breaking bug that occurred 75% into the game, forcing me to start a completely new game since my save file would no longer load. Luckily the game only takes several hours to complete if you avoid most of the puzzles; otherwise I likely would not have the desire to start over. During my second attempt, I then stumbled on a glitch that skipped over 25% of the game, which unexpectedly placed me towards the end of the game. I probably would have been impacted by the games emotional ending had I not been so confused about how I got there. Given the games exploration of dementia, the confusion wouldn’t have been out of character.
There were other issues less severe that hurt an otherwise enjoyable game. Players can only carry one item at a time. Although you can quickly warp between your workstation’s storage area and the virtual world, constantly swapping one item at a time quickly became tedious (without spoilers, there is an in-game reason for this, but it’s still not great for gameplay). It would have been nice to have the ability to hold several items at once. While not a big deal, but a still annoying, the subtitles were constantly out of synch with the in-game audio. Additionally, players have the ability to jump yet there is no point in doing so because your character can’t actually jump high enough to clear anything at all.
Nothing groundbreaking, but still pretty to look at as your explore Pinwheel village. Every room is constructed to tell its own story to liven the setting.
The music provides a peaceful ambiance for exploration. There are not many voice acted performances featured, but the ones that are in the game are performed well. Some sound effects such as bell rings do not sound natural.
I wanted to like Ether One, but it kept trying to convince me otherwise. I tried to keep this review as spoiler free as possible because the game is best experienced with as little known going into it. I imagine this would be a very difficult game for anyone to play who has had a loved one suffering from any memory related disease. I would have been more emotionally invested myself had my mind not been distracted by critical glitches. Recently a patch was released that may have fixed some of those problems, but I do not know for sure.
Style – Single-player, Puzzle Adventure
Publisher – White Paper Games
Developer – White Paper Games
Release – March 2015