The mind is an inconceivably complex network of thoughts, emotions, memories, and other things that I can’t articulately explain. I’m no brain scientist, yet, but I know the brain is super important. And it really is terrifying just how susceptible to damage it is. Dementia, for example, can alter your memory and behavior and essentially destroy the person that you were. It’s a tragic and frightening disease and it’s the subject of the new adventure game “Ether One.”
In “Ether One” you take on the role of a Restorer and are tasked with venturing into the memories of a patient plagued with dementia. Ultimately, your goal is to try and save key memories of the patient so that they don’t lose themselves to the disease. Along the way you’re guided by a disembodied voice provided by a female British scientist overseeing the project.
The world of “Ether One” is beautiful and captivating. The moment you step into the subject’s brain, you feel like you’re being injected into a 3D rendering of a painting. The game has a warm and pleasant art style that encourages you to wander around and explore. However, while there are picturesque landscapes, the game is also capable of rendering some oppressively creepy atmospheres that’ll appeal to the sensibilities of a horror fan.
With that being said, I should emphasize that “Ether One” is NOT a horror game. Still, your journey will take you into some truly foreboding territories. You’ll explore abandoned mining facilities, ghost towns, and homes bathed in darkness. Even knowing it wasn’t a horror game, I still felt an uneasy tension that made me cautiously turn around corners out of fear that something would be waiting for me.
So what sort of game is “Ether One”? It is an adventure game with a heavy emphasis on exploring the environment. The core gameplay is centered on finding memory fragments which, in this case, are represented as red ribbons. Finding the ribbons can be a challenge as you’ll have to explore the world thoroughly in order to find them, but they’re easy to access once you see them. The ribbons aren’t locked behind any puzzles or devious traps; they’re simply hiding in the world.
This then presents an interesting choice for the player. You could run through the game in a matter of hours by simply collecting the ribbons in each world, but then you’d be missing out on a good chunk of story. You’d also be glazing over the other gameplay mechanic that “Ether One” has to offer: puzzles! And if you love puzzles, this game has some rather challenging ones.
Throughout the game you’ll find broken film projectors that can provide you with some juicy story components. They aren’t necessary objectives, but putting them together adds a lot to the overall narrative. In order to put the projectors back together, you’ll have to solve puzzles within the environment that aren’t explicitly clear. This can be frustrating at times, but depending on how difficult you like your puzzles, it could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Here’s an example of how a puzzle might be laid out. If you don’t want any puzzle spoilers, you can skip this paragraph. I wandered into a day care area and noticed a game of tic-tac-toe that I could interact with. However, nothing I did seemed to create any results. Later, I happened to walk by a bar and by chance I noticed a sign that featured a tic-tac-toe game on it. I then took the answer from the sign and input it into the game the kids were playing. All of this unlocked a piece I needed for another puzzle.
The puzzles can be lengthy and complex in this game, but there is logic to most of them that can be sussed out through in-game clues like notes, letters, or objects in the environment. None of them are impossible; they just require you to explore the world thoroughly. This, at times, can be frustrating when the environments are as big as they are. “Ether One” isn’t a game you marathon through, it’s one that you sit with and absorb slowly over time.
The game offers a wide variety of puzzles for the player to work through. Some will require simple solutions like finding a key. Others will ask you to combine items in a way that’ll allow you to progress. There are also puzzles that will require you to remember plot details in order to figure out the answer. There’s a deep variety here that’ll keep you thinking in new ways.
A bit of warning, there are certain puzzles that might require you to backtrack to other worlds in order to find an answer. However, key items are easy to spot when you’re looking for them. You can interact with a lot of items, but it’s easy to tell which are important puzzle pieces. If you see a key lying around, it’s obvious that’ll be important. If you see a wire cable that looks unique, it’s probably important. If you see a bunch of beer bottles grouped together, you probably don’t need it.
When you’re looking for a puzzle piece, it’s easy to spot important objects. However, they don’t have a big red arrow hovering above them to indicate where they are. So it’s possible to miss an item you might need later on in the game, which can result in a LOT of searching.
I should mention that, like most adventure games, you’ll have an inventory of puzzle items that may or not be necessary at any given time. Rather than have an item wheel or a backpack, “Ether One” does something that I absolutely loved. In the game you can only hold one item at a time; however, you have a hub world that you can teleport to at any time to store that item.
So, for example, let’s say you pick up a key that you don’t need right now, but you know it’ll be important later. You can instantly teleport to a room that looks like an apartment straight out of a Bioshock game and place the key on a shelf for safekeeping. Then you can teleport right back to where you were previously standing.
It’s a quick and seamless mechanic that puts a unique twist on inventory management. You can also return to this hub world to review important notes you’ve found and watch film reels you’ve unlocked. It goes a long way to make you feel like you’re actually putting clues together.
And with all this talk about gameplay and environments, I haven’t even touched on the narrative aspects of the game. With a subject like dementia, the game explores some really touching and heartbreaking subjects that are doled out to you in several ways. One of which is the omnipresent British scientist who will inject anecdotes or tell you about her research. There’s a tinge of Glados-style menace to her dialog that makes you question her intentions.
Other story bits are told through letters, journals, notes, and other hidden objects throughout the game. For example, I picked up a seemingly innocuous object and was treated to a voice over about two brothers. It’s crazy to think that something that seemed so insignificant could have a story connected to it. However, that’s rather symbolic of stepping into someone’s life. You never know what value or meaning a little trinket could have to them. In this way, the game is densely packed with a rich narrative that drives you to explore every corner of the world.
At times it could be overwhelming and confusing and there were moments when I was lost and just utterly tired from exploring. Perhaps an accurate portrayal of the experience one would have delving into a human mind. However, if you’re willing to invest the time and energy into “Ether One”, you’ll unravel a beautiful tale about the fragility of the human mind.
“Ether One” will be available on March 25th for the PC. You can still pre-order it for $16.99. It’s regular price will be $29.99. This review was written based on a review copy provided by the developer. Check out their official site for more info.