Friday, June 12, 2015

Ether One is A Buggy Disappointment - The Take Your Time Review

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Quick Note: Aspiring to be on the same level as other famous first-person exploration games, such as Gone Home, Ether One is a buggy disappointment that makes it hard to play and the story even harder to follow the plot. All of its potential can't help make this game good. I would recommend skipping this one.

As more and more tools become available for smaller developers to create and publish games to the mass audience, the first-person adventure genre seems to become almost as common as first-person shooters. There's a reason why these types of games are so popular: they put the person inside the game. There is a feeling of being involved that is harder to emulate when you create character for players to control rather than allowing the user to feel like it is he/she inside the game. Ether One is one of the newer first-person adventure games to join the fold, but it just doesn't live up to the greater options out there.

In Ether One, players will assume the role of a Restorer for a futuristic company that can help cure the dementia of 69 year old Jean Thompson. In order to tackle the disease, the Restorer is sent into the afflicted person's mind to help recover powerful memories that can be used to bring the missing information to light. It's a unique story that allows for a bit of world manipulation and trippy scenarios to play through, which is something I love. The Restorer is silent, but Dr. Edmunds lends her voice to narrate the story as the player moves from level to level, fleshing out small details and helping build the mystery as well as the emotion of the storyline. 

There are plenty of notes and letters to find that help flesh out the story, but even these can't help clarify what the hell is going on.
Though the story starts with an interesting premise, it is often far too disjointed and confusing to enjoy. The confusion is purposeful, helping lend to the idea of dementia, but at times it's confounding to a fault, leaving behind details that would better explain things that, to me, seem very important rather than building a general mystery. The biggest problem I came across though was a bug that jumped me from the second level to the forth level automatically, forcing me to miss a forth of the story. Not only did this make everything even more confusing, the conclusion of the story was totally lost on me. Plus, going back to replay the section I missed caused the story portions to glitch, with no dialog OR captions to explain to me what was going on. By the time the credits of the game were rolling, I was left confused, frustrated and fairly annoyed rather than entertained by the premise. 

The bright red color of the ribbons add an interesting sense of color to the levels, even if collecting them isn't all that interesting.
The game play of Ether One is just as disjointed as the story being told. As the Restorer, the player's main goal is simply to wander around environments and collect red Ribbons. These Ribbons are symbols of important memories for Jean and within each area there are 10 Ribbons, for a total of 40. Once all 10 are collected, the player must return to the Case to activate a Core Memory. The Case is essentially the inventory for players to hold items as well as access Core Memories and Projectors that have been completed, but more on Projectors in a moment. 

Thankfully, these sections are only 30 seconds to 3 minutes long.
Core Memories are where all of the Ribbons collected culminate into one powerful memory that players unravel by taking photographs. This isn't a puzzle so much as walking around and taping square (on the DualShock 4) to flash and hope it causes an interaction. These interactions typically show something that wasn't there before hand, such as showing a birthday cake and candles on an empty table. Completing a Core Memory helps unlock the next section of the game and is supposed to help shed some light on the next part of the story, but it often feels random and the very little bit of information given isn't all that helpful to the story.

Outside of collecting Ribbons, there are also Knocker trophies to find, which are scattered across all of the levels, voice mails to listen to, and Projectors to help put back together. The Knocker trophies all help tell the tale of the fabled Knocker, a fairy tale creature within the town of Pinwheel. Each trophy picked up tells a portion of the story, so collecting all nine leads to the entire tale of the Knocker. The voice mails are found on special golden phones. There are six total that help build on the mystery of the dementia patient the Restorer is helping. Both of these collectibles are divided amongst the different locations, but finding them is not very hard. 

Projectors are broken when you first stumble across them. In order to fix them, you'll have to use your brain so solve puzzles.
And finally, there are Projectors. Projectors are broken and scattered throughout levels. In order to repair Projectors, players must solve puzzles that are often times quite obscure. Each puzzle has multiple parts (normally about three) and once are all completed, the Projector can be played. An example of actions needed to solve these puzzles includes something as simple as closing a door when entering a building or hunting down the name of the town beer to type into the poster in the pub. I rather enjoyed the randomness of the puzzles, though because they are so unconventional there were a few sticking points that tended to have me more frustrated than I needed to be. Much like the collectibles, these puzzles are spread out amongst the world, with a total of 20 Projectors to rebuild.

What this all means is that it is possible to complete the game without solving a single puzzle. Players can simply stumble through the game and reach the end without too much effort, completing the game in roughly 3 hours without hurting their brains in the process. It sounds great on paper, but ultimately leads to a boring experience. 

Completing projectors adds more play through value to the game and also rewards players with more information from Dr. Edmunds.
Attempting to collect everything and complete all the Projectors adds a tremendous value to the game, but every single one of these optional objectives are buggy and broken. Projectors will be solved, but my 'Completed Projector' count won't go up. Voice mails can be found, but the game will miscount how many I've found, repeating one that has already played and, once again, not getting the count correct. I have all nine Knocker trophies, and six of them repeat two parts of the story, which totally negates the mood the story is supposed to convey and leaves me without parts of the story. The worst part is, every single one of these puzzles and collectibles can not be reset without restarting the game from scratch. So you can't re-solve a Projector to have it count, or simply pick up the Knocker trophies to hear the full story. The most interesting part of the entire game is so buggy and broken, that any desire to complete them all is sucked away. 

Outside of the puzzles and collectible bugs there are even more technical problems. Random slow down plagued me while playing. For no real reason, the game would slow down to the point where holding down the analog stick in a direction would only turn the character a few pixels every five seconds. Shutting the game down fixed this issue, but it disrupted my current puzzle or thought process with the game and often causing me to lose progress because the game hadn't saved where I was. Another large issue had to do with moving between certain areas causing the game to freeze. Upon restarting the game, the game took 15 minutes to load my save. 15 minutes!  That is insane! Had I not been distracted by my roommate playing a game on his TV next to me, I would have assumed the game was broken and quit halfway through it.  

Unfortunately, there are just better FPX games out there, despite how interesting this game could have been.
Ether One is full of potential and has some fun mixed in there, but ultimately,  this is an experience that's better left behind. The disconnected story and completely optional puzzle solving makes it a uneven experience to begin with, but something that could have been enjoyable if it weren't for the bugs and technical issues that plague the game. If you're looking for a first-person adventure game that is riveting and entertaining, look somewhere else. 

4.5 out of 10

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