Released by White Paper Games on March 25, Ether One is a puzzle adventure game with scenery reminiscent of Dear Esther, and gameplay elements very similar to the Portal series.
The premise of the game is actually very simple: you play as a Restorer, a person who helps those with dementia to reclaim memories lost by way of telekinesis aided by machinery (which is closer to telepathy, honestly). The execution of this process is made a bit more complicated by some of the game’s elements, but for those who can adjust to the visuals and aspects of gameplay which are less fluid than expected, Ether One is a very nice addition to a gaming library.
Before I begin, I would like to officially warn epileptics and people with photosensitivity that this game may not be the best choice for you. After 2 hours of gameplay, the motion blur and field of view were both too much for me, and I had to quit. Your mileage may vary, of course, and graphics options may be available to help with this in the future.
The game begins with a black screen, and a male voice on a recording providing a feeling of foreboding. When scenery comes into view, the colors are vibrant and the shadows sharp. If you’ve turned on the tutorial, one of the first things you’ll see is a command to interact with a door using the appropriate button for your device — the command is floating in the air, as part of the game scenery. It is stationary, and can be viewed from all sides as though it’s an object suspended from the ceiling. I found this to be a very clever way to make the tutorial as present as possible while also adding to the immersion of the environment.
After receiving instructions from a female voice with a clipped British accent, I explored a bit, and realized that I was moving very slowly. Even pressing the “shift” key to run did little more than bring me up to a brisk walk. Interaction with objects depends on a very precise placement of the crosshairs, and thus I opted for mouse and keyboard, rather than my usual controller. The lack of speed and necessity of precision are irritating at first, but they force you to consider your environment later when dealing with the puzzles that are necessary for progression.
The British woman (apparently my supervisor) narrates as I am transported first to a “Safe” (where the Restorer’s “self” is stored to help prevent disastrous results from an improper repair job), then into the town of Pinwheel, in the patient’s mind, to collect fragments (they show up as red ribbons) and remove/destroy Ethereal Rock from key memory points. To transport from the Safe back to Pinwheel, you press the “T” key, and are rewarded with jittery visuals and bright lights (hence my warning to epileptics). The Safe serves as a place to store items, and as you can only have one active item in your inventory at a time, this turns out to be very useful.
Object interaction is hit-or-miss, due to both the precision required, and the baffling task of repairing projectors through the game. Projectors are repaired by solving puzzles (this is optional – you can progress without completing them), and clues to these puzzles are scattered throughout the level. As you can pick up any number of items in a level, it’s difficult to know which are useful for repairing projectors, and which are actually necessary to move forward. Trial and error, and about 15 minutes of bumbling, and I finally was able to finish the first level, complete with a projected memory. Once you know how the puzzles work, it becomes easier to predict what may be necessary, later.
Graphically, Ether One is very pretty, but the blurring motion and “flatness” of some objects as compared to others created a disorienting effect. The sounds are very well done, and there are optional radios you can turn on in levels to provide ambiance. Sound cues – such as whispering when you’re close to a fragment – are very helpful and placed very effectively. Aside from the awkwardness of walking slowly, movement is simple and mechanically-intuitive, using the standard WASD system.
I finished my gaming experience with a headache, but intrigued to see more of the story. What this game may lack in some areas, it more than makes up for in plot and the experience itself. I will definitely be back to play some more, and the $16.99 sale price for this week is a good excuse for you to add this game to your collection, as well.