Ether One Review
Perhaps appropriate for a game that’s thematically centered on memory, Ether One is a game that has an aura of the past about it.
That’s not to say that Ether One feels ‘old’ as such. Rather, Ether One is a game with a design sensibility that feels very much of another time.
Ether One is a game that trusts the player in a way that’s rare in modern games (at least, in big-budget affairs) and as such, takes the risk of appearing obtuse in order to better reward those players who are prepared not to be spoon-fed.
Ether One’s opaque nature lends it a sense of mystery that makes it intriguing and a contemplative pace that marks it as distinctive. It also makes Ether One a game that can be overwhelming and for that reason, it’s a game that will turn many off in the early going.
Ether One Review – Story & Gameplay
Ether One places the player in the role of a restorer who is inserted into the mind of a dementia-ridden patient in order to help restore their memories.
What this means in gameplay terms is that you explore a number of landscapes rendered in a painting-like art-style in order to progress the story and, should you wish, solve puzzles along the way.
That Ether One’s puzzles are optional (aside from in the game’s opening section) is a smart decision on the part of the game’s designers. Not gating off the rest of the game from the player because they are struggling on a particular puzzle avoids a lot of potential frustration.
And there would be frustration, because Ether One’s puzzles are incredibly obscure, to the point that you may not be quite clear on exactly what it is you’re doing, even when you’ve already completed a few steps of a puzzle.
That Ether One never explains to players what they have to do when it comes to puzzles, that it trusts the player to figure things out without having their hand held and that the game’s puzzles can take a good deal of thought to solve, makes it incredibly satisfying when you do crack them.
Ether One Review – Puzzles & Struggles
However, the degree of openness that the game’s puzzles have can make Ether One daunting, as is the case when you gain access to a new area.
These areas are by no means large in comparison to the sprawling open-world fare of bigger budget games, but Ether One’s directionless nature somehow conspires to make encountering these locations oddly overwhelming.
Yes, you can bypass the puzzles that lie within them if you wish, but there is a feeling that you’re missing something if you don’t put the effort in to get the extra information that is provided on solving one of these puzzles.
That sense of being overwhelmed, of struggling with mapping out the environments in your mind and mentally checklisting the tasks and puzzles you want to undertake not only makes Ether One a challenge to stick with at times, but can take your focus off the character and world building that’s constantly taking place in the periphery.
There is an argument that this struggle is congruent with the theme of memory and memory loss, and that it is retroactively validated by Ether One’s narrative climax, but none of that changes the fact that Ether One’s often daunting nature requires a level of commitment to carry on that many won’t have.
Despite that, it’s important to be mindful that many of Ether One’s strengths emerge precisely out of the fact that the game is brave enough to be demanding of its audience.
Ether One may not yield easily, but it has a greater sense of mystery, is more satisfying and feels distinctive precisely for that reason.
Ether One Review
There are reference points for Ether One – elements of To The Moon are there in terms of how the game progresses, a bit of Gone Home in the way the story is told and, of course, its puzzle elements owe a debt to adventure games in general – but this is a game that has a distinct identity, that feels very much of its own.
Yes, the game might suffer in terms of mainstream appeal due to its willful obscurity and will even occasionally frustrate those who are determined to make the effort to stick with it.
For those players who do persevere, though, Ether One proves to be a smart, beautiful and thoughtful game that tells a grounded and effecting story.