When I saw Ether One’s trailer, I saw the potential to really play with an idea. After all, what could be cooler for a game then to go into a diseased mind to fight the disease? The potential was there to do some amazing things with this, and the trailer suggested you were going to be in danger in the mind you were trying to fix. This had all the potential in the world to be something cool, interesting, and if not a technical masterpiece, at least something to be remembered. Well, they got the last part right, but not much else. If you play, you will remember it, but you will likely also remember wondering why the hell this was even made as a game.
Story: You are a restorer. As your title implies, your job is to restore something. Specifically, human memories. The game starts as you arrive to work and check in before being guided to a specific chamber with the machinery that lets you do your job. It is a chair that lets you be projected into the minds of the mentally ill so that you can assist them from within. Let’s begin, shall we?
Without much more fanfare then that, the game will have you on your way into your patient’s memories. In this case, they have dementia and your goal is to prove this kind of therapy can help halt and even reverse the disease. But time is running out, as the board of directors who have been funding the project are looking for results, so you’d better deliver.
From this perspective Ether One will not so much guide you as let you enter a world made of the physical places your patient remembers in order to let you put the pieces of their life together. It will not hold your hand and it will do little to explain why things are as they are. It is up to you to put those pieces together and form the full picture… but believe me when I tell you, if you don’t get it, don’t worry about it. The ending to the game will hammer the important parts of the story’s outline home as blatantly as possible to make sure you get it. It is also worth noting the game has one big twist to the plot, but at the same time, the observant player will literally figure it our within the first 30 minutes of gameplay, completely destroying it’s ability to hold any kind of surprise it is supposed to.
What this all adds up to, unfortunately, is a story that I can not explain more without ruining, but at the same time, makes you wonder just how much there really is to ruin until the very end. It’s there, and it clearly ties in well with everything when you are done, but you have to investigate the environment like you’re CSI to get much out of it at all.
Graphics: [System Specs: AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz, 4GB RAM, Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM, and Windows 7]
Ether One is a game powered by the UDK using Unreal 3, but it is far from the most impressive game I have ever seen use it, unfortunately. There are a few locations that genuinely look interesting, such as the office you walk into to begin with, but most of the artwork in this game was made to recreate an old-fashioned port village known in the game as Pinwheel and the area around it, and it does so looking very nice in the process, taking a “water-painting” approach to the style. The problem is, that you can see in many of the details White Paper Games did not quite know how to work with this engine, resulting in some rather retro graphic details, like a blur effect that literally leaves a shadow of clear space in the middle of the blur where whatever was moving had started on your screen.
Still, what they did do goes from appealing to gorgeous depending on where you are in the game, and they even pulled off some good “what the fuck” moments that will stick with you. I just wish those were more common, as walking around the same areas for several hours can get boring. But we will get to that in a bit.
Sound: Like the graphics, there really isn’t a lot I can say about the sound. For the most part, what you will hear boils down to an occasional sound effect that goes with what you are doing, ambient background of chirps from bugs or water moving nearby, and one of few voices who will talk, at what appears to be at random in one case.
Ether One’s entire cast is pretty much unseen, and it seems to be by design. Most of the time your total company will be the disembodied voice of a doctor as she guides you from the outside back in your office to assist the patient you are both working with. And while she sounds great and frankly, very believable, she also basically talks only when needed to explain a new mechanic as a nicely blended in tutorial, or when you collect one of ribbons that drive this game. There are a few other times here and there as you enter very specific rooms for the first time, but really, for the most part during the main game, you wont hear her.
The other voice work is basically in the form of answering machine messages you will pick up as you play the game and a young girl’s voice which in the last half of the game seems to be at random. Both again sound good, but one has all of six messages to collect and hear in the entire experience, and the other can get annoying as she starts to repeat herself.
Overall, the audio work in this game is pretty underwhelming.
Gameplay: Sadly, there is actually very little gameplay in Ether One, at least the game seems to be this way. You will walk around and explore a world where you are literally the only one there, removing the ability to interact with anyone. You will find physics puzzles to complete, but with no real explained reason why you would want to, and, with the exception of one early on, no need to to finish the game itself. Rather, these puzzles will fix projectors that, once used will show you a key item that will only make sense to the story AFTER you finish the game. For me, this greatly reduced my want to even try since it did not correlate to my immediate situation or “curing the disease” as I would have wanted the results to hint at. Seeing how it all connects now, I feel like this is wasted, as the core gameplay around which these are hung does not inspire a second playthrough at all.
That core gameplay is literally looking for 8 red ribbons on each of the three maps you are allowed actual free run through. Literally, that is all that makes this game’s gameplay. You are on a 1st person scavenger hunt for 8 ribbons in a world where no one else is there to interact with and nothing else is alive. They each represent a piece of a select memory you are re-assembling and will enter once finished, but even that isn’t all that exciting, as it is a slow crawl through the inside of a building with a camera, lighting it up as you reveal memories of the moment you are looking at.
Bugs: Honestly, I couldn’t find a single bug in this game. It ran perfectly.
Overall: I wish I could be more kind to this game. It’s absolutely clear the developers who made it had passion for the project, but, I just can’t. This game is actually the perfect example of choosing the wrong medium. If this were a short story I had read, it would have been amazing, but as an interactive medium, it just fails due to lack of interaction that has any meaning to the central game. I would just avoid it if I were you.