Ether One tackles the topic of dementia head-on in an emotional walking simulator/collect-em-up on PS4 and Steam.
I am a fan of a lot of video game genres. Walking simulators, made famous by games like Stanley Parable/Gone Home, have been a new guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t know why, but there is something enjoyable about exploring the unknown in these games.
A lot of these games go heavy on the horror/thriller elements which is the perfect setting for first-person exploration titles. Ether One is heavy on fantasy/sci-fi elements which gives the game a nice flair and sets it apart from the rest.
The game was developed and published by White Paper Games for Microsoft Windows. Soedesco published the game for the PlayStation 4. Ether One is White Paper Games first game and it is an ambitious game to say the least. It was originally released for Windows in 2014 and for the PlayStation 4 in 2015. For this review, I’m going to focus on the PlayStation 4 version.
You are recently hired by a futuristic memory-recovery company called the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine. The player takes the role of a “Restorer,” an employee tasked with restoring the memories of their patients. The Restorer is able to travel to a virtual reality world based on the fractured memories of the patient.
While the Ether Institute seems to do great work for people, not all is peaceful. They are on the brink of losing their funding for their memory restoration efforts. The last effort to save the company is to retrieve the lost memories of Jean Thompson, an elderly woman that has been diagnosed with dementia. Everything is riding on whether or not the protagonist is able to retrieve and restore Jean’s memories.
The town of Pinwheel is reconstructed based off of Jean’s memories. You learn more about Jean and the town’s past as you progress. Pinwheel is a mining town that heavily relies on mining iron and tin to survive. There is an accident at the mine that affects Jean and her family. You also learn about Jean’s relationship with a boy named Thomas.
You progress through her memories to search for the virtual representation of her dementia. It’s theorized that, if the Restorer can remove these representations from the patient’s mind it may rid the patient of their dementia. The process is not an easy one, however, as the patient’s mind becomes more unstable as the Restorer progresses.
Now that you have the background, to say any more may spoil the game for anyone that has not played it.
Gameplay-wise, this game is not too challenging. You walk around and collect red ribbons (which will henceforth be known as exposition ribbons), that progresses the plot along.
The exposition ribbons are hidden, but they’re mostly hidden in plain sight. They’re really easy to find at first but the hiding spots get a little more challenging as you progress in the game.
Once you find an exposition ribbon, you get some dialogue related to the patient’s memory. Find all from one level and you can move on to the next world. In between worlds, you’ll be transported to a house where you will receive more exposition related to the game. You don’t collect ribbons here, you take photos.
The real challenge of this game lies in the projectors the player has the opportunity to set up. There are at least 3 projectors per stage and they provide additional plot points to help drive the narrative. These projectors are completely optional and can be ignored if the player wants; however, fixing them all nets an achievement in the long run.
The projectors require the player to complete a puzzle in order to put them back together. The puzzles start off pretty simple but become very difficult towards the later parts of the game.
The difficulty ranges from navigating your character through a pitch black room in order to push things in a certain order, finding objects throughout the level, and putting items in specific locations. There’s also a puzzle where you have to make coffee… You would think that would be an easy task, but it isn’t. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to figure that one out.
The puzzles seem to get more complicated as the patient’s mind grows more and more unstable… but maybe I’m looking into this too much. The reality is that the puzzles get glitchier as the game progresses.
There are, at least, three instances where the projectors just refused to set up when performing the steps. I had to reload the game several times to get them to work properly. More on that later.
There are also other collectables and hidden things to find that relate back to the main story, such as answering machines and trolls…Okay, maybe not so much the trolls, but they are still there to collect. It’s almost like a hidden object game in a way, or like a hide and seek simulator…except what you’re seeking is a random item and not a person.
The game can be beaten within a day (probably within a few hours) if the player does not search for the collectables or sets up the projectors. That being said, there is a lot of story packed into those few hours, including an emotional ending.
The game’s setting is very unique. The Ether Institute is a Sci-Fi setting whereas the town of Pinwheel is more of a country-ish setting (with the obvious exception of the mine and factory). The levels are very large and open and there are plenty of areas to explore.
The problem with this, though, is the amount of collectables does not match the size of the level. I found myself just wandering aimlessly while looking for collectables. After a while, I just wandered around looking at the scenery, which is nice at first, but gets old quickly. It’s also very easy to get turned around in some of the environments. I got confused very easily in the mine and factory levels.
The music is minimalistic at best. It’s there, and it creates a nice ambiance, but most of the time you’re just listening to your character walk around.
As I mentioned before, the projectors get trickier and trickier to set up as the game progresses, but some are buggy. That’s the biggest issue with me: the bugs. We’re talking game-breaking bugs that make some of the achievements unobtainable.
I’m not sure if it happens across all platforms, I only played the PS4 version, but I read some fixes on Steam forums so I’m going to assume that it is buggy across platforms.
For example, several projectors won’t fully assemble unless you employ some trickery. What do I mean by trickery? For one of the projectors, I had to uninstall the current version of the game and install the original version.
To put it in perspective, this game-breaking bug caused me to almost miss my last projector (stupid Bell Tower), thus rendering my platinum trophy unobtainable. I like collecting achievements/trophies so it was especially irritating to me.
All in all, the game was enjoyable. The visuals were beautiful and the puzzles were challenging. Who would have thought that making a cup of coffee could be so frustrating… I will say it lost points with me due to the buggy-ness of the projectors and playing hide and seek with the exposition ribbons tended to drag in some levels.
That being said, the story overcomes the tediousness of looking for items; however the buggy projectors are very frustrating. If you’re not concerned with achievements, or are willing to go to the lengths I did to achieve them, then definitely give this game a try. The ending to the story had a big impact on me. Maybe it’s because I played the game a bit sporadically at first, but I did not see the ending coming.
I wish I had more to say about the gameplay but, ultimately, it is just a game where you walk around and collect exposition ribbons.
I give Ether One: 3 exposition ribbons out of 5.
(Get Ether One for Playstation 4 at Gamestop)