Ether One is a masterpiece, a love letter to the pen and paper genre, an anthem to puzzle games. Once you step into the world of Ether One and start unravelling the tangles of your patients’ demented mind, you will struggle to tear yourself away.
I want you to be completely surprised by Ether One’s ending so my review will contain no spoilers and very little info on the story.
Gameplay – seamless motion
Gameplay is the backbone of any game. No matter how good the graphics, sound or story, if the gameplay is bad, the player will experience an overall sense of frustration. Ether One’s gameplay is seamless. I didn’t experience one moment of frustration.
This says a lot about the quality you can expect from Ether One. The game is almost plagued by puzzles to solve and not once was I stuck in the situation where some part of the puzzle mechanic didn’t work. I’ve played my fair share of puzzle games, and in most of them I found myself wanting to throw something at the screen just because a particular gameplay mechanic wasn’t working.
The ease of gameplay makes you want to explore every nook and cranny of Ether One. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s first take a quick look at what the story is all about.
What the mind thinks the heart transmits
You work as a Restorer for Ether, Institute of Telepathic Medicine. Ether developed technology to help mend broken minds, such as the minds of patients struggling with dementia. This is done through hooking the Restorer to a machine which allows him/her to travel through the memories of a patient. By interacting with the patients broken memories, The Restorer is able to reconstruct and then heal specific memories. The game refers to this process as “Clearing the mind of plaque.”
You need to help Jean, a patient who suffers from dementia. What will you find in such a tormented mind?
The only other human you come into contact with (besides the voices in your head) is a harsh female voice that relentlessly compels you to succeed. You hear from her how failure would mean the termination of the Ether Project, the complete breakdown of your patient and the insinuation that something probably best avoided awaits you should you not succeed.
I feel a slight increase in tension as I take the red seat.
"We all end up in our minds where we started."
Environment – Can I stay here, please?
The moment I “woke up” in the patient’s mind I knew I wanted to stay there for a long, long time, and the more I travelled through her memories the more I wanted to explore. The art is done absolutely masterfully, and it compliments the memories’ ambiance superbly. It’s done so well that the environment gives the player the odd combination of fear and solace – at the same time.
It felt like I walked into an enchanted painting from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. Each memory section has its own unique setting, although the memories all link up together to form a whole picture. No matter where you find yourself, you always feel the tug of the invisible umbilical cord which binds you to your patient’s mind. That link is constantly reinforced by the different memory fragments you either discover or unlock.
Core memory fragments are extremely easy to find, you only need to explore the world to find them. These are also the keys that unlock the game progress. You don’t have to be concerned that puzzle solving will prevent your progress, just walk around and you’ll find it.
What I adore about Ether One is the different degrees of puzzle solving the game dishes up for you. Like I said, there’s simple exploration, then there are puzzles that require a bit of thinking and exploration, and then there are fraking hard as nails puzzles.
I mean, real brain teasers. The stuff of legends. Myst quality! I could have finished Ether One in a few hours, but no, I kept on trying to solve every puzzle. I finally had to let it go. There are some puzzles that I just couldn’t solve. I will be back though! If you want to get to the really good stuff, you will have to do some pen and paper puzzle solving. White Paper Games constructed the puzzles in such a way that it doesn’t deter from the story, it adds to it. The most important of the optional puzzles are the Projector Puzzles. These require a sequence of events that you have to complete, which, in turn, reconstructs a broken projector which plays a little video relating to a significant event that took place in that specific room. It is extremely rewarding to solve a Projector Puzzle.
How many projector puzzles will you solve?
At one particularly difficult puzzle I lost track of where I was in relation to my patients memories, because I didn't want to give up on trying to solve it. Fear not, “The Case” holds all the most important recordings, items and history of what you’ve gathered while busy in Jean’s mind.
The Case is your home away from home. It’s extremely handy when you are not sure if an object you collected will be useful at a later stage. Since you can carry only one item at a time, you will need to drop items in The Case often. Travelling between your patients mind and The Case is as easy and quick as pressing a button. The projector reels you unlock, as well as the most crucial memories from each section, are also stored here. The Case is another feature of Ether One that points towards the genius of its creators.
The Case is a door into the mind of your patient
Talking about genius reminds me of the music and audio in Ether One.
Hold still my beating heart
Ether One orchestrates your mood through its visual and audio splendour. The gentle caress of the waves against the dock, the tinge of pain that surfaces as you walk into a room filled with forgotten sounds of joy, or the feeling of impending insanity as you get thrown into the deafening turmoil of a mind in pain.
The voice acting is especially gripping. You never get to see the different people, you only hear them talk, but this is done so well that you get a real sense of each character. The final chapter has only the voice of the main character to lay bare what that troubled heart wants to transmit. You will feel empathy.
Ether One makes you care about your work as a Restorer. You feel compelled to end the suffering. You need to succeed. As you travel through the dark caverns of the mind you will be swept up in its story.
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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd