White Paper Games have really delivered with Ether One. I highly recommend fans of the adventure genre to give this a shot; You shouldn’t be disappointed.
Ether One. Well, Ether One is definitely something special. Coming from someone who is a big fan of not only the adventure games of old, but the products of the apparent resurgence of the genre we have seen as of late such as titles like Gone Home, Ether One; while telling a far different story, sets out to do just the same as the title mentioned prior and truly engage the player in a world that, while not their own, is one that can be immediately relatable while also immediately kicking-in that natural sense of curiosity and thirst for exploration (I apologize ahead of time for the absurdly long run-on sentence). It does so while also tying together multiple narrative points and doing so in a way that fleshes them out rather well and leads them off by the end nicely. Considering the player took the time to truly grasp the events taking place and did well in exploring the world on offer and the secrets it holds, anyway.
About that world. Set up in a hub-based fashion and accessible through the player character’s “Safe”; a sort of “home”, if you will, for the player that essentially serves as a stash for the multiple items you may find and need throughout your exploration in the game (not to say the Safe doesn’t hold a few secrets of its own). The Safe allows access to the different locations of a small mining town named Pinwheel via a map that also serves as a tracker and refresher for the sub-objectives (if you would even call them that) to be found throughout the game.
At this point you may have a few questions about that “Safe” thing I just mentioned and just who IS the player character. Well, and this is where the game gets interesting, in Ether One you play the role of a “Restorer”; a person who can delve into the minds of others in order to piece together memories and break the person out of whatever state of dementia they are experiencing. In today’s modern world dementia is still very much a thing that once you have, sadly, there’s not much that modern science can do for you. In Ether One’s near future universe, however, there is an experimental procedure in the works that hopes to be the breakthrough needed to combat the terrible illness. You are tasked as the final leg of what will otherwise be this dropped experiment, are you to not attain the results needed to justify continued funding of the research. You are guided by Dr. Phillis Edmonds; pioneer of the project itself and the person most relying on your success. While it is clear that she is of the best intentions for you and the project early on, constant push by the apparent high-ups shows its wear on her throughout the game and it is interesting to see the cracks in the calm doctor that sometimes show in the ultimately one-sided interactions between her and the player’s actions as they pace through the game.
Back to Pinwheel though. As I stated earlier, your job is to delve into the dementia riddled minds of those afflicted, in the game’s case a 69 year old woman by the name of Jean Thornton. Pinwheel was her place of birth and, after spending much of her life living in the states, is where she returned to and resided for the better part of the last decade. Long story short, something took place in Pinwheel during the early years of her life and that is what you believe is the root cause to her dementia. This is where you come in.
Ether One is definitely a game of two halves, and this is even a sort of selling point for the developers and the game. On the one hand, Ether One can be treated as nothing more than a world to explore and story to unravel. At its most basic, the game tasks you with the exploring the separate areas of the game, finding the multiple “memory fragments” which will then unlock the next door found in your good ol’ Safe, thus bringing forward the next major point in the story. That’s the game at its most basic and provides a full telling of the main story. Lying underneath all that, however, is where the real game lies. While you can experience the story the developers wanted to tell and the world that the developers wanted to create with little effort on your part while still leaving satisfied with what was on offer, the challenging puzzles and problem solving is to be found in the sub-objectives (again, if you would even want to call them that) that I mentioned earlier. Ether One does a great job of realizing its world. Not only is the game gorgeous, using a minimalist approach at cartoon and cel-shading more comparable to, say, The Walking Dead than Borderlands, but the artists did a great job with the overall level design; creating a world that very much feels real. This isn’t just true through the game’s art assets though, but also through implementation of story and characters. While the player will go through the game never actually finding another person in the town of Pinwheel, there is much left to suggest that this was a town of real people. Much of the puzzling comes in the way of solving issues left behind by the citizens of Pinwheel and helps give a little bit of insight into their lives while aiding in presenting Pinwheel as this real place with, again, real people. This can definitely add replay value in the way of either just playing the game for the story the first time around; coming back for the puzzles and to learn more about the world itself. Or you can just do everything in one go, substantially building on the otherwise short playtime the game would offer, though giving little in the way of replay value afterward. That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t justify its cost, however. I think for most it will. At full retail, I think the story itself, while good, may be too short for the asking price. I don’t feel that the majority who would be interested in this title would also be the ones to shy away from its puzzles and there is definitely value to be had here in that respect.
As for the technical aspects of the game itself, it certainly doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of its settings; allowing little more than options for resolution and AA in terms of the visuals themselves. It does, however, have options for FOV, view distance and FPS cap, though using V-Sync through the game itself seemed to cap the game at 60 no matter what, requiring players to go through their Nvidia Control Panel (or the Catalyst for AMD users) and set V-Sync to run at a higher cap if wanted. What was really nice to see, however, though something I sadly can’t take advantage of myself, is Rift support for this game, and this is certainly a game that could really shine with the tech, even if only a handful of people have the chance to make use of it at the moment. In terms of performance, the game didn’t run terribly, but there were times when the framerate would drop well below sixty and for seemingly no reason. With my single GTX-680, I ranged anywhere from 40 – 120 and it never really seemed to be all that consistent with what was going on on-screen. Again, not terrible and I definitely was on the higher end of that range for most of my playtime, but I do think performance is definitely something that can look to improve going forward.
Overall, I found Ether One to be a fantastic time. These sort of experiences are something that a lot of people have been trying as of recent, though many fail to deliver something truly noteworthy or even worthwhile. As the premiere title for a young start-up developer, White Paper Games have really delivered with Ether One. I highly recommend fans of the adventure genre to give this a shot; You shouldn’t be disappointed.