Ether One Review
Ether One Review
A game about dementia that carefully balances the haunting and the peaceful while offering an imaginative and frightening story.
Posted: 06/03/15 | Category: Review | Developer: White Paper Games | Publisher: SOEDESCO | Platform: Windows

Genre: Adventure 
Release date: March 25, 2014

Ether One is a delightful stroll down memory lane that carefully balances haunting and peaceful. From the moment the protagonist steps down the stairs into the Ether Institute of Telepathic Medicine, developer White Paper Games crafts a clever world of puzzles that relies almost entirely on atmosphere to build the universe.

Story
 

The Restorer, our nameless protagonist, is working for the Institute to help retrieve the memories of an elderly dementia patient, Jean. The Restorer is led through this process by Phyllis, an ambitious scientist who has one last chance to prove that her process of memory retrieval is successful. This process of storytelling leaves a lot up to the player. While heading through the core story, it’s unlikely that the player will be able to piece the world together without reading the various forms of documentation located throughout the world.

The bare bones story effectively sells the dementia angle of this game. You’ll wander the town of Pinwheel and its surrounding areas never truly knowing what’s going on. Some dense notes can be found, and keeping the information straight in your head is no easy task. Is it an excuse to claim that this just reflects the theme of dementia? Maybe, but it worked for me. The story falters only when it begins to lose its mystery. Late game narration answers questions in an uncharacteristically obvious manner.

Gameplay
 

Ether One balances the difficulty of its puzzles well. As you travel around the largely open world, you’ll collect ribbons and construct projectors by solving puzzles. Though the bright red ribbons may signal progress in the game, I never enjoyed approaching them as each ribbon is accompanied by loud whispers. When first wandering through the dark halls of the Brimclif Industrial Centre, this can be a fairly unnerving sound.

The core game can be completed without too much frustration, but additional subplots require some puzzle finesse. One puzzle involving ringing bells in a particular order was difficult because the apparent solutions were just red herrings. I can only question my intelligence so many times before I just start hitting the puzzle with a hammer until it works.

The Restorer’s home base is the restoration chamber, a stylishly-designed hub from which he warps out to any of the game’s main areas. At any point in the game you can travel back to the restoration chamber to store hundreds of items found in the environment. But items disappear. I traveled back once to pick up a coffee cup that I’d become irrationally fond of only to find that it had disappeared and other items had shuffled around. My first thought was that I’d misplaced it somewhere. And then I started to wonder if someone had moved it, which was a stupid thought since I was the only person playing the game. But then I realized something - the game had, in a way, made me experience and understand dementia.

It should thus be stated that nothing critical to in-game puzzles ever vanished, just my favorite coffee cup.

Visuals and Sound
 

The game looks and sounds spectacular. It was also made by just six people. When I first entered the town of Pinwheel and looked out over the ocean, I was awestruck. The lighthouse looms over the water while buoys bang in the harbor. While the art deserves to be lauded, it’s the pervasive quietude that gives more personality to the world of Ether One than any visuals.

Wandering the empty town of Pinwheel or stepping into a flooded mineshaft is accentuated by minimalist sound design. The ribbon-associated whispers, the slow tapping of a piano, or the ringing of environmental bells all give off the feeling that something isn’t quite right.

The voice acting is equally top notch. I was never sure whether my scientist guide Phyllis was worried more about me or furthering her career, while the voice of Jean was wistful and edited with an ethereal edge. When Jean told her childish jokes, I was unexpectedly struck by sadness instead of humor.

Conclusion
 

Ether One is not a game for everyone, but it is a good game. Tackling the idea of mental illness is difficult in every medium, but here we see it succeed in almost every aspect. This is a game where you’re meant to check under every stone, and patient players will be rewarded by a fleshed out world. Those looking for a firm narrative will be left disappointed (at least until the end), but those who are prepared to piece together the puzzle will experience an imaginative and frightening story of dementia.

 
Grade: B+
 
Unnerving score
Handling of dementia
Intriguing minimalist plot
 
Overt late-game revelations       
 
 Logo
 
 
System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows Vista, 7 or 8
Processor: 2.2+ Ghz Dual-Core
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics NVIDIA Geforce GTX 460 or equivalent
DirectX: Version9.0c
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Addional Notes: Windows XP is not supported by Ether One. Laptop equivalent GPUs struggle in comparison to desktop GPUs. VR: Ether One currently only supports the DK1 Oculus developer kit. We're hopefully going to provide updated Oculus support in future updates. 
 
Specials from Digital Download
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