Ether One is a very difficult game to review. I don't say that because I'm torn about what to say about it though, I say that because the game was literally broken when it first released on PS4. It was originally a PC title that received many positive reviews, but the developer saw fit to redo the entire game in Unreal Engine 4 for the PS4 release. To build your game again from the ground up in a new engine is quite the task, and it was evident from the moment it became available as a free PS+ download in May, that this game wasn't given proper attention before being released.
Image By White Paper Games (White Paper Games) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
I hate to say that, but within two days of the game's release, a massive list of bugs were reported on the PlayStation Forums. It took until May 22nd for a patch to be released in the U.S. Up until then, I was unable to even progress through the game, let alone enjoy it. I wanted to give this game a chance to fix its problems, but even after the patch came through, I still found things that had yet to be fixed.
So, going into this review, let me be perfectly clear:
Ether One is not a stable game. If you are unable to install the patch, you risk being unable to finish the game. If you're going to play it, make sure it's the latest version. You have been warned.
Oh Come On, They Wouldn't Release a Broken Game...Would They?
Prior to the patch, there was a list of known issues posted to the aforementioned PlayStation Forum thread. The numbers were as follows:
Seriously? One of those game breaking bugs unfortunately happened to me and permanently corrupted my save file. Up until that point, other bugs kept me from seeing elements of the story by repeating previous dialogue when it should have been new content. The game also crashed constantly when transitioning to new areas.
Needless to say, the experience went from intriguing and interesting, to an exercise in frustration. After the patch went live on May 22nd, 2015, I was able to finish the game, but it still crashed on me twice before I could do so, so it's still not perfectly stable. Normally I would excuse the occasional crash or a bug, but these numbers are inexcusable. At least you can finish the game, but not without your fair share of frustration it seems.
It's a shame that this is the case. Future patches may iron out these issues, but after almost a month of being released, Ether One is still an unstable and unpolished product.
An Emotional Story Begging to be Experienced
Let's set aside the issues with the game for a moment. Now that you can, more or less, finish the game, let's look at what we have. You play as a character known as the "Restorer" and you are working in an institution called Ether One that hopes to heal patients with dementia by repairing their memories.
As you transition from the futuristic halls of the institute into the quiet rural settings of your patient's mind, the game always keep a somber tone that cloaks everything in a thick sense of mystery. It's very intriguing, and the way the game is structured, you can simply explore your way through it, or solve puzzles to reveal more of the world and story.
Your here to repair memories in the hopes of proving that someone with dementia can be cured through these means. Throughout the game, a doctor's voice guides you through the various areas. On the surface, there's a very unique story here, but much of it is lost if you decide not to pursue the more intricate elements of it.
There are various projectors scattered throughout the areas that can be rebuilt by solving puzzles in that area. These projectors reveal more about the mind you reside in, and they work in conjunction with various notes, newspapers, and other things you can interact. It's a game that gives you as much story as you ask for, which is an interesting approach.
To say anything more on the story would be spoiling what is done with such a unique premise. Needless to say, the best experience is one that is complete, but if you hate puzzles, you'll still get the basic gist of things and be all the better for it.
Puzzle Purists Rejoice
Fans of classic adventure games like Myst and Riven will find a lot to love about the puzzles in Ether One. They're far more than simple mind teasers and require you to do research within the game, and take notes of things you read and see. It can be frustrating for someone who isn't willing to do the legwork, and many people will most likely resort to a guide, because some of the puzzles have a solution that has you saying "I would never have figured that out."
It's a thin line between a clever puzzle, and one that is obtuse. Some of the puzzles certainly tote this line, especially ones that require a bit of guesswork to solve. For those who really enjoy the classic difficulty of old school adventure games, you'll find a lot to love in these puzzles, but for people who want something a little more immediately solvable, some of these might have you ready to rage quit Bloodborne style.
Solving these puzzles can be frustrating from a control standpoint too. Prior to the patch, anything that required an input from the in-game keyboard was a puzzle in and of itself. The keyboard had no cursor, so you would have to guess where it was sitting. With that fixed, the only other complain is the cursor you use to select items in the environment. It has a tiny dot of influence that you must situate directly upon something to interact with it.
It's needlessly tedious, and it makes interactions frustrating. You can also only carry one item at a time. Any other items can be stored in a hub world type area that you're allowed to teleport to at will. This is fine now that the patch is out. Prior to the update, items stored here could disappear without warning. I didn't see the issue post-patch, but it could still be there.
Your movement, even while holding the run button, is slow and methodical. This isn't an action game, but it does take time to cross environments a process that is trying with such a slow movement speed. These are minor annoyances, but combined with some of the more frustrating and knowledge intensive puzzles, they can become more than a simple annoyance.
The graphics too have diminished since the PC release. You would think that being on the new engine, the game would improve in its fidelity, but on the PS4 it has texture loading issues and muddy looking environments/models. Graphics aren't everything, but these seem to be less polished than the PC counterpart, an issue that cannot be attributed to the PS4's hardware since the game isn't very demanding as it is.
A Broken Masterpiece
The story that Ether One is trying to tell is an incredible one. It's unique, emotional, and incredibly engaging. It's such a tragedy that this incredible concept was released on PS4 in such a broken form. Even with the patch, certain issues still remain. With much of the story locked behind incredibly difficult and sometimes obtuse puzzles, the experience becomes even less what the developer intended.
Even with some of the puzzles being willfully dense, and the little annoyances with the controls, I would have given Ether One a solid score. I can forgive things like that, but what I can't forgive is that they released a game with a litany of bugs and game breaking glitches. Even a month after release, and a major patch, it's still not a polished product like its PC counterpart.
I'm sorry Ether One, I truly am. You deserved better.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date: 6/1/15
Final Score: 5.0/10