Talking to someone you know -- maybe have known your whole life -- who is suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia is heartbreaking. At best, they stare at you, smiling warmly but helplessly. Any mental associations or memories shared crash down one-sided. The person is well meaning, but can't reciprocate.
Ether One deals with mental breakdown with a sort of reverse Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind approach. What if memories could be restored?
Ether One (PC)
There's been blowback against first-person games that don't feature a gun or at least a sharpened tooth brush. Anything to harm someone with. While exploratory and firearm free, Ether One isn't exactly in line with The Stanley Parable or Gone Home. Not entirely, anyway.
You can progress through game mostly by soldiering on and collecting certain objects, but the handful of locations you visit also feature Myst-reminiscent environmental puzzles. Solve them and you'll restore old projectors that clue you in on what's going on outside of what the gently authoritative British voice of god tells you. You get out of it what you put in, which is refreshing and a bit scary, because you actually have to use your head. That's what it's all about.
As a Restorer, you're wading through someone's memories of a coastal British mining town, guided only by the doctor you're in constant communication with.
There are no people, only what's left behind. Letters and notes. Objects scattered about the world that may or may not prove useful. Those you'll be examining, picking up, and likely storing on shelves in The Case, which is your central hub. You can go to and from it at any time with the push of a button.
You'll store objects of interest there, view film reels from restored projectors, or wonder what's in the giant, sealed safe. Downstairs there is some cork board where copies of important notes or flyers you find are reproduced. It's pen and pencil without literally requiring you to have a pen and pencil, though perhaps slightly less efficient than just looking down at notes. But notes get lost or eaten by dogs or get olive oil spilled all over them.
The quaint, working-class town is replete with places to explore and story to discover, lives to unearth. Puzzles, mercifully, are generally contained to a single building or area, rather than leaving you wondering if that bottle of bourbon you picked up at the beginning of the game is going to be the key to a puzzle eight hours later.
The puzzles themselves also deserve praise for their combination of variety and originality. There is some overlap. A lot of four-digit codes to discover (conveniently written, albeit hidden, somewhere on hand). But mostly they follow a sensible, organic, contextual and lateral logic. They're by no means easy, but your eureka moments may vary. I couldn't figure out what to do with a bunch of pistons and sought out hints online. Actually, I sought out hints a couple times for full completion, though you're free to impose stauncher standards on yourself. Story text through notes often helps hint towards solutions.
Ether One nails its puzzles, atmosphere, and sound (ambient and voice acting). It also nails its story -- whether or not you decide to fully unravel its world and its mysteries -- culminating in a, well, refreshing, smart finale that will stay on my mind for years to come.
THE VERDICT - Ether One
Reviewed by Steven Hansen