let me begin with the nutshell version of this review: Ether One will give back to you, threefold, whatever you put into it. if you take your time with this game and immerse yourself entirely in the story, the ending will likely bring you to tears. if not, you have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to have your heartstrings tugged at.
Ether One is gorgeous in a thousand different ways, and although it isn't exactly a next-gen game, White Paper Games has managed to bring some incredible ideas into play. some of these worked and some of these did not, but the overall impact of the game is a positive one, bittersweet-ness included.
i'll begin with what worked: the graphics had an almost Walking Dead kind of feel to them, and when coupled with the MASTERFUL ambience and audio of the game, the effect was honestly enchanting. i was concerned at first when I saw the "horror" tag but, although the game both deals with and alludes to very serious tragedies, it could hardly be called a horror game. when putting enough effort in, your input is rewarded in a way that truly feels satisfying, as more pieces of the story come together whenever you complete a specific task.
another aspect of this game i enjoyed (albeit reluctantly, at first) was the kind of real-world puzzle-solving i've only ever experienced in Amnesia (i can't attest to the rarity of it; i only mean to say that i'm newer to exploration games). recreating the life and times of Pinwheel -- even something as simple as putting coffee on someone's desk -- is something i'll have a hard time forgetting, because nearly every puzzle was so meaningful in and of itself.
the "inventory" system was also one that was a pleasantly odd choice: instead of having a "bag" or "backpack", the player will be able to physically store items on shelves in a small room you can instantly transport yourself to and from. this, although seeming to be inconvenient at first, really serves as a 'centering' place, and allows the objects you pick up to really and truly seem like objects of interest
and not just flat tools you equip and never see again. you have the ability to misplace things (if you're stupid, like me), which really does add to the immersion, as odd as that sounds.
now, onto the more negative aspects:
i may just be inexperienced with these kinds of games, but the puzzles ended up being relatively difficult at times. keep in mind that the core of the game doesn't necessarily involve puzzles as much as the "projector side quest" does, but i was dead set on trying to get as many as i could and, therefore, did a number on myself trying to solve a thousand puzzles.
my favourite area, the harbor, was followed by my LEAST FAVOURITE EVER area, the industrial area.
hear me out when i say i LOVED this game, but i HATED the industrial area. this is probably a highly personal issue, but i got lost ALL THE ♥♥♥♥IN TIME and i ended up getting frustrated to the point where i had to go have a snack to calm down.
granted, this frustration made it slightly more worth it in the end, but i think the layout of the area was confusing with no real signs pointing anywhere or telling anyone what to do. although this contributes heavily to the realism
-- you must solve puzzles as you would in real life, which is one of this game's shining points -- it ended up being very difficult, at least for me. it was something that held such promise and followed through with a lot of it, but ended up causing a lot of frustration that pulled away from the depth of the immersion -- and the deeper you are, the more annoying it is to have to come up for air.
another issue i found was actually a result of this realism: the game does not always react so realistically. moving through water has no effect (no ripples), you cannot just place things down on the floor or on a table -- in fact, if you pick something up and decide to hold onto it, you can only put it down in PLACE of another item you pick up, or on one of the surfaces in your "home base", or scattered sparsely across the maps. some items -- we'll say a bottle of beer, for example -- can be picked up, and others are just textures in the background. this is also quite frustrating, because when you feel like everything in the world is so real, it's jarring to be unable to touch something or move somewhere.
in spite of these issues, however, Ether One is a gem of an indie game. the story is rich and compelling, unfolding itself deliciously slowly as you learn to love the characters within, the environment feels real, even without next-gen graphics -- i wanted to walk through the forests of Pinwheel more times than i could count, and if i had been able to open the fridges and see some fresh food in there, i would've wanted to live in this world forever. this game took the hours i invested into it and rewarded me with a subtle, sweet, and heart-wrenching conclusion -- it made me cry, and i'm glad it did.
an easy 8-8.5/10.
if you have some time on your hands, some patience, and a penchant for the enchanting and bittersweet, this is absolutely a game to pick up.