Over the past few years we’ve seen countless titles come and go under the newly-defined ‘walking simulator’ genre. These games are often powerful, story-rich experiences that offer little to no direct threat to the player and instead look to bring unique and original plots woven through an intricate web of storytelling, emotion and visual beauty. Elea is a game that many will quickly place into this emerging genre, but unlike other similar titles available it arrives as an episodic experience. With the first episode in hand, I jumped in to see if it has what it takes to make its mark amongst the plethora of story based adventures already available.
Elea is set in the year 2093, as humanity’s hope is dwindling. 20 years before, a neurological mutation broke out, causing uncontrollable rage in every child born on earth. With no cure ever found – besides an intervention that pacifies the children, but makes them cold and lifeless – a team of volunteers from all over the world set off on a one-of-a-kind interstellar mission to an Earth-like exoplanet potentially capable of sustaining humanity. After arriving successfully, panic soon sets in as the ship taking up the mission – The Pilgrimage – loses all radio contact with Earth. With no knowledge of how, or why, it happened, and 13 years passing since, it’s time for a recovery mission. With a full crew at the ready, the research starship RSS Recovery has set out and is now on site, ready to investigate the fate of The Pilgrimage…
On board is River Elea Catherine Jones, our protagonist and notable space scientist who also happens to be the wife of one of those lost with The Pilgrimage on that fateful adventure. Whilst the game tells the events of what has happened to Elea during this period, the gameplay itself is played out via our protagonist’s dreams, with Elea agreeing to undergo a procedure to wipe away her painful and unwanted memories. This is done via a huge on-board MRI-like machine and players are left to experience the very events and traumas that our protagonist is trying to forget.
The game starts with the first of these memories putting players in the shoes of Elea during her pregnancy, before continuing on through the moments her child was affected by Earth’s unstoppable mutation and onto the events with her long-lost husband. All is not as simple as replaying these moments however, as whilst going through these memories, glitches and errors in the system bring forth supernatural and unexpected occurrences, changing the memories she hoped to forget into more disturbing scenes.
Whilst a serious story is always something many of us enjoy, to really make it a memorable experience, you need to make it come alive and it’s fair to say the team behind ELEA have done just that, with some fantastic talent on the writing team really shining with the script to create a truly interesting story that at first had me genuinely wanting to see what had happened. Unfortunately, whilst the script provides for a fantastic narrative experience, the rate in which it progresses is a painfully slow one – so slow that any engagement quickly dwindles.
The first reason for this is the woeful movement speed of our protagonist. Being a ‘walking simulator’, progression comes as you interact with different things throughout. From the very first moments with Elea however it is clear that walking is a painfully slow process and whilst it seems a viable speed during the opening pregnancy memory, things soon get tiresome when you realise you’ll be spending the majority of the game trawling along at the pace of an infant. Even during the times in which you’re able to run – which isn’t all that often – it still feels horribly slow paced and a chore to get from one place to another. When you realise you’ve gone the wrong way and your objective is in the completely opposite direction, the slow paced nature really starts to grate.
But that’s not the only issue and Elea isn’t quite as exciting as it should be thanks to the lack of interaction with meaningful objects and the overly linear approach. Throughout the episode, players can walk freely around the RSS Recovery and interact with many different objects that are scattered throughout. But disappointingly the only things that really have any true meaning are those you need to connect with to progress the story. There are indeed various tablets that are laying around that hold emails between crew members and other various bits and pieces that tie together the backstory together, but everything else besides that simply proves to be more of a time consumer than anything that holds real purpose.
Whilst there are complaints to be had, we must address one of the huge positives about the game – the visuals – as, alongside the script, this is another area in which ELEA really shines. Whether it’s the vibrant realism of every object spread throughout the game, the location in which you occupy, or even the unnerving yet strangely satisfying pallet of colours that deliver the strange entities found during Elea’s dreams, there is a glaring sense of beauty surrounding the visuals of the game.
If you’re a casual gamer or just someone who enjoys a decent story then Elea is probably a game you’ll find yourself enjoying… provided you can put up with the overly slow pace of the protagonist. It doesn’t provide the greatest adventure ever, it isn’t great at intuitive interaction and it’s certainly not going to wow the masses, but there is at least a stable base for ongoing episodes; provided things become a bit more packed out as the game progresses. Disappointingly, the experience is over and done in just a few short hours, so anyone hoping for something a little longer may want to wait until the entire experience has released. For an opening episode though, there has certainly been worse.
Should improvements be made to the movement speed and a little more added in to give reason to explore, there is a chance that Elea could turn into something more memorable. Right now though this is simply your average walking simulator.