Imagine your past represented as a switchboard in front of you. Various decisions that you made can be switched on or off, changing all the decisions that follow. And then you can switch them too, creating a cascading sequence of ‘what ifs’ that lead you to some fantastic places. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s precisely the set up of Eternal Threads, a game that lets you live out that fantasy – albeit with the lives of six other people, rather than your own – and it’s precisely as enthralling and mind-boggling as it sounds. 

eternal threads keyart

The six lives in question all occupy a house-share in the north of England. More precisely, all occupied a house share in the north of England, as they were the unfortunate victims of a house fire. But this house fire wasn’t meant to happen, so you’re sent from a position in the future, via a handheld time travel device, to right this wrong and begin the voyage home. Or something like that.

If you’ve played Tacoma or Return of the Obra Dinn, you will find the setup quite familiar. Rather than travel to the point when the six died, you travel to a moment soon after, and use the burnt shell of the house to start fiddling with the dashboard that we mentioned earlier. This means travelling to rooms where an event occurred, activating your handheld console, and then viewing a kind of holographic ‘memory’ of it. You can watch but can’t participate, and this gives you clues to how the relationships travel on a downward spiral to the point that everyone dies.

We say that you can’t participate, but that’s not strictly true. At branching points, you are able to switch binary decisions made by these characters in these memories – perhaps Linda does decide to go to a party after all – and you can observe the effect that your butterflies make. There are also some clues that are meant for you, rather than the six characters. In one strong opening sequence, a character reveals that they keep a spare key in their bedside drawer for one of their friends’ rooms, and you can ransack the drawer to get that same key.

eternal threads screenshot 1

As we mentioned earlier, viewing memories of a previous event isn’t new to video games. But what absolutely blew us away about Eternal Threads – and made it a must-play for us when it launches on the 19th of May – is just how much it branches. Gaming has a habit of producing games that claim that they diverge and have wildly different endings, but it’s often just smoke and mirrors. The rivers all meet again for one or two endings. Here, it’s absolutely not smoke and mirrors: it can’t be. Even with our first few hours with it, all of the dashboard is visible, with thousands of switches and flickering lights for us to play with.

In one of the most astonishing pieces of UI in living memory, every single moment of the seven days leading up to fire are presented as a timeline, and you can view and twiddle even the most incongruous of decisions. Branches beget branches, and it’s mind boggling. In fact, the major concern is whether it’s too brain-frazzling: will it be possible to remember what lever switched you onto which track? Time will tell, and we will let you know in our review.

The only clue that Eternal Threads is a debut game from a small, independent studio is the graphics. It’s not going to get Horizon Zero Dawn sweating, and it can look a bit like the Attack of the Store Mannequins but, by golly, it’s got enough depth, time manipulation and branching paths for you to not care a jot.

eternal threads screenshot 2

We are eager to give Eternal Threads a thorough once over when it arrives. What we’ve played makes this look very special indeed, but we’re wary of jumping too far down the rabbit hole of playing this before full Xbox code arrives. It feels like the kind of mystery we could ruin for ourselves, and we don’t have the luxury of a time machine to change our decision to play too much of it. 

Eternal Threads is due for launch on May 19th 2022 for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S, as well as PS4, PS5 and PC via Steam. You’ll find a Nintendo Switch version later down the line. 

Huge thanks go out to Secret Mode and Cosmonaut Studio for giving us access to Eternal Threads for preview. We’ll be following with full review when the time comes.

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