Walking simulators seem to be the newest medium for horror/sinister titles to be the most effective way of conveyance. After desensitisation via the later Dead Space’s and Resident Evil’s, when Frictional Games’ Penumbra and Amnesia gained traction, people started having faith again.
Since then, we’ve had balls out horror titles like Outlast, cat-and-mouse nightmare fuel in Alien: Isolation (which is one of my top ten of all time) and Resident Evil 7 coming back for its crown. Even Frictional’s last outing, SOMA, went for a horror-esque angle, and pulled it off.
However, the walking simulator isn’t just reserved for the brave/weak bladdered. Anyone that’s played Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Firewatch can tell you that there is beauty in the quiet, unknowing landscapes portrayed, without resorting to jump scares and safe spaces (literal ones, I mean. Not a retreat for losing arguments on the internet).
So, Elea then. Where does it fit on the walking/horror spectrum? Definitely the former, but that doesn’t make it boring. It’s a spectacle simulator, in that you take in the worlds as you uncover what’s happening. The tagline to Kyodai’s adventure is “To be reborn, first you must forget” which, to me, gets the mind thinking that they’re going for an implanted memory/memory loss/you’re not who you think you are kind of arrangement. But that’s not the case. Well, not quite. Sort of, maybe a little. Confused? Me three. Expect a lot of that, and follow me through my own scrambled logic of explanation.
Starting the game, we see our quasi-titular heroine, River Elea, about to be MRI scanned. A companion, Olaf, advising you that the scan will not erase your memories, only seal some pathways away, and may affect your day to day life, and you may struggle with long term memory recall. After a frankly eyeball-melting sequence of screen glitches and effects (which the intro does warn you about), you awake as a heavily pregnant wife on Earth, talking to her husband whilst he’s on a mission in space. Hmm, right. Off to a strong start.
After bimbling about the house, in order to gain access to your son’s locked bedroom, you experience more glitches and visual trips, and you’re in space. It turns out the portion around the house was an archived memory, that becomes corrupted and the ship’s AI, Kazumi, has to let you out of. To be more exact, you’re aboard the RSS Recovery, on a mission to find the Pilgrimage: a ship lost whilst trying to find an inhabitable planet. The Pilgrimage was lost 13 years ago, and had been launched due an outbreak of jam twenty years ago, in the year 2093. Well, JAM, to be more precise. Juvenile Aggressive Mania, an outbreak that caused young children to become uncontrollable and violent on a worldwide scale. Whilst no cure was found besides pacification, the Pilgrimage was a concerted effort to find somewhere new to continue the human race. Elea (as most people address her) is on the Recovery for personal reasons: her husband was part of the missing crew.
It was a jarring change from the pregnancy portion, to discovering you’re onboard the Recovery. It’s hard to shake that “Is this real life? Is this just fantasy?” feeling, as after two rug pulls about who/where you are, and even as I progressed I was still expecting to wake up a third time.
The ship itself is a well lit, tightly packed, almost modular affair. Reminiscent of the Nostromo, in that it has a retro-future look to it, you’ll be familiar with it as you back track a few times. Crew interaction is on the minimal, as is music and ambience. So, what are we actually doing on this space flight tour?
This, and to the game’s credit in not hand holding, can be a slight hiccup in game flow. It’s almost too minimal, with objectives such as “Find out what happened to Alice” hanging around after you find Alice, with no contextual button or dialogue prompt to further you on. It’s a slight hairline fracture in an otherwise engaging narrative, but it doesn’t spoil the immersion. It transpires that Elea wants to leave the ship, disobeying the captain’s orders to hold until they know what’s happening with the Pilgrimage. Understandably, it’s not going to be a simple answer, and thus becomes the bulk of the episode.
It’s a throwback to older point and click-style logic puzzles, modernised for controller players. As mentioned earlier, you have to gain a device from Alice, by means of Mickey Finn-ing her drink. This becomes a “fetch mug, then fill mug, then add coffee, return to Alice, check up on Alice” style of gameplay. It’s not as convaluted as any of Tim Schafer’s noodle scratchers, but it’s not a straightforward, checkpoint led affair either.
I will have to conclude this review of a cliffhanger, because the game pulled that on me. Once you’ve worked out the logistics of your objective, episode one of Elea is a relatively short introductory chapter of a new space adventure. It’ll be interesting to see if it pans out in an “This is in your head, coping with loss” scenario, or you are in space and the missing Pilgrimage is pulling an Event Horizon on you.
Either way, it’s got me intrigued. Whilst it may not boast the big budget, triple A stylings to pull off top notch graphical fidelity and voice acting, the narrative is engaging, and the scripted glitches and effects are enough to pique my interest to see what happens.
Elea is available now on Xbox One (reviewed) and Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.