While the puzzles of Ever Forward are imaginative, extensive chunks of this game fails to live up to its potential. The Finger Guns Review.
After a number of delays, the third person puzzle game ‘Ever Forward’ has finally arrived on consoles. From developer Pathea Games and publisher PM Studios, this game had a reasonably successful launch on PC back in August 2020. The journey to consoles has obviously been a tricky one and that has manifested itself in new issues with the PS5 version of the game.
In Ever Forward, you play as a young girl called Maya. She wakes in an unfamiliar world that looks beautiful and serene on the surface. Throughout the world are vine-like roots, some of which have turned red with corruption, blocking her path. Accompanied by a floating cuboid robot, Maya must approach these roots which then transport her to another location. Here, she finds a puzzle or series of puzzles which, when solved, will unlock one of her memories. As she rediscovers her memories, she’ll uncover the story of who she is and why she’s in this strange world.
Puzzles to ponder
Let’s start with the main positive aspect of Ever Forward – the puzzles. The head scratchers at the core of this game are challenging and very inventive. According to Pathea games, these puzzles were designed “with the “puzzle gamer” in mind”. You can feel that intention in the out-of-the-box thinking that is required in order to find a solution to these dilemmas.
The main aim of each puzzle in this game is to reach the end point while holding a box. These boxes can be spawned from floor panels with a tap of a button and then carried or thrown. Standing between Maya and the exit are situations and obstacles that make that quite difficult. In almost every level, there are sentry bots, affectionately referred to as Roundybots because of their shape. These have a single eye and cast out a blue vision cone which will send Maya back to the start of the level if they catch sight of her. Manipulating these sentry bots is a core mechanic of Ever Forward. They respond to sound, like the noise generated when Maya jumps or when a box is thrown, and they react when other defences have been interfered with, like laser fences. Throwing a box to distract a roundybot and then sneaking around to later pick up that box once the sentry has given up its search is both tense and satisfying.
Whether the Roundybots are involved in a puzzle or not, there’s some really testing logic puzzles in Ever Forward. In some puzzles, you’ll have to find a way to use buttons in order to manipulate lifts so that you can send a box where it needs to go. In some, you’ll be using transporter tubes in order to zip around a level then throwing a box across gaps. Ever Forward doesn’t use many of its puzzle ideas more than once. When it does, it’s to elevate the difficulty further.
Ever Forward might even be too tough for its own good at times. This is down to the obtuse design of some puzzles that doesn’t really give the player a chance. For example, in one level, there is a bridge that retracts and extends repeatedly. Below that, there is another bridge which has a sentry watching over it that you’ll need to cross. In order to spot the solution to this puzzle, you’d have to be looking in an unnatural direction in relation to the level structure. There’s a hint system in the game but more often than not, they remind you of the broader mechanics rather than specifics in the puzzle, meaning they’re not always useful. I stumbled across the solution to the puzzle by accident after failing at the level at least 30 times. It made sense once I’d figured it out, but the game didn’t make any effort to assist my line of thinking.
Thankfully, there’s a quick save option in this game which means when you do fail, you don’t lose a vast amount of progress. You’ll need to use this quick save regularly, even when you know the solution. That’s because there are a number of puzzles in Ever Forward that demand precision timing. This aspect of the game becomes more and more prominent as you near its ending.
Which is a shame, because that becomes one of the most infuriating elements of Ever Forward. That demand for accuracy and timeliness isn’t matched by responsiveness from the game itself. The controls for Maya, the meandering speed in which she moves and the sluggish response when clicking a button to activate something, makes solving some of the puzzles more luck than judgement. There’s a few levels towards the end of the game that involve distracting sentry bots and using transporter tunnels to dip between them. Despite knowing exactly what to do, it took a number of times because pressing square to activate a transporter took just too long.
New version, new glitches
Even in the peaceful overworld, where there’s no puzzles to attempt, there are now frustrations. What’s more, it appears that these are new to the console versions on the game. Graphical glitch lines now show up in a few different locations on PS5. In some places, it’s just a bit of an annoyance. In one particular spot, they completely consumed the screen, like playing the game through packet of uncooked spaghetti. There’s some issues with the character model for Maya too – at one point, aspects of her face are broken, with her jaw line jutting out of her face (no spoilers though because this happens predominantly in a story spoiling cutscene).
There’s other glitches too. Those messages that usually display on screen during cutscenes? “Press O to Skip”? They don’t do anything in Ever Forward. In fact, when you finish the game, there’s currently no way to get back to the main menu. You can’t pause the game and none of the button presses do anything. You just sit there with “Fin” on the screen.
Then there’s the music. This might be intentional, but having reviewed some of the PC footage from last year, I think this might be a glitch. While the songs are generally great, there are times when it seems they play on top of one another. Maybe it’s intentional to give a disorienting feeling, having 2 tonally different songs overlap one another, or maybe it’s just a glitch. Either way, it’s jarring.
Piecing together the story
While I’ve detailed a number of frustrations with Ever Forward, the story line was enough to motivate me through them. Delivered piecemeal after each puzzle, this narrative slowly and surely unveils the mysterious set of circumstances that led to the start of the game. It’s all delivered via cut scenes, some of which are quite touching. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t Shakespearean prose. The game foreshadows a lot of its best moments early on, but by the end point, I was invested in seeing where it was all headed.
When the visuals aren’t glitching out, Ever Forward can be a pretty game too. There’s vistas in the peaceful overworld that remind me of views around Dover in the UK. White cliffs and irregular copse of trees make for an appealing place to roam. Similarly, the puzzles all take place in an endless void of cuboid visuals, mist and dark clouds. The clean aesthetic here, borrowing items like tress from the real world and making them look like ancient stone, makes for a ominous vibe.
Unfortunately, Ever Forwards’ positive aspects don’t get chance to take hold because of the game’s length. It took me around 3 hours to complete the game. That included a period of time getting hung up on a pair of tricky puzzles. It’s certainly possible to complete this game within 2 hours. I real terms, the game only has 16 puzzles to complete. The game feels like it comes to an abrupt end just after it introduces its best mechanic and starts to get interesting.
A reasonably interesting narrative and some complex puzzles aren’t enough to raise Ever Forward out of mediocrity. The PS5 version comes with some new glitches which further spoil an experience that was already short and underwhelming when it originally released on PC. This one is for puzzle fans that have little else to play.
Ever Forward is available now on PS5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Series S|X, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Pathea Games
Publisher: PM Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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