Hippies in a glitchy space-time.
Title: Elea – Episode One
Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Price: £8/$9 (PC) TBC (PS4, Xbox One)
Release date: Out now (PC), TBC (PS4, Xbox One)
tl;dr: Looks amazing, plays well, but the voice acting is pretty atrocious.
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The first episode of Elea doesn’t take long to finish. In fact, you’ll probably be done with it in a couple of hours. But that couple of hours is such a strange blend of beautiful design, trippy events, and – with only a handful of exceptions – terrible voice acting. But somewhere within this husk of a game there’s some semblance of a good game; at the moment, that “thing,” is the game’s design, but whether it can recover from some of its issues and spin a decent yarn remains to be seen.
The story that Episode One tells really isn’t anything new. It’s 2093 and humanity – yet again – is on the brink of extinction, our planet is no longer inhabitable, and so we’re looking for a new home. A spaceship called the Pilgrimage is built and sent off to find such a planet, which it does before going radio silent – ooh, spooky. You play as the titular Elea, a scientist who’s joined the effort to find the Pilgrimage spaceship which just so happens to have her husband on board. So, yes, it’s a story that – in one form or another – we’ve seen plenty of times. It shouldn’t be something we hold against the game, but – especially because it’s a sci-fi setting – the story that unfolds seems incredibly familiar to what we’ve seen before in the genre.
But taking inspiration from what a genre has to offer is rarely a bad thing, and Elea’s design is such an example. Whether it’s the galactic vistas showing off the Pilgrimage in the distance, just out of orbit from a gigantic unknown planet, rooms lit only by the dim of futuristic bric-a-brac, and in the opening section, a whale that leaps from the ocean before freezing and floating up into space – yeah, that last one is a bit weird.
Weird, sure, but still beautiful. And the design of the game is so integral to the experience, with the environment absolutely nailing that grim feeling of isolation on the space station, the all-too-clean corridors that seem to work to erase any traces of other people, and the oddly vibrant colours used to make walking down an empty hallway an unsettling experience. This extends to – without going into spoilers – the treatment of glitches in the game. The opening moments of Elea throws a lot of trippy visuals at you, with that aforementioned whale, a head in a baby’s crib, and translucent red balls of gloop hanging around a room before floating off somewhere. It’s a great realisation of the surreal, and whilst it might not tickle everyone’s fancy, it was certainly a highlight of the game for me.
Maybe it was such a highlight because, whilst the game looks very nice, it doesn’t really do much more than that. Being touted as an “immersive,” episodic adventure, Elea falls away where it matters most, and there are quite a few features we’ve come to expect from these episodic games. Take the characters, for example; Elea’s voice acting is perhaps the most natural in the game, and whilst it’s nothing outstanding, she at least makes her character seem like an actual person. The same really can’t be said for anyone else.
The first episode offers up two relationships for you to focus on. The first is with your lost husband, with Elea re-experiencing old conversations with him. These moments should be, at best, touching, and at worst something that demonstrates why Elea misses her husband; was he kind, intelligent, funny? I don’t know the answer, what I do know is that the husband is quite possibly a hippie stoner who somehow managed to bamboozle some scientists into thinking he’s one of them. Everything he says comes out flat, as if he’s reading the words for the first time, and whilst pet names in relationships are sickening at the best of times, having to listen to lost-husband call his wife something like “star child,” or “moon cake,” in his tediously dull, and quite possibly stoned, voice only serves to vex and question whether Elea is of sound body and mind.
The same goes for Elea’s son, who you only hear from briefly, but the message he leaves, which was designed to be a fairly emotional one that raises questions of Elea’s character, totally misses the mark. Instead of any feeling or shift in tone – or any indication that the boy knows the words he’s saying – Elea listens to her son read words presumably from an oversized piece of cardboard and then (thankfully) he buggers off. Elea’s cast makes it impossible for you to accept the characters, consequently washing away any possible ties you might have for them simply because they aren’t able to inject any feeling into their words.
And then there’s the gameplay. Again, the game doesn’t do anything new, with the first episode having you solve a few puzzles before ending with a climactic chase scene. But, being an episodic game, I was under the impression that we’d have some say in how Elea’s adventure plays out. Can we choose how we speak to some of our colleagues? Maybe a situation could’ve played out another way? No. Elea is very much – at this point – a linear walking simulator that looks set to play out in bits and pieces. I can see why the game was designed in such a way, with the game hopefully being tinkered with and plot points changed as the story unfolds, but at the moment, Elea feels more like a demo that you’ll have to pay money to play.
But even with all of the downsides of Elea, the atmosphere created by how the game looks does do enough to pull you through, and the cheap-shot teaser for where the game is going managed to pull me back in. So, yes, Elea isn’t a great game – but it has the potential to tell a story that seems like it could be fairly creepy. It’s got the looks, now it just needs the heart. If the surrounding cast of the game could just understand things like tone and emotion, then it would go a long way into delivering on that claim of immersion.
- The game looks great
- It won’t take you more than a couple of hours to finish
- The segments with glitches are realised very well
- Some of the actors need to sharpen up their voice work
- The game feels like a demo rather than a starting point for a series
- Movement is horribly slow in the game
Elea is rated Pegi 16 in the UK and “T,” for Teen in the US. I think it’s mostly because the dulled voices of the actors allude to drug use.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purposes of this review.