Elea: Episode 1 review

The Good:
  • Some interesting shader effects
  • Sound design in Elea’s house is suitably creepy
  • Green outlines around important items are helpful in cluttered environments
The Bad:
  • Action chase sequence will be a showstopper for some
  • Being jerked from scene to scene is off-putting
  • Story never really engages
  • Transitions between cutscenes and gameplay aren’t always apparent
  • Running is hit-or-miss
Elea: Episode 1 review
Elea: Episode 1 review
The Good:
  • Some interesting shader effects
  • Sound design in Elea’s house is suitably creepy
  • Green outlines around important items are helpful in cluttered environments
The Bad:
  • Action chase sequence will be a showstopper for some
  • Being jerked from scene to scene is off-putting
  • Story never really engages
  • Transitions between cutscenes and gameplay aren’t always apparent
  • Running is hit-or-miss
Our Verdict:

Along with a number of rough edges, Elea’s attempts at surrealism on a spaceship prevent this first-person explorer from delivering a compelling narrative experience in its episodic debut.

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A lone heroine in a deserted house on a dark and stormy night. An ocean with a cradle bearing a disembodied head. A whale floating away into space. A spaceship with a morally questionable AI doctor. It’s a disparate list of experiences with seemingly little in common, and yet all of them are featured in the first episode of Kyodai’s first-person sci-fi adventure Elea. However, just because they’re in the same game doesn’t mean they get along.

In the opening cinematic, Elea – or, more properly, River Elea Catherine Jones is undergoing some manner of elective brain surgery. Based on what’s depicted, it seems as if she’s having memories of her family blocked, although she subsequently has no difficulty recalling them. Events transition from this operation to her home on a dark and stormy night, when a heavily pregnant Elea awakens to the merry jingle of her wrist communication device. That is, she does if any controls are pressed. The game has a tendency to not provide any cues that a cutscene has ended and actual gameplay begins. More than once I thought such sequences were still ongoing and was waiting for something more to happen when, in fact, the game was waiting for me to make something happen.

The transition issue can be ameliorated to a degree by turning on the crosshair in the game’s options. Most of the time this places a small dot in the center of the display when the environment can be interacted with. It’s a subtle mark, but it’s usually better than nothing for determining when you’ve regained control.

Once roused, Elea chats with her husband Ethan over the wrist comm. Ethan has given her parental access to their young son’s computer-locked room and wants her to check on him. Before she can, a series of obstacles must be overcome, including loading the control app from her desktop, which is behind a study door that Elea doesn’t remember the passcode for, and so on. These initial objectives are well defined and provide an easy entry into the game. Reaching the locations where these goals must be achieved is a bit less easy in her pregnant state, as Elea is unable to run and even her walking speed is extremely slow.

During this introductory part, it seemed as though a suspenseful thriller story was being set up. A number of readable documents can be found, describing a global illness that has caused young children to lack any empathy and experience extremely violent episodes. Then the power in the house goes out. This is a pretty clichéd setup, what with a lone woman in a dark and foreboding house on a stormy night. It goes another step further when the sound of distant glass breaking can be heard shortly after restoring power and Elea calls out the name of her son, questioningly. I wondered if he had contracted the disease. Was he even now stalking me through the house? But just as I was about to brace for a jump scare straight out of a cheesy horror story, the game leapt Elea away from the house to another setting altogether: a futuristic observation room overlooking an ocean.

Things get even stranger when peering out at the water. A cradle floats by carrying the disembodied head of Elea’s husband. At the same time, a large silver, pulsating geometric shape forms in the room. Touching it for a few seconds caused the sequence to restart. Doing this several times dumped me back to the main menu, which I assume was intentional as I got a Steam achievement for it. Despite this weirdness, the only thing that strikes Elea herself as particularly odd is when she sees a shark swim by in the ocean below.

After some snooping around in the observation port, I finally figured out how to progress. Whoosh! In a similarly jarring fashion, my next abrupt destination became a raised platform above the ocean. I’m actually not sure what I did to move past this part, if anything at all. There were a number of odd background events that I think I may have triggered, but they may possibly have just been timed to occur when they did, including a whale floating up out of the ocean and disappearing into the night sky above.

To be honest, these early sections of the game felt very much like tech demos to me. I suspected they may have been odd or distorted memories of Elea’s, as occasionally digital interference patterns would flash across the screen, suggesting some manner of virtual or machine-altered world. This impression was heightened by the overabundance of shaders (used to give surfaces more detail than basic texture images alone can provide) applied to achieve these distortions. Some of the effects are quite interesting and even spectacular in a way, providing surreal visuals unique to this experience.

After escaping the ocean, which is roughly at the halfway point of this three and a half hour experience, the game settles down with Elea aboard the spaceship RSS Discovery. Here we learn that the Discovery was sent from Earth to find out what happened to another ship, the Pilgrimage, which stopped reporting some thirteen years previous when it arrived at the planet Solace. Having reached the silent vessel, the protagonist is immensely keen to explore the Pilgrimage to find out what happened, while her captain is much more cautious. I must have missed this detail in-game, but it turns out that Elea’s eagerness is due to her believe that her husband was aboard the other vessel. I only found that out when reading a marketing synopsis of the game after completing it.

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