The marketing for Ourea describes it as “a cinematic puzzle game about discovering the harrowing past of a long-forgotten world,” in which you “unravel the mysterious history of your people” and “traverse a story-rich environment.” The emphasis is said to be on cinematic shots, environmental puzzles, and an interactive world that will “change and adapt to create an immersive experience.” And all of that is true, to a point: Ourea does use its environment to tell a story about a fallen civilization, the visuals are certainly framed and realized nicely, the puzzles revolve around finding creative ways to manipulate your environment, and parts of the world do react to your presence as you pass through. No matter how enjoyable or effective these various aspects might be, though, you only get about an hour to experience any of them, as this game is so short and the world it presents is so small that all its successes wind up feeling like nothing so much as the warm-up to a main event that never comes.
Ourea opens in a meadow, where the still form of a vaguely human-shaped rock creature lies. Slowly, the symbol carved in its chest begins to glow, and as the light grows brighter the creature awakens and comes under your control. You never learn your character’s name, as the game lacks text and is dialogue-free, though promotional materials identify your character as Glyf, of the race of Oreads. These are people with stone bodies who move by hovering over the ground—or used to, at least, because you seem to be the last of them. In the distance, a great mountain looms over the wooded landscape, with a beam of light ascending to the heavens from atop the peak. Something about it calls to you, and so you set out in that direction to investigate.
As you progress you’ll encounter the fallen bodies of others like yourself, their eyes and chest-symbols dull and lifeless. You’ll also be followed by a malevolent darkness that seems bent on extinguishing the light of the Oreads for good; your journey will force you to reckon with this presence and your people’s role in unleashing it, as well as to flee from it at certain points. Pictographic murals scattered throughout the environment reveal something of the Oreads’ past via images reminiscent of cave paintings, accompanied by dials for you to interact with that bring them to flipbook-animated life. For the most part these depict an event or series of them from Oread history, gradually revealing the story of the Oreads and the fate of their world, though in a few cases they serve to demonstrate the basics of a puzzle mechanic. It’s technically possible to progress without experiencing any of them, though you’ll miss most of the game if you do.
The puzzles are entirely environmental in nature, requiring you to manipulate and make use of your surroundings. The Oreads left behind several devices that change the qualities of inanimate objects—one machine shrinks or enlarges anything you put into it, for instance, and another squashes things flat—and you’ll have to use them creatively to move forward. A single button allows you to interact with objects, whether to trigger a device or to pick something up and carry it in one hand; it also allows you to drop whatever you’re holding, which you’ll have to do to use it in a machine.
As puzzles go, these are novel and well-designed, asking you to examine your surroundings and figure out how to make a path for yourself—something high above you might be out of reach, for instance, forcing you to find a way to bring it closer—but unfortunately, no amount of effective or elaborate design can cover up the fact that there are only three of them in the whole game. Ourea’s short length wouldn’t be a problem on its own, but the developers put so much effort into making this world seem vast and primed for exploration that it’s bitterly disappointing when it ends without really giving you that chance. It’s a bit like enjoying a delicious appetizer in a restaurant where you can see exquisite-looking entrees being prepared in the kitchen, only to be handed the check and hurried out the door once the first course is done.
And make no mistake—the hints you get of the larger world here are fascinating, all but begging to be explored further. The Oreads, it seems, once lived in harmony with nature but over time grew more focused on industry and progress; their buildings and devices, like the Oreads themselves, are hewn from stone and animated by glowing light. We see bits and pieces of the civilization they made for themselves, largely reclaimed now by nature, and these tease opportunities for discovery that, sadly, never materialize.
Visually speaking Ourea is beautiful, taking a stylized approach to its fully 3D world that leans more toward the cartoonish than the realistic, with the Oreads’ round, friendly eyes and otherwise blank faces lending them an air of affable, childlike innocence. Fluffy, friendly-looking birds flit about outside, as do clouds of glittering fireflies, lending a liveliness to the natural scenes. There are colors everywhere, though they become more scarce the farther you penetrate into the Oreads’ former industrial center; there the gray uniformity of the stone structures stand in contrast to the brightly colored plants and animals that have begun encroaching upon them. Only the rainbow of light that shines from within the few still-functioning machines hints at any commonality between the two, now lost. The synth-orchestral soundtrack casts a wistful feeling over everything; it’s unclear how aware your character is of the Oreads’ history, but the music gives the impression that Glyf is looking upon their legacy with mingled awe and sadness.
Ourea supports gamepad and keyboard controls; both setups are simple and straightforward, but I personally found that the gamepad worked more smoothly. You freely control Glyf with WASD or the left joystick, while the arrow keys or right joystick let you adjust the camera (though it doesn’t move very far in any direction and I never actually needed to reposition it). There’s no climbing or jumping, but if you stray too close to certain precipices you can fall. Glyf can’t be hurt, though, so it’s only an obstacle in the sense that you’ll have to walk (or hover, rather) back up again. A few sequences involve being pursued by the dark presence, but it can’t actually catch or harm you.
There are two endings possible, determined by which of a pair of buttons you choose to press. They’re accompanied by murals conveying what will happen if you press them, so it’s quite literally just a matter of selecting an ending from a menu. (There are several predetermined auto-save points, so it’s easy to go back and see the other outcome if you’d like.) I didn’t realize the game was about to end until I reached those buttons, at which point it began to dawn on me that the story seemed to be wrapping up; there was only about a minute of warning, and then Ourea was over. As the credits rolled I felt less like I’d finished a short but complete game and more like I’d sampled an impressive tech demo before learning the game it advertised had been canceled.
There’s a great deal of potential in Ourea. Most of what it tries to do, it does well; the problem arises from how little of it there actually is. It sells itself as “cinematic” and “story-rich,” emphasizing the exploration of a new world and the discovery of its history as key features, but this sets a whole range of expectations that the game ultimately fails to meet. I wanted to uncover the secrets of the Oreads’ world and get a sense of them before their fall; I wanted to learn who these vanished people were and understand what it meant for Glyf to be the last of them. I didn’t get that opportunity; instead I spent scarcely an hour learning the ropes before the game decided I’d done and seen all I needed to. I’d be excited to see what happened next if this were the opening chapter of a larger game, because the world is engaging and lovely to experience, the characters likeable, and the puzzles properly challenging. As a supposedly complete experience, though, Ourea falls far short, and as it exists now I can’t recommend it except as an interesting but incomplete effort by a studio whose best efforts are hopefully still ahead of them.
Ourea offers a tantalizing glimpse into the mysteries of a fallen civilization, but it’s so short that you’ll have little time to enjoy anything except the thought of what might have been.