Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

When people think of the next generation of “narrative” video games, they probably envision games that are similar to some degree Everyone has gone to the Rapture. The abandoned country village is covered in sweeping orchestral music, rich foliage, pristine cottages, and explosive sunsets, and it’s peppered with the voices of seasoned actors working from a quality-if-confusing script. (And hey, what good is an indie video game without some confusing dialogue?)

Those disparate parts all sound like the stuff of game publishers’ dreams – an artsy, high-end project that fits neatly into a larger portfolio so that in awards season someone can lay claim to producing the next Braid or Went home. That description honestly sounds like a Sam Machkovech game too. After all, I’m Ars’ regular advocate for stories and games, who like to advocate for things like The Stanley Parable and Sunset.

But try as I might, I didn’t like EGTTR. Damn, I had a hard time with it Like it the. It’s as if the creators of The Chinese Room noticed every major innovation and stride in the genre of narrative games over the years – not the plot points or the gimmicks, mind you, but the incredible challenge of balancing story and interactivity – and ignored them in favor of pride and arrogance. As such, every incredible part of the resulting game suffers.

Spoiler alert: everyone is dead

Players take on the role of… well, I’m still not sure. You could play a ghost, or a lost hitchhiker, or something completely different. Ultimately, though, your first-person view means you never get to see who’s actually wandering this abandoned city. You don’t have many options here; you can open doors and activate spoken passages, which you soon realize have been left behind by the former inhabitants of the city.

It’s not a spoiler to point out that some catastrophe has befallen British residents EGTTR– hence the cheeky title of the game. The dialogue pretty much revolves around problems with a “quarantine” and a “flu” that, we soon learn, isn’t the flu. As players walk home from house to café to house to church, the town’s former residents appear as impressionistic, anthropomorphic rays of light, briefly walking around, gesturing as they speak.

The effect starts to look very, very cool – momentarily the rest of the lush game world fades to starry black, and the cigarette flicks and other actions of these characters light up in visually appealing ways. Really, as a 30 minute demo of the latest CryEngine I’d give EGTTR the highest numbers. Bits of story and dialogue appear in random corners of the beautiful city, and these combined opening scenes offer an open, poetic look at the echoes left behind by the end of something in our lives. Plus, it all looks like the kind of lavish game – from expansive landscapes to elaborately coated interiors – you’d expect game company (Flower, trip) to make its artsy PS4 debut.

Do you see this book?  You can't flip through its pages — or any other books, letters, or other scraps of paper left behind after the "flu" touch.
Enlarge / Do you see this book? You can’t flip through the pages – or other books, letters, or other scraps of paper left behind after the “flu” hit.

But this is not a 30 minute demo. In everything, EGTTR reaches about five hours, and by the end of its runtime, the game’s undoubtedly beautiful moments are easily outnumbered by lesser things. The many buildings in the game end up recycling a lot of content and designs. Those lush landscapes contain many invisible or semi-visible walls, or they lead players down giant circular paths with no visual or narrative payoffs. Books, letters, and other visible details are frozen for players, meaning we can’t get to know characters through the things they’ve left behind.

What, are you in a hurry or something?

There’s no timer and certainly no gameplay mechanism to drag players along, but many of the scenes and interiors are sparse or repetitive enough to make it feel like rude waiters are taking you to the next boring valley or ho-hum conversation , simply because there is so often nothing left to do at your current location.

As bad as that feels, the game’s biggest offense is how the dialogue and light ghost scenes usually cloud your ability to get to know the characters. If you choose not to enable closed captioning, you’re in for even more confusion, as voices come and go with little context as to who is talking about what. Imagine a radio play without distinct voices, connected sequences of dialogue, or semi-caricatured characters to help listeners keep track of who’s who. Then imagine such a radio drama stretching across a gigantic, non-linear landscape where plots are intertwined with no visual feedback to indicate who’s next.

This aspect only feels worse when the game is played over two or three different sessions, which is probably due to its length. Fortunately, some of the narrative threads turn out to be quite easy to hold, especially the stories involving main characters Stephen and Kate. But others, including an ailing old man, a straightforward pastor, and a teenage couple in love, appear in short fits and starts without much reason for us to invest in those characters – or in a few cases, to remember who the heck they are.

If The Chinese Room had embraced the game’s non-linear nature and made the character conversations as poetic as their surroundings, I might have changed my tone. At least one character eventually loses his/her mind (I won’t reveal who) and enjoys dialogue as full of light and wonder as some of the environments. only. But by the time this happens, those bits are in stark contrast to much more banal, melodramatic conversations about love triangles and sorry-I-took-you-forgiven moments.

EGTTR‘s biggest problem is a serious lack of choreography and purpose. The game seems confused about what kind of emotional and plot content it wants to deliver in an interactive form, and what’s the best pace to deliver that content. It’s easy to directly compare the game to Went home, another where-everyone-goes game, but the latter title’s books, mementos, letters, and audio clues were placed to maximize the combination of storytelling and interactivity. Even without that comparison in mind, EGTTR never makes its storytelling aspirations clear enough for us to see a major differentiator from other modern story games, other than perhaps offering a much larger world.

is bigger never better at storytelling by default, as this game makes clear. EGTTRThe bursts of light rarely get us to the brightest bits of the game, nor to a satisfying conclusion.

The good

  • The CryEngine world looks beautiful thanks to beautiful buildings, lush landscapes and cool ghost effects
  • An orchestral/choir soundtrack so good you’ll probably have to rush out and buy a copy
  • Occasional plot highlights are striking enough to almost redeem the worst bits

The bad

  • Recycled environments and non-interactive interiors make the game’s long, aimless walks a little harder to bear
  • Plot depends largely on melodrama – and faceless presentation makes it harder to connect with the game’s characters
  • Tempo and choreography get in the way, making the longest passages feel torturous

The ugly one

  • Until the game is patched with clearer instructions, kick yourself in the head if you don’t figure out that holding down R2 allows characters to run faster than 0.002 MPH

Verdict: Spend the five hour runtime of this game catching up on a better story game you may have missed.

By akfire1

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