There are many theories about what happens to us after we die in terms of where we end up. This destination is believed to be based on how you lived your life and treated others in the process. But what is not nearly discussed enough is the journey you take between death and arriving at your final destination. Mooneye Games Studio has created an experience that explores just this topic in their new game, Lost Ember. Take a journey to the afterlife, your afterlife, as a wolf with the ability to transform into the other animals of the forest as you explore a beautiful deserted world and discover the final fate of mankind.
In Lost Ember, the wolf form is the main vessel you’ll inhabit in order to travel to the afterlife in the City of Light. As you play, you will discover that you used to be a person that was beloved by many, however, the memory of your death for some reason escapes you. Do not fret, however, as you are soon accompanied by another soul that is also trying to make his way to the City of Light. This guide of sorts looks out for you, helps you to navigate the various landscapes such as grasslands and mountains, and also narrates the story as you go along. You can play the game without the narration if you choose, that way you must depend solely on the visual cues in order to progress, but I would suggest playing with narration the first time you play so that you are getting the full story as it is surprisingly well written and very interesting.
Much of the story is told through the use of memories, or echos of the past, that you will come across as you make your way to the City of Light. These echos will show a scene from a pivotal event in your life and will help in piecing together where all the people have gone. The story is written as a bit of a mystery as to your fate and the fate of everyone else. I found myself wanting to get to the next point in the story just so I could find out what happened next. There were a few plot points that could have been left out or combined to create a more cohesive experience but over all I was able to follow what was going on.
Gameplay is very simple and doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power to get used to. As the wolf, you can walk or run your way through the environment. Invariably, you will come across other animals of which you may need their unique abilities in order to progress through the level. For instance, you may come to an area where the wolf is no longer able to proceed further because you’ve come to the side of a sheer cliff. The wolf is ill-equipped to clime up a cliff but there is a bird that you can walk up to, assume its form, and then fly up and over that cliff and continue on your journey. Environmental puzzles like this are built into the game in a way that feels natural and takes advantage of many different types of animals making for multiple ways to traverse the varying terrains.
The visuals in Lost Ember are stunning on both the console itself and also when connected to the television. I have a 65″ Visio 4K TV and it looked amazing. I really couldn’t find one complaint. The environments are bright and vivid and make use of light and shadow masterfully. The views are sweeping and you can see far out into the distance, which was quite unexpected to me for an indy game of this sort. The animal designs do leave a little to be desired and it is very obvious where development focused its time when building this game. Overall, however, I think that it looks amazing and the real star of the show here is definitely the reclaimed-by-nature game-world.
The sound design of the game is also a crowning achievement for this small studio out of Berlin and Hamburg. Ambient sounds make the world feel very alive, like it has been totally reclaimed by nature with the wind blowing through the trees, birds singing in the tree tops and the piercing howl of your wolf as it carries through the brisk air. The music is oftentimes haunting and at times uplifting and inspirational. The narration is also very spot on and the voice of the narrator is soothing and strangely comforting. These elements all combine to create an experience unlike anything that I have played in a long time and it was a welcomed distraction from the chaos of this year.
While there are some things that this game does well, it does have its blemishes that will reveal themselves in due time. My particular issue happened as I was exploring a particularly deep canyon in an early part of the game. To my surprise, the game contains a decent amount of different animals that have different abilities, however, if you make the wrong choice of animal and wander into an area of the game that isn’t compatible with that animal, you are stuck.
There are several types of birds in the game and the duck is one that can only fly so high above the ground. I flew down into a deep canyon and could not fly back up to the main area of the game. I then tried to transform back into the wolf but the canyon walls were too sheer for him to be able to climb out. My only option at that point was to restart back to a previous checkpoint and try again. Luckily, the game does a great job of having plenty of save spots so I didn’t have to start over too far back.
If you are looking for a game that is high octane and balls-to-the-wall excitement, this ain’t it, playa. This is a laid-back experience when you are looking for something to just relax and not have to think too much about what you are doing. Lone Ember is heavy on story and exploration and light on bullet spray. In fact, there are no bullets at all. You’re running around in lush environments while enjoying the views and being pulled along into an engaging and philosophical story about the choices you must make in life and what comes next.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
You may not like where life takes you in the end, but isn't it really all about the journey?
This game is not for everybody but those who can appreciate this style of game will thoroughly enjoy it!
+ Fun and imaginative
+ Easy to pick up an play
+ Great story and breadth of animals to play as
-Some parts of the story can drag
-Animal designs could have been more detailed
-More puzzles should have been utilized to break up the walking