What do you do when you're plonked down into an enormous, minimalistic forest with no context and no immediately discernible objective?
Well, you walk.
There's a lot of walking in Eidolon, a new exploratory survival-adventure title from Ice Water Games. It's one of those games where you wander about a visually striking world, piecing together the fragments of a narrative from letters and journal entries and maps and other assorted things left behind by people who aren't you. In the case of Eidolon, you learn in time that you're wandering around Washington State somewhere around the year 2400, and that's all I want to tell you given that working out exactly why you're wandering around the place, and why everything is empty and overgrown and there's no sign of human life is basically what spurs you onwards.
Eidolon is a pretty game, both in spite and because of its minimalistic, geometric approach to art design. There's something clean, refreshing even, about the bold colours, the neat lines and the ordered manner of the look of this game. I found myself rather frequently pausing and looking around, and not just because much of one's progression is predicated on orienteering (a feat made tricky when there are few discernible landmarks).
In many ways, Eidolon is a game that seems at odds with modern releases. Its art direction wilfully shies away from any attempts at photorealism, instead choosing, much like Proteus, to create a stylised landscape of bright colours and bold shapes. The similarities with Curve's game continues with the complete lack of hand-holding or overt direction, though Eidolon does at least have a story to discover. But these assorted fragments and logs are obtained by picking up small, glowing single polygons, none of which are signposted or telegraphed, though picking up a strand of one story thread can point you in the direction of the next piece if you click on the entry in your own journal. Even then, it's a vague directional pointer rather than an intrusive HUD element.
Moreover, Eidolon refuses to be rushed. There's an element of tranquillity to Eidolon that makes it a perfect mood game in many ways. Instead of filling their forests with threats or oppressive survival mechanisms, Ice Water have eschewed overstimulation for something more languid. That's not to say you can't get hurt, or that taking on a bobcat or a bear is a good idea (because it really isn't) but for the most part this is a game about journeying.
There are survival elements, but they take a back seat to the wandering and the wondering. A couple of white polygons close to the area in which to start will deliver a fishing rod and a bow, though both a somewhat fiddly to use. Picking mushrooms and berries seems like a much better idea, until you stumble across some poisonous ones and end up vomiting your way through the night. Little circular icons will pop up in the lower left-hand corner of the screen to tell you when you're full rested, when you're getting hungry, and when you've contracted some nasty infection and will probably not last the night unless you manage to pull some antibiotics out of your arse.
To be honest, the wound system is the most broken aspect of Eidolon because the amount of energy and time you spend trying to stay alive -- usually just prolonging the inevitable -- is pretty pointless. In most cases, it's actually better to just die and get resurrected at one of the shimmering forest respawn spots dotted about the place. The first time I died, having gone gallivanting off in completely the wrong direction, determined to have my own adventure, and met the business end of a bear's claws, the game respawned me right next to a whole bunch of plot-related tidbits.
Additionally, it would have been nice to have at least some different traversal options given the size of the game's map. I like a spot of rambling, and hiking can be good fun, but the whole point of that to get outside and breathe the fresh air in. Eidolon does a good job of conveying a sense of natural spirit with some nice sound design, but actual creatures could stand to be a more common, and as lovely as the art style is for vistas and views, up close it's fairly clunky and occasionally unappealling. It's nice to be able to go off and do anything without feeling like the game is nudging you towards certain things, that sense of freedom is welcome indeed, but I can't help but feel that there's not all that much to do.
Eidolon leaves me feeling ambivalent. Across the twelve or so hours I've played thus far I've found myself at times enraptured, and thoroughly bored at others. There have been moments when I've looked out across the horizon and simply allowed my eyes to drink the view in, and others when I've silently begged for more visual detail to help moment-to-moment engagement. Eidolon raises some interesting philosophical questions the more you begin to piece together the context behind the Washington's empty future, and its a deeply contemplative game, but a nagging part of me wishes that there was a little more to it.
- Cracking sound design
- Striking vistas and minimalistic art design
- A gloriously contemplative experience
- Interesting, compelling narrative
- A bit too big?
- Walking vast distances everywhere can be a pain in the arse
- Not an enormous amount to keep you invested beyond the narrative scraps
- Snail pacing will alienate many
The Short Version: Eidolon is a slow-burner of a survival adventure. If you're looking for something with something to grab your attention on a moment-to-moment basis, you won't find it here. Instead Eidolon is a game that muses softly on Humanity's place upon this planet. It's at times beautiful, lonely, striking, thought-provoking, and a joy to lose oneself in. But by very nature of presenting a largely empty world, it can also prove boring if you're not invested in the journey.
Developers: Ice Water Games