Elea is an episodic serving that’s pitched as a surreal sci-adventure, nestled within a rich, touching and immersive story. Sadly, in truth, this is far from represented throughout the entirety of Elea’s first episode. Now, that’s key here, because the most important aspect of any episodic outing is that first impressions are vital. Take, for example, Telltale’s final season of The Walking Dead. This wasn’t only massively engaging, but it kept players on edge from beginning to end. On the flip-side, the likes of The Council did the direct opposite. So, where does Elea fall short?
Well, first and foremost, Elea is guilt of throwing far too much in your face and expecting you to enjoy the pace and the setup. The story of Elea is a complicated one that’s set in the near future aboard a space station. Players take on the role of River Elea Catherine Jones, who starts out laid down on a surgical bed talking to someone about having parts of her brain blocked – thus shutting out seemingly emotional memories. You’re then taken to the past in which you’re on Earth, pregnant and talking to your husband. Here, you’ll need to fulfill tasks and find a way to your son that has locked himself away.
Once you’ve done this, the game goes full-throttle towards WTF-land by presenting hallucinations, screen tearing, motion blur and a weird sense of not knowing what the hell is going on. Players will back and forth through scenarios and generally struggle to grasp even a shred of coherency within. The only notable story structure that makes sense is that you’re on a space mission of your own and have since received a call from your husband, who went missing on a similar voyage years prior. Now, again, this is episode one. It should be thought provoking and impacting, not nonsensical and absurdly formulated.
There’s no tutorial within to lean against, instead, players are given a single-screen with all control commands mapped out. I wont lie, it was a bit overwhelming to be given no instruction whatsoever on this front. Especially when we take into account that when we do gain control of Elea, there’s so much to interact and engage with, but very little direction or structure. This feels like a ported VR game, but before I go any further, let me warn those of you out there that suffer with epilepsy – do not play this game. As standard, the game warns it, but hell even I felt sick after just ten minutes.
The aim of the game really centers around fulfilling a series of tedious tasks; fetch your tablet, locate a doctor, and so on, but much of your time will be spent trying to find where these interactions are. It doesn’t help matters that the game is very slow paced, with character movement closely representing what I can only describe as Rambo wading through quicksand on one leg. Moving back to photo sensitivity, the game is packed with ill-induced effects that make the whole ordeal that much more unbearable. To the game’s credit, however, the core premise does prove to be somewhat interesting later on.
Not so much that it makes this game feel like an experience worth playing, but enough to make me slightly interested in where it’s going next. It would have been nice to see more emphasis on the game’s plot of locating your missing husband without all the insane fluff between, but we must keep in mind that this is an episodic series and the punches may indeed be kept for later. However, I’ll reiterate, first impressions are everything and here, that’s unfortunately not put to the test. The running time doesn’t last for too long but to stretch the gameplay out, the devs have implemented a few additions.
It’s a shame, then, that even these additional activities and achievements feel like complete time-wasters. One example, you can play sports in the game despite there being no need for it through the main arc – and doing so will nab you some Gamerscore. What’s the best sport in the game to play? Sit on every single chair you can find, or at least the chairs that will allow you to do so. That’s not a joke, folks. That’s in there and that’s what will net you a sweet achievement. We’ve got to give them points for originality, right? No, wait, we really don’t. Why? Because it’s just not fun, unless you’re five years of age.
Elea could have been a lot more than what it is if there was more direction to the game’s story telling and the general gameplay. What we get, on the other hand, is a “here you go, now get on with it” sort of layout. Now, I don’t want my hand holding in any game, but here, the sheer degree of not knowing what to do or where we’re required to go, just feels like far too much legwork and far too less innovation. This notion is further highlighted by the fact that you can engage with just about anything – leading to a truck load of interaction through trial and error, which becomes a trek in itself.
The visuals and the game’s audio cues are easily Elea’s strong-suit. There’s some truly breathtaking environments to soak up, upheld by some solid sound design across the board. I was constantly hit with a Star Trek-like vibe, until those aforementioned (damn ugly) visual effects popped up to break immersion, and oh, how they were always hitting at just the wrong time. The silent-ish soundtrack does a good job at setting the mood, but even with these few highlights, there’s just not enough ambiguity, innovation and depth to overshadow Elea’s many faults, shortcomings and frustratingly long loading times.
Elea’s opening episode serves as an interactive trip into a fractured, nonsensical story, in which consistency seems to be almost completely absent. While this alone wouldn’t be a bad thing if the storytelling was better produced, the main drawback is that barely any of the game’s aspects come together well at all. Despite its impressive visuals, the end result makes for a very awkward and bland experience.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.