BioShock was a landmark videogame. Though its roots are firmly grounded in the first-person shooter (FPS) genre it opened the door for many more experiences where the player becomes an active participant in the world in areas removed from simply shooting enemies. It laid the groundwork for first-person adventuring that many developers are now choosing to capitalise on, and one such developer is White Paper Games.
Ether One is a first-person adventure videogame. You take on the role of a ‘restorer’ employed to venture into visual reconstructions of a client’s memory and remove a reactive agent that is responsible for it’s degradation. In terms of gameplay, this means that the player is transported from the intimidating science-fiction influenced offices of Ether to the bright and colourful town of Pinwheel through the use of an imposing technology. Taking your place upon a chair surrounded by steel catwalks, the player is locked within an impenetrable enclosure before it begins filling with water. This moment sells Ether One: it’s an experience that’s perfect for virtual reality (VR).
The sudden shift to a new land is a wonderful example of the creativity that first-person adventure videogames can now offer. BioShock‘ Rapture was an impressive world that was a more inviting visit than the moments of action featured in the videogame. Ether One removes that barrier and concentrates solely on the adventure. The challenge comes in the form of puzzles; collecting items and using them accordingly. The videogame’s tutorial is as simple as identifying the channel for delivery of information (focus your attention on an object) and the subsequent use of it (place object in the appropriate space). This may sound relatively simple – and it is in principle – but Ether One soon becomes a maze of toing-and-froing that demands the player has an understanding of both the literal and the fictional world that they now inhabit.
The restriction of being able to only carry one item may seem arbitrary, but in reality it conditions the player to make full use of the videogame’s mechanics. The player’s ‘Case’ – a location within the construct but not part of it, acting as an intermediary between the real world and the memory – allows for items to be stored and is accessible with a single button press. Such is the cleverness of this mechanic that the optional objectives of facilitating full reconstruction of your client’s memory through reassembling projectors scattered throughout the area will likely be taken as a personal challenge by many. White Paper Games don’t force you to take part in this challenge at any point, but your eagerness to experience everything that this world can offer will do.
Sadly Ether One does suffer from a number of unfortunate technical issues. During VRFocus‘ time with the videogame a number of peculiar bugs occurred (including the entire visual design switching to wireframe without prompt) and the Oculus Rift compatibility requires some awkward fiddling on behalf of the player in order to work correctly. What’s more, due to the low resolution of the DK1 Oculus Rift unit the text is near-impossible to read. White Paper Games would do well to include an option via the videogame’s menu that enabled Oculus Rift compatibility automatically, and also replaced the font used in many areas of the adventure with something more easily readable.
Technical issues aside, Ether One‘s biggest flaw is a simple one: it’s not long enough. The adventure is such a pure, beautiful experience that when it ends you’ll immediately realise that all you want is more. This is a world in which activity and story combine and are only accelerated by your own desire to experience it further. BioShock may have laid the groundwork for experimental adventures such as this, but Ether One has raised the bar for the genre, and for VR experiences within.