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Time and Space
You’ve awoken in a burned-out house in a small city in Northern England. The entryway is scorched, the rooms are dark, and rain is falling from the night sky outside. To get here, you’ve been transported through time and space. Six people perished, and it’s your job to save them.
Eternal Threads places you in the boots of Forty Three, one of an unknown number of operatives sent out to correct the wrongs of a corrupted timeline due to a catastrophic event. You’re less of a time cop, and more of a time surgeon, delicately analysing the decisions of your subjects in the seven-day window leading up to their demise to change their decisions in hopes of a better outcome. Armed with your trusty handheld Visualizer and your controller’s voice in your ear broadcast from your contemporary home base, you set out on your mission.
At first, Eternal Threads might seem to follow one of two paths with its gameplay: a branching storyline game in which you’ll need to replay to see alternative outcomes or a time loop experience that will lightly punish you for taking a wrong turn. Instead, it feels like a game crafted with both of those avenues in mind simply so that it could avoid them. The innovation of this lies in the world. As an agent from the future, you’re almost a ghost observing ghosts. You exist in this space after the tragedy armed with your Visualizer’s ability to glimpse the lives of your subjects. Most of these glimpses are just that: slices of life that intend to build these characters into more than expired faces with names. These slices range from intriguing, to informative, to confounding as you experience them initially. Some of them lead you into new mysteries and puzzles, others can be thrown away if you aren’t ultimately hooked by a particular character. With nearly 200 different scenes to watch over the week, it stands to reason that not every one of them is going to lead you exactly towards the end goal. I found a majority of these to be effective, carried more by the writing than by the performances, and none of them came across as entirely a waste of time. Most unfortunately though, the voice in your head seems to be the best vocal performance of the group and considering they’re largely your tutorial/player surrogate, there’s a bit of wasted potential there.
Forming a Timeline
Your Visualizer also gives you a fully-formed timeline of events from beginning to end. It shows you the moments that happened in this version of the corrupted timeline, as well as potential events that need to be “unlocked” by changing your subjects’ choices or solving puzzles in your physical space. It also allows you to quickly revert choices to see the effects of each side. This is the gameplay key to ensuring the game doesn’t come across as too daunting to finish, or to experience in different ways. While you’re not looking at an extensively branched tree of possibilities, the sheer number of story moments could easily have been a problem if the game had been crafted differently. With this timeline map, any unlocked event, that is, one that has already been experienced or that you’ve unlocked through changes can be activated at any time, allowing you to revisit information you might have forgotten, double-check how certain choices change things, and keep the plot and relationships straight in your head as you go, simply by walking to the physical location in which the scene occurred. Having this at your fingertips also allows you to experience this mystery in a multitude of different ways. There’s plenty of benefit to seeing these lives through chronologically, of course, but you can work backward if you wish. Maybe you wish to follow a particular character or set of characters interacting together throughout the week. You can even follow a particular choice down the line to investigate only the wrinkles it impacts. Or, perhaps you’re a chaos agent who wants to pick up in the middle and follow time clues forwards and backward. In theory, there are many different ways to solve a mystery, just as there are many different ways for a house to burn.
Traversing this torched house as you follow story threads is the main propellent for encountering the physical puzzles. As a stranger in this space, both the player and the character, it’s a good way to acquire a bit of story from the environment in addition to the ghost-like interactions. The downside here is that each vision you’re watching involves only characters, and possibly an item or two that they directly interact with. Because you exist at a fixed time, nothing about the house you’re occupying changes. If a door is closed in your world, and your scene required a character to enter the room, their spectral representation will simply phase through it, sometimes closing the imaginary entry behind them. It limits your desire to explore as a player because no matter how many times you go to the kitchen for an event, the physical space is always the same. Some scenes, and the information gained from them, will open new opportunities, but there is no magic time travel door unlocking here. Although the house itself is the best example of the game’s graphics, traversing its few staircases and rooms repeatedly shows how shallow it really is. If you can enjoy the story, though, you’ll be able to look past that, and possibly the substandard character models as well. It's a shame for a game centred around watching half-a-dozen-or-so characters interact that their detail and animations barely hold up to the test of completing the game. They often feel at odds with the rest of the design, causing their existence to feel a little extra disjointed, on top of the spectral nature of watching them through time.
Twists and turns
None of its faults were enough to detract from the mystery for me. Even in the early going, Eternal Threads managed to pull off a few different twists that shifted my predictions and understanding of the story at hand. Moreover, there are layers to this story. Each character has their own set of motivations and desires and seeing how those intertwine beyond simply living in the same house seems to be paying off. Even early on it’s easy to dive into each individual’s story along the path of the end goal. There’s even a sense throughout that the total mystery could shift as well. The location of the fire is fairly obvious, and judging by the first event you’re shown, and the graphical design of the home, it seems like the blaze was fairly well contained. Maybe there’s more to the fate of these six residents than a fire. I even got a sense that changing some decisions could lead to worse fates for the residents, ensuring that the answer to victory isn’t simply “change all the choices.” So far I’m intrigued enough to continue to find out, but it has a long runway to maintain its pace. To the developers’ credit, they’ve included an abridged version of the story, seemingly for those who don’t have a penchant for the peripheral details, as a separate mode. Eternal Threads seems to have what it takes to satisfy those looking for a mystery to solve. We’ll find out more about whether it pulls it off in the end soon.
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There are no guarantees - but we'd bet our own money on this one. If you're going to take a chance with yours, odds are good this one will deliver.