This title was reviewed on PC, but is also available on Xbox One.
Elea is the surreal story of a space scientist searching for her husband. While the narrative was interesting and original, overall the experience and enjoyment was hampered by confusing gameplay and mechanics. The title is currently in Early Access.
First up, the positives. Elea’s graphics are first-rate. Developer Kyodia Ltd and publisher SOEDESCO Publishing provided strong, detailed environments. The game explores diverse settings such as a futuristic family home, or the interior of a large spacecraft. I’d say the game’s visuals were approaching AAA standard in many respects.
The sounds and music were also good quality. Overall the voice acting was strong, conveying emotion and really helping the story along. This is one game where it’s really about the story, not so much about dodging or weaving, or the complex puzzle-solving of other titles.
As for the narrative itself, it was an uneven blend of fascination and mayhem. For the first three or four sequences, it was challenging to work out exactly what was going on and why. Overall, I found the story entertaining and intriguing, but the real difficulty was experiencing the tale.
I found the gameplay in Elea extremely difficult. Initially, the story did a decent job of introducing main characters and some background whilst helping you learn the gameplay. But, a glacial movement pace and a lack of maps and reference points left it an extremely frustrating experience. Yes, the protagonist is a heavily pregnant lady in one memory sequence, but that doesn’t mean she can’t move more than one metre per hour.
Further, once things start getting weird, there’s a huge amount of disconnect between cause and effect during several sequences. It’s quite difficult to understand whether you need to be interacting with the game, or whether the story is unfolding slowly in its own time. The game wants to show you strange story sequences, but there were several aspects that would have been much clearer as cut-scenes. Learning that I needed to stand still for another five minutes and watch a trippy dreamscape of weirdness and not do anything, or touch anything, was quite confusing. Doing further research, I found that the game developers aimed to “… put the character up against events and phenomena which are beyond human grasp, the game aims to defy the conventional notions of personal accountability, choice and meaning of life. It is a story about our fragility as a species, about finding solace through surrender.” In many respects they succeeded, although I don’t feel this was an enjoyable or understandable experience.
Further, while the graphics overall were excellent, there were several effects that were an assault on the visual. If you thought Incredibles 2 was nasty to your retinas at times, then with this story, best be prepared to have your eyes scalded and then have salt and vinegar poured in for dessert. Bombarded by insanely fast strobing lights so often wasn’t useful. I’m all for story, subversion and surprises, but if I can’t see to tell where I’m going, and my eyes feel like they’re bleeding and my head hurts from just looking at a game, this needs toning down. This happened in several different ways during several sequences in the early game. It was very unpleasant.
In summary, Elea had several strong features. The graphics, sound, music and voices were all excellent. I didn’t enjoy the gameplay and felt it hindered the unusual, surreal story. If you’re a fan of David Lynch films and don’t mind confusion and sluggishness, then these won’t be drawbacks for you.