Developer & Publisher: Cosmonaut/Secret Mode
Released: March 19, 2022
Requirements: Windows 10
Processor: AMD FX 6300 XS/Intel Core i5-3570K
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: 3 GB VRAM, AMD Radeon 7870/Nvidia GeForce GTX 660
DirectX: Version 11
Cosmonaut Studios / Secret Mode
Who doesn’t like a bit of timey-wimey stuff?
A house fire happened in the North of England back in 2015, and you (as Operator 43) have been sent back there by the Second Chance Project, a temporal agency tasked with eliminating time corruptions and the ripples that will further poison the time stream. Chronal radiation its called, and it isn’t nice. Which as anyone knows is what happens when you start to mess around with time; butterflies flap their wings and tornadoes wreak havoc elsewhere. So its about more than simply saving the six occupants of that burnt out shared habitation.
Stopping the fire won’t work, as that will apparently make things even worse. Don’t ask why, it just will. Much like those same butterflies, what you need to do is fiddle with a bunch of more or less (depending) innocuous decisions the occupants made over the course of the previous week, and which can/might/will prevent their demise. For which the time line will thank you.
While this game at first confused me, going with its flow ultimately resulted in a rather intriguing experience. Resist the temptation to perhaps be baffled by how things work. Just do what you do with any adventure game; put one foot in front of the other and take little steps, while you work out what the game wants from you and how you might be able to provide it.
Eternal Threads takes place largely within the house in question, immediately after the bodies have been removed. Thanks to the technology at your disposal you can watch the various things that went on there. Of which there are a lot - nearly 200 separate events, or 121 if you play the abridged mode. If you are going to play, you may as well have the whole lot available (and its apparently the only way to access all possible endings), but well-done for having another option.
The space bar pulls up the Time Map, essentially a timeline full of the relevant events, and it is here that you manage things. When the game starts you get a little voice in your ear from your future ‘handler’ (he remains with you throughout, chiming in now and then with information or just a comment), who explains the Time Map to you. Simplistically, it maps the actual events on the current timeline that lead up to the final events for each of the six residents and the resultant Conclusion Event (i.e., everyone dead), as well as potential events from alternative timelines. What you do is choose an event to watch, glean what information you can, and uncover potential corruption points. You decide between which of two things to do at those points (which might be leave things as they were), and depending on what you do, events that were actual and things that were potential might change state, moving into or out of ‘play’ and effecting other events along the Time Map. This can also include introducing corruption points into events that previously did not have them.
You can sort (for want of a better word) the Time Map to help identify what event impacted whom, or the events that particular residents (or combinations thereof) were involved in. At every point you can see where you are with respect to the six residents – are they still dead or alive as the timeline currently stands? You can watch events again, change decisions you made and then change them again, and filter to see events relevant to particular residents. At all times you have complete freedom to move along the line wherever time might take you.
Choosing to watch a particular event will tell you where it took place. In the ‘real’ world, you then make your way to that part of the house (room, hall, yard etc.) and once there you trigger and watch what happened. It is during that observation that you might have the option to change something, which might or might not matter. Your hand held Visualiser will enable this, and provides other relevant information (including if someone is now alive – it was kind of neat when I got that first alert). Once an event is watched, a short description will appear on the Time Map, and those that included choices will be marked, making it easy to go back and review or reconsider.
I took notes, as there were times when I was sure I changed something that I then wasn’t satisfied with, but changing it back didn’t put all things back the way they were. I put it down to the ripples up and down the timestream at play. The game autosaves as you go, so you can’t just restore your last version of the timeline, which I thought accentuated the notion that fiddling with things really matters. You can though have four different games on the go should you want to.
The house is suitably dark but reasonably detailed, and the participants in the triggered events have a spectral translucency about them that suits the fact that they aren’t really there. If it’s a little simplistic visually, it works well in the context.
The real and virtual worlds collide in other ways. There are a number of locked areas which you can access if you learn where e.g., the key is kept and a safe to open if you find the relevant code. There are other items you can examine which relate to the lives of the occupants (letters, text messages and some more personal items), which can flesh out their story and might tell you something you can utilise in a decision you might make about them. Personal items will also move around, related to the choices you make (e.g., you might find certain things in the basement rather than where they originally were if you make a particular early decision).
I thought that narratively it was well done. To a certain degree it is really one big interactive story, and it made me want to keep going. You could take issue with some aspects of the writing, but again I thought that given the ages and circumstances of the characters it was contextually appropriate. Ditto the voice acting, even if it can be a little flat at times.
More mundanely, it plays in the first person and you move with the keyboard and ‘steer’ with the mouse. To me, its the most natural way to explore. You have complete freedom of movement, and can look through 360 degrees with the mouse. Hotspots will appear as you get close, first as small white triangles and when you approach, a pop-up tab will appear that you can interact with. The space bar pulls up the Time Map which you interrogate with the mouse, and right click raises and lowers your Visualiser. It all works well.
As the Steam page says, “relationships are treated as realistic,” so expect some swearing and the sorts of other things people sharing a house might get up to.
Speaking of which, the various intricacies of their lives is something else that you can possibly change. The right ending has them not only all alive, but with their “optimal future achieved.” So far I have saved them all, but they aren’t all living their optimal lives. I have though watched the Mission Complete event, which suggests a whole other situation and a possible future outing with the Second Chance Project (and the Time Map remains accessible to me should I want to explore those remaining optimal lives).
I for one will play another should it eventuate.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB