Narrative-focused games can be a bit of an acquired taste. After all, video games are primarily an interactive medium, so there’s no shame in not being into games that treat interactivity as a necessary chore rather than an integral part of the experience. But every so often, you’ll find a game with a great combination of mysterious narrative with great, albeit minor, gameplay mechanics that just works to pull you in. Eternal Threads is one such game, blending an intriguing mystery story with an interesting premise and some great mechanics that only serve to make the story that much more mysterious.
Eternal Threads was developed by Cosmonaut Studios, an indie developer based out of Liverpool. The storyline revolves around a far distant future where experiments in time travel produced a strange sort of radiation. This radiation blasted all throughout time, causing corruption and damage that really messed up the future. With the secret of time travel unlocked, you journey back in time to alter events into the way they were supposed to be. In this specific instance, you’re bought back to the North of England in 2015 to a house where 6 people died in a fire.
From the outset, you have access to the entire 7 days worth of events to watch in whatever order you want. If you were so inclined, you could go through picking out random moments, go backward, or even just follow one of the six main characters exclusively. Of course, that would be a really bad idea, since the only real way to know what choices to make is to learn the entire story of these characters in order. Any other sort of order will leave you lost and confused unless it’s not your first time through the game.
See Eternal Threads technically takes place after the end of the timeline that you’re affecting. You’re wandering around a very creepy burned-out house mostly populated by police evidence markers and suspicious red stains. The first time you get into the game it almost feels like it’s aiming for a horror angle, with a lack of music for most of the game, leaving things oddly eerie. It also gets worse when you first start watching back at events earlier in the timeline.
When you’re watching back the specific events using your future time-warping tech, you view what happens in the form of ghostly holograms. Knowing that, at least when you arrive, all 6 of the people you are watching are already dead makes the entire thing feel incredibly morbid. On the plus side, your goal here is not just to change the outcome so none of the 6 people die, but also to help them achieve their perfect outcomes if you want to go that far.
The primary way you make changes in Eternal Threads is by influencing choices for various characters. For instance, during the tutorial one character, Tom needs to decide between taking his sick bird to the vet, or seeing if it gets better on its own. He leaves the bird at home in the original timeline, but you can use your equipment to force him to change his decision. As you might expect, this also affects the end of the timeline where you are observing these choices from.
Another important aspect of figuring out how to save all of the characters comes in the form of locked parts of the house. Since you can’t view memories without access to the locations where they occur, you have to make decisions that will change things in the house enough for you to access new locations. Watching a memory where a character finds a key will usually allow you to grab the key yourself, unlocking more potential choices in the future. This creates a hugely complex web of choices that must be made in the correct order since some doors and areas can only be unlocked by making the technically wrong choices to gain access to more areas where the right choices occur.
For the most part, my first time watching through the timeline I just went in and changed every decision to the opposite of what it was on the timeline. There was more than a little concern that this would just result in a win, but it wasn’t that simple. Some choices can actually alter later events to become choices themselves, and changing some things will lock you out of choices, so there’s a fair bit of experimenting necessary to learn everything you need to know to advance the plot correctly. Luckily, you are given a few key facts to help steer you in the right direction when you start.
When you first arrive in the house during the opening hours of Eternal Threads, you’re told that your purpose is to act like a scalpel, rather than a sledgehammer. What this means in practical terms is that while you must save the six people, it’s still necessary for the fire to take place, or the future will be ruined in other ways. This means that your main goal is to engineer situations where the 6 characters aren’t in the house or are able to escape before the fire kills them. Knowing this, you know that your decision will revolve around their actions later in the week. Still, you will need to change earlier events for certain characters to unlock the necessary action.
For the most part, the writing and acting are pretty notch. A few of the earlier voice-over lines sounded a bit awkward, but before long the VAs seem to have settled into the roles well, and that’s a good sign about how well these characters are written. Each of them has distinct personalities and various relationship dynamics tying them all together. Learning about these characters is integral to finishing the game. The only way to learn about them is to experiment with their choices to get them to reveal information to other characters for you to overhear.
As the story moves through the various forms of interpersonal drama, you get glimpses of possible timelines in things characters will say. You grow suspicious about some characters or find a hint towards something dark in a character's past. It becomes almost compulsive, wanting to know more and wanting to keep changing things until you get just the perfect outcome. It’s a mark of a good story well told that I played the game in two sittings, and would have done it in one if sleep hadn’t been forced upon me. It’s also fair to say that the ending is relatively satisfying.
That said, Eternal Threads does have some problems here or there. The graphics aren’t super great, but with the murky presentation, that almost works in the game’s favor. Besides, the pictures were never bad enough that I struggled to empathize with the characters or get into the story. I’d also say that some of the routes can be a bit tough to figure out, not necessarily having a logical connection. Speaking of which, navigating the actual events menu seems bugged out at times. You’re supposed to be able to lock onto an influence path, moving between events that directly impact each other. The issue is that the influence lock didn’t always connect to the same events on repeated uses.
One final and very personal note of criticism is the secret ending. For completing the game with all six characters not only alive but with their best outcomes, you receive a secret final event at the end of the game. The actual event itself is fine, but it’s also a bloody cliffhanger that leaves you hanging on a possible future game. This cliffhanger set up questions that demand answers, and honestly, it’s baffling to think that we’ll have to wait an indeterminate amount of time to find out what is going on in the background world that this game only gives us glimpses of.
When all is said and done, it’s hard not to recommend Eternal Threads, at least if you’re into narrative-first games. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are very human and believable, and it has a framing device that seems strong enough to carry further games in the same vein down the line. Even with slightly janky graphics, the game is carried on its great atmosphere and story alone. While some might be inclined to call this game a walking simulator, the highly interactive nature of the storyline and the fact that it all takes place in a single small location (and gives you a run button) make it the best possible take on a walking sim sort of game that we’ve seen in years.
TechRaptor reviewed Eternal Threads on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers. The game is also set to release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at a later date.
- Great storyline and characters
- Creepy astmophere
- Easy to understand mechanics, but complex solutions
- Some solutions are too obtuse
- The graphics and animations are pretty janky at times