Elea – Episode 1 (Xbox One Review)
At their peak, episodic games can compete with the best TV has to offer and they all have one thing in common: a hook. Every great series gives you a reason to keep coming back. I’m not sure if Elea has that.
Elea is the story of River Elea Catherine Jones, a pregnant mother in search of her memories and lost husband. While expecting her second child, River communicates with her husband while he works off planet. Their softly spoken small talk is sincere and alludes to a happy family life which could convince you that Elea’s story is one worth telling. It helps alleviate any dull moments as you make your way through a litany of scripted events. Yet like all good things, it has to come to an end.
After a few trivial interactions around your home, reality distorts. Glitches start to pervade throughout Elea and regular flashing lights blind you, deliberately. Even with the clear photosensitivity warning at the beginning of Elea, it’s worth repeating that this advice shouldn’t be taken lightly. These effects feel like the developers were trying to experiment with visual presentation and lightning but never thought how it helped to add value to the story. That meant by the end of the midpoint of episode one the story was lost to a blur and River’s family dynamic never felt fully explored. Even the interactions seemed to lack agency and were often accompanied by a plethora of lightshows and ambiguous puzzles in which your only reward was a headache.
What follows the first half is far more grounded in reality, as far as Sci-Fi adventures go. You’re now able to explore the confines of a ship that’s currently floating in deep space and discover a secret that adds a little more colour to River’s tale, but to expand on that would waste what little Elea has to offer. Adding to Elea’s twist is the developer’s attention to detail. Your ship is more immaculate than Discovery One and more vibrant than anything you’d find on a Neon Punk’s mood board. Even with this fascinating backdrop, the game struggles to offer up any thrills that would save it from mediocrity. When you consider the most thrilling aspect to exploring the scenery is an achievement relating to sitting on every seat and bed upon the ship, you’re in for a bad time. You can tell curating such a well detailed ship has come at a cost.
Framerate drops and loading issues are abundant. Textures seem to pop in whenever they want too. There are even times where an act as simple as opening a door harks back to Mass Effect’s elevators. Then there are the jarring animations of NPCs. The only respite given from these tragically flawed interactions is when the camera deliberately pans to let them complete their embarrassing animations away from prying eyes.
Thankfully, Elea is short. It struggles to evolve beyond its ideas and even exploring the themes of family is hard as the bigger picture falls out of focus in its second half. Ultimately you’re left with a product that feels more like an experiment instead of an actual finished product. Pilots are meant to sell the ideas of what a story can become and based on Elea’s first episode; I only feel trepidation for what its future may hold.