Not Burning Out, Just Fading Away
HIGH The areas to explore can be glorious.
LOW The collectibles.
WTF What is with the ducks?
Journey has a lot to answer for. After popularizing the narrative exploration genre during the PS3 era with a sense of wonder in its environments, there are now a roster of titles that have followed the same path. Lost Ember is developer Mooneye Studios’ take on the material.
The setup is that a wolf is tasked with helping a soul finding its way to ‘The City of Light’ — the place of rest for all souls in this society, which seems a fusion of Incan technology and First Nations’ spirituality (ala Never Alone). The player takes on the role of the wolf.
The adventure primarily involves exploring the 3D world’s expansive spaces with a lot of verticality while looking for pieces of the wolf’s past and using its special ability. When close enough to other animals, the wolf can possess them and then use their unique abilities to gain access to otherwise unreachable places.
This possession mechanic leads to running, flying, swimming (and in the case of the wombat) waddling through each area, going through nooks and crannies and soaring over crests. Most of the time it feels great to do, and some of the sights are stunning thanks to strong art direction. There are verdant canyons, abandoned cities, herds of stampeding buffalo, swarms of hummingbirds, cloud-covered mountains and many other beautiful things to witness.
Unfortunately, Lost Ember‘s performance is not up to the task. Even on an Xbox One X there are stuttering frames and a jerky camera at key points that dampen the experience. This roughness shows up in other areas as well — there are invisible barriers that inexplicably block off areas, and in one sequence as a fish, the camera clipped out and featured the out-of-world areas beyond the normal geometry. Another layer of spit and shine would have been appreciated.
Looking at the story, Mooneye is apparently a German team with links to English voice talent, and given this background, the story they’ve decided to tell seems… off.
As mentioned, Lost Ember‘s society is a fictitious one, but feels cobbled together from bits of the Americas. I’m curious as to what consultations they had when exploring these themes, and why they made certain choices.
Overall, it’s hard to recommend Lost Ember thanks to performance issues and some questions about its narrative. There are certainly sights worth seeing here, but it ultimately feels more like an interesting start to something that isn’t as engaging as its contemporaries.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Mooneye Studios and published by Mooneye Studios. It is currently available on PC, PS4, Switch and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO-X. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence. The game explores some pretty heavy themes, and the death and pain of certain characters will be distressing for younger audiences. Not a lot of overt violence, but some of the deaths are pretty brutal emotionally.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game was played almost entirely without sound and has subtitles. Text cannot be resized, nor can you change the font color. There are no audio cues necessary for gameplay, and I’d say it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable, and the player can invert the camera.
He can be found on twitter, where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.