The Remnants Of Game Design
HIGH Reflection on the nature of game design.
LOW A corrupted save file.
WTF The random water treatment plant.
It didn’t take much for me to be drawn into Evan’s Remains. Its simplistic yet attractive aesthetics, utopian setting and mysterious story hooked me right off the bat, and after finishing only a few hours later, I applauded as the credits rolled. Evan’s Remains delivers on the qualities that I admired initially, but also goes further by offering a philosophical reflection on storytelling in games.
The story follows Dysis, a girl hired by a big tech company to find a missing genius named Evan on an uninhabited island that’s host to an advanced civilization’s ruins. She soon learns she’s not the only explorer of the island — a boy with a notebook named Clover is also present and claims to be searching for an artifact which grants immortality. They eventually team up, believing Evan’s disappearance and the artifact to be linked.
At its core, Evan’s Remains is a 2D puzzle-platformer with visual novel-style narration. However, quite surprisingly, the puzzles aren’t required — they’re actually optional instruments to aid the storytelling.
As she crosses the island, Dysis passes “monoliths” whose inscriptions are puzzles made up of platform tiles. While Dysis can only run and jump, the tiles have different properties. Some switch other tiles on and off, some teleport the player to a distant tile, and some have a trampoline function. However, solving a monolith doesn’t require split-second platforming skill, it’s more about finding the correct sequence of tiles for Dysis to interact with.
The player can skip any puzzle they choose to, just as Clover and Dysis can choose to walk past them on the island. I was initially frustrated with the developers giving players such an easy out from the gameplay, but in retrospect, it serves the philosophy of Evan’s Remains. As Dysis puts it in one dialogue sequence, she knows they aren’t necessary to her quest but she chooses to do them for their enjoyment value — the first indication of reflection on the nature of gameplay.
(I also agree with Dysis on this, by the way — they’re intelligently designed and it’s gratifying to solve a tough one after having thought five steps ahead to figure out a solution.)
As the story progresses, multiple plot twists are revealed which I won’t spoil here. However, I will say that the truths behind the artifact and Evan’s presence on the island differed greatly from my initial speculation. Just as with the puzzles, the player is challenged to think ahead.
After the revelations, a second philosophical take on game design presents itself — I’m being careful about what I say here, but parts of the epilogue reflect on Dysis’ mission and why it was designed in this particular manner. I see it as a metaphor for the conventions of storytelling, and Evan’s Remains seems to criticize how narratives in games are generally content to strive for simple entertainment.
Following this, I was also made to reflect on how often videogames present catastrophic or dangerous situations, often focusing on characters dying painful deaths or the slaughter of innocents in service to a story that is ostensibly meant to ‘entertain’. Evan’s Remains made me critically aware of how this kind of script can mirror our actual, grim reality, and legitimate moral issues are raised.
This quality of inviting reflection is what makes Evan’s Remains so outstanding, but my appreciation was enhanced by how it dares to make gameplay wholly submissive to the story. There are difficulty spikes but the player is free to skip them, and certain sections are repeated outright for narrative reasons, sacrificing novelty of play in favor of story consistency. These are bold choices, and I applaud them.
I think any reader will have figured out by now that Evan’s Remains won me over quite handily, and I only had two complaints — one is that a save file corrupted, although I was able to make a new file and progress. The other is the absence of a postgame chapter select function for quicker access to the central plot elements.
However, when trying to predict what others might criticize it for, I could imagine some feeling that Evan’s Remains would be better suited as a pure visual novel given its predominance of dialogue and skippable gameplay, but I beg to differ — I found its status as a ‘narrative experience with gameplay as an optional supporting element’ to be a revitalizing take on design.
Evan’s Remains is a beautiful, cleverly designed experience with themes that stretch far beyond its premise of a girl on a mission in uncharted territory. Spending time with it made me ponder the nature of gameplay and of how storytelling is used in games in a way few others have.
Disclosures: This game is developed by maitan69 (Matias Schmied) and published by Whitethorn Digital. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 3 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+ with a descriptor of Language. I figure this is probably because the dialogue speaks of death (and more philosophically) on themes of happiness, which may obviously be too heavy for a child. Apart from this, there is no graphically violent or disturbing content.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no necessary audio cues and all dialogue is subtitled. Text cannot be resized. I found this game to be fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
David has had a passion for writing since childhood, but rather than writing stories, he started reading them and figured that the only way a Harry Potter universe would truly come to life would be in a videogame. His favorite genre in literature, dystopian fiction, seemed to have especially unlimited potential in this new medium. Despite appreciating and regularly engaging with many different art forms, David's dedicated himself mostly to the playable one.
Born and raised a Dutchman, David can tell you everything about 'stroopwafels' and what it's like to live in the liberal capital of the world. That is, if he isn't holed up in his room and enjoying the American entertainment industry.