A Mirage of What Could Be
HIGH The potential for sophisticated form and narrative.
LOW …not acting on this potential of its own accord.
WTF There were multiple endings?
I haven’t been playing much new for a while now. The prospect of starting the notoriously popular (and vast!) Elden Ring has weighed down (rather than encouraged) a swift return, but a relatively short, intense ‘walking simulator’ kind of experience usually rekindles my flame. Just what the doctor ordered, Ghost on the Shore proved to be a welcome, intriguing experience that got me back in the mood.
Ghost on the Shore, as a walking simulator, offers little in terms of mechanics aside from first-person exploring in a linearly-crafted 3D world with the odd dialogue choice. The genre has become a mainstay in the industry, and while I’m eager to try them out (especially after my recent hiatus), the type has become somewhat stale, as I highlighted in an earlier review. What makes walking simulators great is when they are either revolutionary in form (art style, mechanics), or have a phenomenal story backing up the limited gameplay. Fortunately, Ghost of the Shore shows good potential in both areas.
The main character is Riley, a British woman and an implied animal rights activist. She retreats from society because she is “not good with people”, and ventures with her boat along the Northern Isles of Great Britain until a storm crashes her into the fictional, deserted ‘Rogue Islands’.
After the storm, she discovers that a mysterious ghost identifying himself as a deceased inhabitant of the island named Josh now resides in her mind, invisible, but someone with whom Riley converses throughout her explorations, in both serious tone and casual jest.
It’s soon revealed that an aristocratic family ruled the island in the early nineteenth century. As the story progresses, Riley learns more about the history of the island’s culture, the inhabitants’ disappearance, and Josh’s part in past events. She brings with her a notebook in which she collects all the embedded info she encounters and uses it to construct character portraits, but also to make sketches of the scenery she admires. Most of the entries’ appearance in the book are determined by the player’s desire to explore the island’s abandoned houses and locations.
As she makes her way around, Riley will also collect artifacts such as letters, valuables and – particularly – different instances of alcohol. These give the most straightforward look into the old society, and also provide great clues towards understanding the complicated relations Josh experienced while alive. This is especially relevant since Josh struggles with amnesia, and the mention of some items evoke his memories.
While stacking the collected clues, it was great to unfolding the island’s mysteries while trying to reconstruct the past, and this is where the potential of Ghost on the Shore lies – its intriguing, historical society can be reconstructed through a somewhat impressionistic sketching of encountered artifacts, while supernatural events advance the plot and its leads. Both the story itself, and the manner in which its narrative ties are knotted are praiseworthy.
At about two-thirds through the game, things rapidly accelerate to a conclusion with a multitude of revelations. Both the pace and the contents of this drive to the end frustrated me because all of the detective work I had done, both in Riley’s journal and in my own mind, felt ill-treated as everything resolved itself with a bunch of tense moments, and not thanks to my own ideas determining or informing the ending.
Adding insult to injury, the final revelation is also quite anticlimactic — without spoiling anything, I can say that the character motivations are banal, and while I appreciate the ‘victim of circumstance’ motif, its application here felt terribly forced. If the complex connections and ties carefully and artistically sketched throughout the journey felt like playing detective in a museum, the ending was the equivalent of an extended bar fight.
In spite of this criticism, I still recommend a playthrough of Ghost on the Store. It’s an intense experience easily played in a single (or very few) sittings that delivers with an engaging story via fascinating narrative progression. I do feel the overall quality of the game was compromised by the lackluster ending, but the thrill of the promise has enough momentum to carry a player to the end.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Like Charlie and published by Application Systems Heidelberg. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: Ghost on the Shore has no ESRB rating, nor an equivalent enlisted rating. I think this game only works for a somewhat mature audience as it features mature themes of death, heartbreak, manipulation, family disorder and trauma, murder, decay, and identity crises. It also features curse words and foul, aggressive language.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered and/or resized, from a standard of 100% up to 150% size. All clues are visually advertised, and all dialogue is subtitled. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. It’s WASD to walk, (hold) SHIFT to walk faster/run, left mouse button to accept a (dialogue) option, to interact with objects. ESC to pause and present menu options.