Last week we reviewed The Gallery: Heart of the Emberstone, an adventure game that’s available on both iOS and Android.
You know the old saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Some might say that’s just a cliche, but I couldn’t agree more. A great example of this is the iphone 6s’s glass back. The tech industry has been buzzing about this new feature for months, and I’ve seen speculation about a potential glass back on every iPhone since the 5s. There’s been a lot of “glass” talk going on, but what exactly is it? What is it made of? Why is it so important? Did Apple do it right?
The Gallery is an episodic puzzle game that is available on Steam ($19.99). I’m giving a review of the first episode, which is only a few hours long. The review is divided into three parts: why I decided to play The Gallery, the game itself, and my thoughts after completing the game. My recommendation is to play the first episode and then return to this review to read the first part; that way, you’ll understand my thoughts when I talk about The Gallery.
‘The Gallery – Ep. 2 : Heart of the Emberstone’ is an addictive puzzle-platformer. The game is packed with action, challenging puzzles, and gripping narration that will keep you hooked. This sequel to the original ‘The Gallery’ is a unique experience in and of itself, especially when compared to the original.
Now that the team has a new member, it’s time to face the mammoth problem that lies ahead of them. They’re all ten of them. It’s a huge one. However, how long can a conundrum last? How many problems will they be able to solve? How many of these will they be able to solve?
The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone (2017) is a year and a half after Call of the Starseed (2016), the first installment in the narrative-based adventure puzzle game series. As a follow-up to one of the first room-scale games, the second episode digs even further into the ’80s fiction-inspired world and fleshes out what turns out to be a narrative as rich as the cinematic direction hinted at in the first. Far from being a one-hit wonder, the second episode greatly improves on the first in almost every way.
You pick up where Call of the Starseed left off on the other side of the cosmos, searching for your adventurous sister Elsie as you go to an exotic planet in her footsteps. At the request of a hunchbacked ruler, you must “obtain your grip,” a powerful upgrade to your telekenetically-powered gauntlet, in order to see your sister again. With the ability to move heavy artifacts imbibed with a mysterious power ore, you venture further into the abandoned world as both actor and spectator of a long-ago tale.
Without giving too much away about the plot, the majority of the action takes place through holographic memories shown in front of you, as well as recordings and diary entries unearthed. The world you’ve arrived on is essentially lifeless, with the exception of bizarre small weevil-things that appear to live on the sandy globe. You’ll have to figure out how it came to be that way. However, I will say that the story provides important commentary on the opposing forces of nature and man, and it leaves a lot to consider as you delve deeper into the bizarre power differential that results from a monarchy in charge of an entire world’s resources while also possessing superhuman abilities to keep the peace.
You’ll have to walk back and forth to get missing components, so even if the world isn’t big, there’s no wasted space. I had anticipated for more unfettered exploration, but instead found myself in a situation where a new puzzle and a fresh narrative breadcrumb were always nearby to keep me interested. This also stopped it from appearing too linear, which I like to call “IKEA adventures.”
Aside from a single challenge that’s basically a harder version of Simon (repeat a succession of color-coded tones), the puzzles in Heart of the Emberstone made me feel like I’d never done anything like them before.
Most quest items and doorways can be accessed by guiding your gauntlet’s stone through a transparent tube with moving obstacles, which resets everything if you misguide it and come into contact with the barrier or the tube’s edges. As you progress, the difficulty level increases from the most simple (a straight tube with no impediments for regularly utilized sites like elevators) to the most tough.
You also have your gauntlet, which gives you a stronger ‘grasp,’ and an energy slingshot to help you blast down ore boxes that access rooms. These boxes can be positioned and used as moving elements in puzzles that are larger than a room.
One of my favorites were the gear puzzles, in which you must slot in the correct gears within a certain amount of time in order to use a door-opening lever. Because the small gears have different-shaped axle inserts, you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure that you can get them all in before the timer runs out, or you’ll have to start over.
Despite the fact that none of these problem kinds are particularly difficult, the sensation you get when you accomplish them is rewarding. The creators could have just given you a simple button to unlock a door, or dispersed keys around the game and forced you to go on an endless quest for them, but the door riddles not only make you feel accomplished, but they also make you feel stylish.
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When the closing credits rolled, I was anxious to play again. Heart of the Emberstone has a lot to unpack, far more than a single reading can handle. Despite the fact that I always knew what was going on and was never perplexed by the events unfolding in front of me as an observer, I’d rank the level of storytelling on par with some of the best TV dramas, such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones—shows you go back to rewatch even if you already know what’s going to happen (albeit in a reduced form).
It’s not often that amazing voice acting, beautiful art, and a fully formed universe with a captivating story all come together in one bundle, so pardon me if I let out a well-deserved “wow.”
Heart of the Emberstone appears to be a far more thorough experience when compared to the first in the series. This is most likely owing to the fact that it is more than three times longer than the first episode, with roughly the same density of riddles and important story elements.
Unlike Call of the Starseed, which felt gimmicky at times and occasionally reminded you that you were in a game rather than a real adventure, Heart of the Emberstone immerses you in an entirely new alien environment, where real-world interactions are less important but your actions have a greater overall impact. You’ll be blasted with riddles and powers at regular intervals until you’ve found out how to use your gauntlet, never leaving you guessing what to do next. This isn’t to mean you’re being led by the hand; rather than bothering you with the tiresome (and simply overdone) “helpful robot” cliché, the game only shows you how to do something once.
Poor narrative detracts from immersion. Poor stories and voice acting provide the impression of being in a fictitious world with fictitious characters, which is why I normally address it in both the gameplay and immersion sections of reviews. Apart from being visually appealing, the landscape appears to be alive, despite everything appearing to be as dry as a dead dingo’s donger. The story has an emotional range that isn’t reminiscent of low-rent melodrama found in other games, further grounding you in reality. Elsie’s exuberant brightness, which she seems to bring to every occasion, is punctuated by heartbreaking moments of betrayal.
Of course, the creators will give you a wink wink, nudge nudge as if to say, “We’ve neatly placed this narrative component here to move things along, but we know you know that.” However, this occurs only a few times throughout the game and isn’t a major plot point.
In terms of nuts and bolts, object interaction has vastly improved, illustrating how hard Cloudhead has worked to create items that deliver strong haptic feedback and perform equally well in both left and right hands. The holographic logs littered about the game were significantly more lifelike than the notepads or books in Starseed, which only provided a few ‘snap-to’ hand positions. Menus, maps, and logs replace your hands entirely, eliminating the need for hand postures.
For me, the hand models had a minor visual issue in that they were extremely spindly. My hands were also in the wrong place in regard to the controller, reaching out further than they should have. Hand models, like their predecessors, don’t fully utilize the Oculus Touch’s capacitive buttons, limiting your access to some of the controller’s most lifelike features. This is obviously not an issue with Vive, which is why it is only briefly stated.
The loading windows are quick and unobtrusive at first, but they become more frequent as you move about the world map—an obvious but unavoidable annoyance.
One of the features that made the transition from Call of the Starseed to Heart of the Emberstone was blink teleportation. The addition of smooth mobility (bolded for skimmers) is one change that should make teleportation skeptics cry with glee. You’ll have to make due with snap-turn only—a.k.a. “comfort mode”—because this doesn’t support smooth yaw stick turning.
Smooth mobility is possible with controller-oriented stick-move, head-oriented stick-move, strafing choices, and a variety of movement rates. Because they are non-default settings that must be toggled by the user, the basic blink teleportation gives a highly pleasant experience for anybody, from beginner to veteran VR user.
One of my few gripes with Heart of the Emberstone is the lack of a sitting mode, which would be beneficial while playing through the game from start to finish.
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