Mooneye Studios’ Lost Ember is out on Playstation 4 and PC, with a Switch version coming later. Our review is based on the PS4 version.
After a very successful Kickstarter campaign in which the studio got over three times the goal amount, Lost Ember took a bit longer to complete than what was originally planned. It was supposed to come out in the first half of last year, but for a while there is kind of disappeared from the radar. That’s until it resurfaced this summer, when we first got to go hands on with the game – and now it’s finally here, about 18 months after the initial release date.
As the game starts out, you control a wolf emerging from a dark cave and walking into a lush valley. You’re accompanied by a glowing sphere, which communicates with you and urges you to explore. Doing so you slowly uncover shards of the valley’s history, learning about the people who lived there, what happened to them and why they’re no longer there.
It’s meant to be interesting and even spiritual rather than exciting, and Lost Ember’s gameplay style matches up with that goal. There is no combat, no adversary to go up against and no evil plot to thwart, and if you take away the (at times) almost philosophical narrative this could have been a game for all games – just exploring the lush environments at your own pace.
But as said, there’s a narrative to follow, and although you’re (strictly speaking) free to go wherever you want there are subtle elements of handholding where you’re supposed to take a linear path to your goals, sometimes disguised as relatively casual puzzles. More often than not this has to do with the core gameplay mechanic in Lost Ember – your ability to possess the body of another animal and thus completely change the way you move about. Imagine being a wolf and jumping off a cliff, only to possess (or rather ‘possess and inhabit’) a nearby bird on your way down. Not only are you saving yourself from a nasty fall, you can now fly across a large chasm and avoid taking that long and winding path through the valley.
Similar situations occur when you’re confronted with a wall you can’t go over as a wolf. You can try flying over, but if birds aren’t nearby then that’s not an option. Are you seeing a mole? If you can possess him, you can tunnel your way underneath that wall and come out on the other side. The solution usually presents itself rather quickly through the animals that surround you, but you still get that feeling you thought of something cool when you pull it off.
While Lost Ember is a good looking indie game, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that some of the environments and character models didn’t look as lush and detailed as the most recent trailers suggested. The locations are still beautiful and wonderful to traverse with a variety of animals, so I’m guessing part of that is the cinematic quality of the trailers – which use different camera angles and a rousing music track. The game itself mostly sticks to a third person camera and can be quiet at times – which helps its serene nature but feels less “epic” than the trailers suggested.
Despite the game being slightly different than what I expected in that sense, Lost Ember is still a fascinating game to play. The game world was well designed with the ability to use different animals in mind, a mechanic that elevates the game above walking simulator that also focuses on free exploration to uncover a narrative. Being able to experiment and try new routes of approach is fun and can even be thrilling, despite the spiritual undertone of the game.
It’s not a title for everyone, but Lost Ember is certainly an interesting project from an artistic point of view and the ability to possess other animals makes exploring the different environments in the game fun to do as well. There is a post-release VR patch planned, and that should be wonderful in the visual sense.