Empathy: Path of Whispers [official site] caught my eye because it seemed like it had the capacity to be one of those interesting-but-ultimately-flawed games where you end up rating them around 6/10 but that score doesn’t reflect the highs and lows because it mulches them into an average. I idly booted it up because I was at a loose end and had a code and was almost immediately struck by the first main environment – a kind of Soviet monumentalism stranded in space with platforms linked by remnants of train track.
I don’t think it actually is one of these flawed-but-great games at all but I won’t be reviewing the game, or indeed completing it, because it’s too buggy. You can too easily get stranded somewhere, unable to get back into the game space and, as far as I can tell, with no option other than to restart the entire thing. It’s worth flagging it up because for me the latest of those bugs came more than two hours into my time in the game (thanks to a previous stranding and restarting) and thus it would have made me ineligible for the default Steam refund if I’d had £11.99 tied up in the game. The problem which I was experiencing is because it’s easy to end up in an area slightly outside where you’re supposed to be. You can’t get back to the bit where you ARE supposed to be and while trying to do so you fall into the abyss. At that point the game saves and deposits you back onto the bit if terrain which has you trapped. The game only has the autosave to work from and thus if you quit out and go back in you’re just going to start in impossible space again. It miiiiiiight be possible that you could quit out when you realise you’re in forbidden terrain and not trigger the save but generally I only realised I was stuck after I’d tried to get back and fallen down thus triggering the save.
In investigating the forums to try to find a fix it seemed that other people were in the same boat as was a reviewer whose game bugged just before the end. The devs, Pixel Night, mention a fix in the next patch for the game but it’s not clear whether that is a fix for this specific location or a fix for the general problem. In the scenario mentioned on the forum the only answer pre-patch was to either restart or get the problem fixed manually. It’s nice that the dev offered to do that but given it has happened to me twice in a few hours of play it seems to me that that approach would rapidly become unfeasible.
In terms of what I’ve seen so far, the game didn’t make good on the promise of its early environments at all. The snippets of audio I’ve had so far drip fed a rather hackneyed story and the radio-tuning mechanic for accessing those stories is far better employed in something like Oxenfree or Mu Cartographer. So I’m not devastated about giving up, but given people might stick with it for longer than the default refund period I thought it wise to flag up the save game bug as it might significantly impact your experience.
Empathy: Path of Whispers is out now at £11.99 (there’s a 20% launch discount as it’s usually £14.99). I don’t recommend it, certainly not in its current state but, as with everything in this life, your mileage may vary.