Empathy: Path of Whispers
We all know that memories are tricky things and the way that we remember things don’t always necessarily line up with what really occurred. So, if your own memories can be so unreliable, imagine what it would be like to experience the memories of others and use them to try and piece together a coherent story. This is the conundrum that the silent protagonist of Empathy: Path of Whispers finds themselves. Some sort of silent apocalypse has been triggered and you are left to explore a surreal and empty world as you try and figure out what happened. Although the people are gone their memories have remained behind and appear as physical things that you can interact with to learn more about their owners. It is only by slowly piecing together these individual puzzle pieces that the larger picture is revealed.
While the idea behind Empathy sounds very complicated, playing the game itself couldn’t be simpler. It is a story driven first person adventure where you primary roam around the empty gameworld in search of the so called “memento phenomena.” Fortunately, your character is equipped with a device called the E-15P, which is basically a portable full-spectrum energy scanner that functions like a memory radar. After using the device to locate a memory object, you then have to use it to synchronize with the mementos, which then plays back the audio data contained within. The mementos are not just the memories of a single person either, but of a large cast of characters who all had their own thoughts, feelings and agendas as well as important part they played in whatever went wrong. Since the game doesn’t spell out the story for you, it can be a little hard to follow exactly what the story entails, but if you stick with it things become a little clearer.
Empathy is a game that is hard to pigeonhole, but despite featuring a little more interaction and freedom than what is typically found in the genre, it is very much a walking-simulator. Instead of a linear path you have large environments to explore, but in order to progress you need to find and interact with all the mementos in your vicinity. This is accomplished via a wavelength synchronizing mini-game that is played out using the E-15P. Each memento has its own wavelength, displayed in white on the screen of your device. You then need to match the red wavelength of your E-15P with that of the memento’s by adjusting the amplitude, frequency and width. Unfortunately, as unique as this synchronization process is the first few times you do it, it does become rather repetitive as the game progresses and you have to do it each and every time you locate a memento. A recent patch has adjusted the difficulty of scanner syncing to make the process a little less frustrating, but it is still a repetitive process. After finding and scanning all the mementos on your radar a new batch is typically revealed, which means you have to repeat the process again. This usually involves some backtracking, which can also be annoying as sometimes you’ll see mementos, but can’t interact with them until you have completed a previous set first. The scanner makes it easy enough to locate the mementos, but without a map, it is a little tricky to navigate some of the more convoluted environments found later in the game.
In addition to the memento syncing, the game also features some minor puzzles that need solving in order to open up access to new areas. However, these usually take the form of collecting certain items and then using them at the right locations. Both items that can be collected as well as the spots where they can be used are usually clearly marked, so we didn’t have any issues completing any of these puzzles. The world of Empathy may be empty of people, but that doesn’t mean that it is without danger. Many of the environments are suspended above huge chasms and it is possible to fall off. However, your character cannot die, but merely respawns nearby, which is something that can cause problems if you are not careful. The game uses an auto save system, which saves your progress after certain action as well as upon exit. This resulted in us having to restart the game from scratch on a few occasions when errors occurred. Thankfully, the developer has mentioned that a new patch is in the works that will allow players to choose from recent saves when loading their game.
In terms of visuals we think that Pixel Night has done a good job with the look and feel of the game. The game clearly didn’t have a massive art budget, but what it lacks in hyper detailed textures, it makes up for with style and variety. The environments do appear to become less surreal as you progress through the game, but areas such as the park, train station and mountain village all have a unique style. The absence of people gives all the areas an eerie atmosphere, but nothing ever happens that could be classified as truly scary. There are some darker areas to explore, such as caves and sewers, but your character has a handy flashlight to help light the way.
The audio is an unexpected highlight and the music definitely contributes to the eerie atmosphere of the game. The soundtrack was composed by Nicolai Patricio and can be found as a free download on Steam for owners of the game. Another standout feature is the voice acting, particularly of the narrator. He clearly knows a lot more about what is going on than your character, but is more interested in reflecting on the situation than actually explaining anything. The memories you unlock by finding the mementos are also narrated by a large cast of diverse voice actors. Some deliver great performance while others sound a little wooden, but overall the quality isn’t too bad and certainly makes for a more immersive experience than having to read everything. The controls for Empathy are about standard for the genre, but a recent update has made things a little more manageable for left-handed players. The same update also added basic controller support, which was somewhat lacking in the original release. When playing with a mouse and keyboard you have to cycle through the three modes of the E-15P using the right mouse button and then use the scroll wheel for making adjustments. Outside of the syncing mini-game, the right mouse button is used to activate the scanning features for finding mementos.
Players who can appreciate games with a slower pace and cryptic storyline will enjoy their time exploring the surreal world of Empathy. Unfortunately, these are also the qualities that will deter many players who are not fans of the genre from checking out the game. Technical issues aside, Empathy is one of those games that have the potential to suck you in, but only if you approach it with the right frame of mind. The over use of the syncing mini-game does begin to grind and the obtuse storyline will probably scare away a lot of people, but Empathy is still a refreshing take on the genre. By opening up the gameworld and giving players more freedom, it is less of a walking simulator and more of a scavenger hunt, which is definitely not a bad thing.
- OS: Windows 7 64 bit (32 bit NOT supported)
- Processor: 2.5 Ghz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300 or equivalent
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti or ATI HD6950 or equivalent
- DirectX: Version 11
- Storage: 9 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX Compatible Audio