How did I end up spending more than twenty hours in a walking simulator? I guess a large part of it can be attributed to the mystery. Eidolon is a game that doesn’t spoon-feed you anything at all.
You’re dropped into the massive forests modeled after Western Washington, USA, with no equipment or directions of any kind. Soon enough you’ll find some rudimentary survival gear and some documents left behind by people that came before. These documents, which range from personal letters to posters and diaries, detail the happenings of the area spanning an era of hundreds of years.
And that’s basically Eidolon – One document leads to another, that one to yet another, or maybe to a completely different story strand. There are about twenty different stories containing well more than a hundred pages total to find, all adding their distinctive perspective to the overall picture. How much of it will be uncovered is left to the player – as far as I can see, Eidolon doesn’t really reach any kind of a conclusion, even though all of the individual stories eventually will.
Without revealing too much, Eidolon deals with subjects like posthumanism, transhumanism, mortality and what it means to be a human in the first place. The stories are well written and quite thought-provoking, as they should be, since they’re the sole force propelling the player forwards through the vast stretches of wilderness.
Eidolon requires a rare kind of patience. “Vast” only begins to describe the distances required to be crossed in search for the next scrap of history. It isn’t just that the play area is absolutely huge, it’s the lack of reliable maps and the presence of large, uncrossable bodies of water that will frequently require you to take the long way around and sometimes even backtrack several hours worth of wandering.
Whether it’s all worth it depends on the player. There’s really not much actual gameplay in Eidolon – you need to occasionally scavenge, fish & hunt to keep yourself nourished, but the game isn’t actively out to get you unless you get foolhardy. I found myself doing a lot of thinking and soul-searching while trekking, pondering about more than just the lives of the people on the paper. Eidolon evokes a profound sense of isolation, loneliness and melancholy that lingers.
The game’s atmosphere is further cemented by the excellent post-rock/ambient soundtrack that I count among the very best in gaming. Graphics are extremely simplified and minimalist yet frequently beautiful, unless you look at things up close. Technically the game does have some problems, ranging from flickering polygons and hitches while loading terrain to more serious issues like getting stuck and falling through the world geometry. Despite these issues, I found the narrative strong enough to keep on exploring.
It’s clear that Eidolon is a product of a singular vision with no input from focus groups or marketing forces. It demands a lot of your time – maybe too much for most – but for people like me with too much time on their hands anyway and a penchant for self-reflection, Eidolon can prove to be a very fulfilling experience. One of my favorite games of 2014.