At the heart of Empathy: Path of Whispers is the central idea that the world you are in is deserted, all life seemingly extinguished in some massive apocalyptic event. The only living people appear to be yourself and the person you are talking to (or who, more accurately, talks at you) who does not appear physically, but seems to linked to you via some unexplained communication system. Together, your job becomes to find out exactly what happened to the world and to the people in it.
A lack of cohesiveness and wearisome, large environments make Empathy: Path of Whispers a frustrating experience, particularly when you consider the potential of the game and the ingenuity of the central concept. Another in a long line of what are often disparagingly called walking simulators, it bears a resemblance to the likes of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, with the added feature of ostensibly being a “multi-perspective” game, providing you windows in to the lives of many of its characters, though, sadly, in the end this is nothing more than a gimmick.
The game largely consists of walking around the different environments (of course) and finding things to interact with, often utilizing a scanner that sometimes requires you to solve a ‘puzzle’ of sorts by matching wavelengths. As you do, you get to hear snippets of people’s lives as they try and navigate a world that is falling apart quickly. Each character has a story, and your companion uses these stories to theorize as to what caused the world to fall apart.
Sadly, the problems by this point have already started. While the idea of finding out what caused the end of the world for these people is an intriguing idea, it needs more than that to engage, and Empathy never provides it. The audio files are disjointed and poorly voice acted, meaning you never really care nor become invested in the plethora of characters. Their trials and tribulations could easily have been interesting, and once again there is a nugget of a good idea there, but the lack of cohesiveness with the experience of the player means that largely these characters are names in the wind, used to just progress to the next environment rather than any eagerness to learn of their fate. It’s a shame because the idea harks back to the likes of Bioshock, where it was so well executed, but here it feels forced.
This is also where the apparent multiple perspectives comes in. These are often short and largely consist of small fetch quests, whether it be building something or fixing something. Once again, you are provided with a small insight in to a random character before the game pushes you back out once you’ve clicked a few times. There is no sense of investment in the situation, and after a while it becomes a case of going through the motions.
This is also true of the gameplay. The game likes to make you go back and forth through the same environment in order to collect these memories, meaning you spend the vast majority of your time walking through places you’ve already seen in order to find out something about someone you haven’t been made to care about – this wastes time. Then there’s little to no fulfillment at the end of your long treks, and it starts to get more and more tiresome. One particular culprit are the staircases, which can be very long and are identical in most places. The asset reuse in general definitely doesn’t help at all, and only exacerbates the boredom once you’ve passed through the 45th house that’s presented in the same way.
Graphically, the game varies wildly. It can be nice to walk through some sections (the first or second time) and, on the plus-side, some of the environments can be nice to look at when you’re pondering them from a height. On the ultra setting, there is quite an impressive amount of detail, but it’s also quite easy to get stuck inside a shrub or ‘fall’ in to a hill. Sometimes you can clamber back out of these graphical lapses, but at other moments it requires a restart and can get quite annoying.
Worthy of a mention, though, is a great soundtrack, which is mournful, melancholic, and contemplative, capturing that post-apocalyptic feel. It provides a sense of atmosphere that almost saves some sections, but in the end sadly deserves a better game.
At the end of the day, it’s all well and good admiring a waterfall or a hilltop, but you want that scenery to blend in to a game that’s interesting to experience and, regrettably, Empathy isn’t. It feels like the shell of a game that hasn’t been fully realized and lacks a lot of features that would make it more enjoyable. A sense of being able to piece together who the different people are would definitely help – perhaps some way of putting together a character profile, rather than just collecting disparate strands of diaries and thoughts, would help to create a more immersive experience, for example. Walking simulators of this style can be interesting and fulfilling experiences, but when this much is wrong with one, it’s hard to feel like you’re doing anything but walking. You’re better off going for one of those in the park.
PUBLISHER – Iceberg Interactive | DEVELOPER – Pixel Night | ESRB – N/A | PLATFORMS – PC
Avoid – Empathy: Path of Whispers fails to make use of an interesting idea and instead provides a frustrating experience that quickly becomes boring and makes it a slog to finish, even though it isn’t even that long. There are strands of a good game in there somewhere, but they are lost amidst the re-used environments and the traveling to and from the same areas over and over again – A great shame, since the core concept could well make for a fulfilling adventure game if approached differently.