As I stepped into the world of Empathy: Path of Whispers, I was brought into a world a dream-like world that filled me with wonder and amazement, courtesy of the game’s flowy art style and trancing score. Sadly, it didn’t take long for this dream to become a nightmare. What began as a unique and enriching narrative, quickly became a drudgingly obnoxious story to participate in. The story, score, and art kept me pushing forward but the cringy voice acting, confusing puzzles, and poor locomotion tried really hard to drag me down.
Empathy’s concept is wholly unique and unlike any game I have ever played. Your goal is to explore a post-apocalyptic world and through the memories of others, uncover what happened. Using a special device, you’ll solve a puzzle to learn what secrets the memory likely in front of you holds. It’s here where my first frustration came about. This device, which the game almost exclusively relies on to tell the story, works as the game’s puzzle mechanism. Imagine lie detector lines (the ups and downs) on a screen. The device has three modes: A, W, F. Hours later, I still don’t know what these stand for. There are the white lines that come from the memory. The device has red lines that must match these white lines and you can do so by changing the device’s modes. A adjusts the height. W adjusts the horizontal direction and F adjusts the width of the lines.
I learned all of this on my own as the game tells you almost nothing about how to use this device. Puzzles were even more puzzling because of this.
After finally completing one of these puzzles, a memory (represented by an item) plays out and you’re met with some pretty terrible voice acting. There are a lot of characters, often one-offs thankfully, but hearing someone speak in the game is not only jarring but very cringy. It sounds as if developer Pixel Night asked their friends and family, who I assume would have zero voice acting experience, to voice the characters.
A story I was invested in soon became a story I couldn’t wait to finish because of the terrible performances found throughout.
Still, I persevered, but doing so wasn’t easy.
Even moving in this game is tough. Your character seems to float, which doesn’t really feel that great, especially for a first-person game, but I’ll give this a pass since you are in a surrealistic dream world. It was how often I was unable to move forward because I got stuck that ruined Empathy’s locomotion for me. If you fall too far or jump too high, you’re reverted back to seconds before. Multiple times in multiple locations, I’d find myself stuck on a rock or a cliff and because I couldn’t jump off (I’d die) or jump up (I’d die), there would be no escape. The game recognizes this and reverts your save to a previous point, though, but guess where I reverted to almost every time? Right back to the place I was stuck in.
At least three times, I almost called it quits because of this. Why play a game that doesn’t let you play?
As I begrudgingly progressed through the game, I found myself still somewhat captivated by the story, storytelling techniques aside. Because this game is story-driven, I won’t say too much but the answers to the questions posed were satisfying and almost made me feel like what I just went through was worth it. In fact, if it wasn’t for the melancholic but driving soundtrack, I’d say that the story is easily the best part about this game.
This game will likely sit along the hundreds of others that have attempted to make something Gone-Home special out of a first-person, story-driven walking simulator. There is a hint of greatness buried beneath some major problems in Empathy: Path of Whispers and because of that, I hope Pixel Night gets another crack at a game like this. For now, I can’t in good conscious recommend this game to you.
A PC Review copy of Empathy: Path of Whispers was provided by Pixel Night for the purpose of reviewing this game.