Developer: Matias Schmied (maitan69)
Publisher: Whitehorn Digital
Genre: Puzzler, Platformer, Visual Novel
Platform: PC / Steam & Xbox One versions reviewed
Audience: ESRB 13+ (no PEGI rating currently)
Release Date: 11/06/2020
Codes were provided for review purposes.
We at Rapid Reviews were fortunate enough to be able to review both the Steam and Xbox One versions of the intriguing narrative-driven puzzle-platformer, Evan’s Remains. That’s why Mike and Alicia have decided to pool our thoughts and team up for a collaborative review!
It Remains To Be Seen
Mike: Let’s not waste time here. Evan’s Remains is something special. The difficulty for us, I guess, it is explaining why, without giving anything away. I’m sure you’ll agree that this game sits in that pool of the story-driven experiences, the likes of Gone Home and Undertale, where the player benefits more by knowing less. But, Alicia, let me first ask you this: what made the game first resonate with you?
Alicia: The trailer had already sold it to me. Something about the style had captured my attention, I was intrigued by the puzzles and the mystery surrounding ‘Evan’ had piqued my curiosity. It looked like it was going to tick all the boxes.
Mike: I actually went in completely blind, without a single expectation, which incidentally lent itself nicely to the game’s mystery theme.
It took mere seconds of the opening scene to draw me in. A serene beach with a sea breeze, given life through wonderfully fluid animation and clever use of bold colours.
Alicia: The scenery immediately had me thinking about Aztecs and Incas but something about the style of the characters and the progression of the story through speech also gives Evan’s Remains a manga feel.
I loved the combination of pixel-y animation for the characters when seen at a distance and more detailed artwork for the face/upper torso close-ups. I think this added to the manga feel as you saw detailed pictures of the characters’ faces showing various different expressions. In the background artwork there’s a sort of hybrid of these pixel and more detailed styles, in my opinion it really works.
As soon as I started playing, I felt myself falling into Whitethorn Digital’s carefully crafted world. It’s the kind of game that takes you on an immersive journey and ends up feeling more like an experience that you took part in, rather than a game that you played. Players should be prepared for time to pass without them noticing!
Mike: I concur, having finished the game in two short sittings, it felt like it passed in mere minutes. Anyone going in should be aware of the run time of just a few of hours, though for the price, flawless performance on both systems and narrative-driven style, this is unlikely to be an issue for most gamers.
…Who Shall Remain Nameless
Mike: Without giving anything away, it’s fair to say Evan’s Remains doesn’t have an entirely original plot per se, though it’s careful blending of well-used ideas results in a moving, meaningful and, above all, clever way.
From the outset, players take control of Dysis who immediately engages in a remote conversation where it’s revealed that she’s on some kind of mission or job with the focus of finding someone named Evan. The intriguing parts of this introduction do little more than draw up a long mental list of unknowns on which narrative riddles are built around.
Conversations flow naturally, with written dialogue used to slowly weave the story beats together. For me, this was undoubtedly the highlight, with character motives and backgrounds slowly building and only dropping hints about the island’s secrets, before delicately revealing details. Alicia, did you enjoy how character interactions were handled?
Alicia: I did, particularly the way that you had access to the characters’ thoughts as they were speaking to each other and also how the dialogue paused while the characters processed information or they struggled to find an answer – this was more authentic than continually rolling speech.
The game is played through a mixture of puzzles and scenes of written dialogue which tell the story. Evan’s Remains is plot-driven so some of the dialogue exchanges are quite lengthy. Don’t interpret that as ‘boring’ though. These periods of extended communication between characters are something akin to scenes in a film unfolding. You could describe Evan’s Remains as similar to an interactive film, not quite in the same way as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch though. I found it to be quite a unique experience.
Mike: Being well into the visual novel genre, I found Evan’s Remains takes of lot of cues in how it makes use of minimal visuals to great effect. An ‘interactive film’ is a good way of putting it though, given there aren’t really any branching paths but there is a gameplay element.
Reroute To Remain
Alicia: In some ways, the game brought back memories of supernatural mystery thriller, Oxenfree, but the overall atmosphere is different; Evan’s Remains is more of an emotional mystery.
Mike: Yeah, those strong Oxenfree vibes speak to the narrative style and, to a lesser degree, the atmosphere but where the visuals are concerned, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Fez once the platforming sections kicked in. In particular, it’s the combination of the puzzle-based platforming sections with one of the game’s core visual themes; the ancient technology within the monolith structures, which serve as the basis of the core gameplay.
The striking implementation of the platforming – the way in which Evan’s Remains carefully slots its single-screen teleporting and sequencing puzzles deftly into the plot – speaks to a carefully considered, cohesive design.
It’s well-written into the plot too. At one point passively referencing the fact you could technically just walk around the monoliths but are choosing not to.
Puzzles are grouped together, generally requiring the player to beat a couple before moving on to the next character interaction. In a frankly brilliant move, an option is given to allow you to immediately skip any puzzle that might be causing a headache.
I didn’t feel the need to use the skip function. Even the most challenging of puzzles were well structured and felt like trials required to earn that next story reveal. The option to skip, however, is a fantastic win for accessibility and will score points for anyone finding themselves frustrated on a particular brain-teaser.
Alicia: I didn’t use this option either, because I really enjoy the challenge a puzzle presents. However, it does give you the alternative of a completely relaxing visual story experience. All of which is enhanced by the calming sounds of the sea crashing on the beach and birdsong.
In any case, although the monoliths which contain the puzzles are important to the game, the puzzles themselves are not essential to understanding the storyline – and if you’re playing this type of game, you’re more than likely here for the story.
Alicia: There are no voices used in the game. When the text appears in the speech bubble for each character the ‘typing’ noise is different. It’s a small touch but I liked this. It helped to emphasise when the speaker changed and avoided there being a repetitive and irritating noise for all the dialogue. The music really adds something to the game, it helps to set each scene but it’s not intrusive – just enough to add a little intensity to the emotions you feel as you pass through each stage.
Mike: Clearly not having the budget sort of budget needed for quality voice acting and audio, I agree. The use of the classic simulated ‘typing/speech’ sounds was varied enough to not offend. To be honest, the illusion of sincerity could have been easily compromised with any misinterpreted voice direction so it may well be a blessing.
All That Remains
Alicia: I’m relatively new to the visual novel genre, only getting into it in the last year or two. Yet I thoroughly enjoy the novelty of being told a story with so much depth within a game. It still feels like such a treat. Evan’s Remains provides a real change of pace. A story not quite on the beaten track. The puzzles are presented in a unique style that combines to make an experience that lingers in your mind long after you finish playing. If you’ve never played a game from this genre before, Evan’s Remains is a great place to start.
Mike: With such a satisfying conclusion, my genuine emotional investment into Evan’s Remains completely paid off. Characters are flawed, complex and natural, even allowing the elements of science fiction to spice up the setting. The majority of puzzles were perhaps a little too easy. However, the gradual introduction of additional mechanics presented a difficulty curve of sorts and ultimately added to the superb narrative. If you’re a fan of thrillers, Evan’s Remains is unmissable.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Evan’s Remains from the Microsoft Store or on Steam via the following link:
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.