At least we got one -OTY out by now!
Evan’s Remains is a side-scrolling, jumping puzzle game that throws you into a seemingly uninhabited island in order to solve a bigger mystery at hand. Drawn to the image of a figure holding down their sunhat as they walk along a peaceful shoreline, I was very enthused as to what the actual game entailed. It turns out, there is more to Evan’s Remains than meets the eye, for both better and for worse.
You play as Dysis, a young woman employed by a science and research firm, who is tasked with seeking out the missing Evan Goldstein, a significant figure behind many advanced innovations. Controlling Dysis, you explore the island solving puzzle after puzzle, uncovering the truth behind Evan’s disappearance and your possible role in it.
Evan’s Remains is beautifully rendered, utilizing a pixel art style to convey thoughtful, detailed animation through very simple shapes and color. The movements and subtleties captured in each character’s behavior are meticulously done, like Dysis’ long hair that blows in the wind. The game’s soundtrack is serene and has a strong, relaxing vibe to it. It successfully conveys both the beauty and melancholy of an abandoned island and the lost characters that trek its sands.
Gameplay consists of a series of stages in which you must hop your way across platforms in order to get to the other side and progress on. Platforms disappear once you jump on them, so strategizing around this mechanic quickly becomes important. Puzzles get more and more complex over time, introducing more elements like color-coded switches that may move platforms around or remove them entirely.
An early puzzle for example, has Dysis climbing up a series of rising platforms, but one piece to a staircase-like sequence climbing up is missing. In order to fill in these gaps, you have to go back and forth toggling a switch to ensure every piece necessary for enough jumping momentum appears at once. Sometimes the complexity of these puzzles may mean cycling through the whole thing over and over until you figure out the right combination of steps. Total failure is not possible, and the game does not punish you if you are taking too long to complete a puzzle. There is no timer set to any of the puzzles and they can be reset if you feel like you have gone too far to fix things manually. In addition, none of the puzzles have any dangerous threats to Dysis that can possibly cause her to “die”.
Unfortunately, the game falters in its story and exposition. Much of the plot is unraveled through dialogue cutscenes—and there’s a LOT of them. Although Evan’s Remains has such a tiny cast of characters, I felt like a majority of the game’s running time was dedicated to endless chatter just to advance the plot. Almost every level completion is capped off with dialogue, which is incredibly disruptive to how meditative the rest of the game feels. For example, after Dysis meets a new character for the first time, she attempts to track them down. What ensues is an especially grating sequence of walking and stopping every few increments just for a few new lines of dialogue to be said in a cutscene.
Later on, a huge twist turns the whole story upside down, making things pretty convoluted and somewhat nonsensical, so this makes the game’s particular method of narration especially egregious. In an effort to avoid spoiling a game that has a generally short playing time (a mere 2-3 hours), let’s just say a lot of what you learn gets thrown out the window and is not what you think it is. Because there is so much new information to unpack near the end of the game, Evan’s Remains has to spell it out through a long-winded speech you have to click through, line by line, in case you were confused. It is pretty painful sitting through essays worth of dialogue to explain everything that happened when I would rather be playing the actual game instead.
My qualms about the story’s specific direction aside, there could have been better ways to break up and present the narrative. Considerations could have been made to edit down the script. There are multiple other ways that the story could have been organically implemented into the gameplay itself, but those opportunities were missed. Another remedy to this could have been the ability to adjust the game’s text speed or skip UI animations like what other titles provide, like some visual novels.
This issue brings to light Evan’s Remains’ other weak point, which is accessibility. The ability to adjust the cutscenes can do a service for many without having to click endlessly through textboxes, but having access to changing the controls entirely would also prove to be beneficial. The game’s controls are unfortunately bound dependent on what system you are playing on and there is no way of adjusting them without third-party means. I give the game props, however, for providing the option to skip puzzles if you find yourself in a frustrating place. Players have the right to change difficulty as they see fit for their experience and it is clear Evan’s Remains’ team holds their story in high regard to ensure people properly finish the game—but I just wish it could have been conveyed way better. I was more challenged by the amount of textboxes I had to sit through than the actual puzzles I needed to solve.
Overall, though I may be grimacing about how things developed, the initial intrigue of the game’s premise certainly kept me going to find out more. My objections to Evan’s Remains is not through the story’s exact details, but through how those details are sloppily regurgitated to the player. After having completed the game, I look back and can see how foreboding things were hinted at once you know how it all ends. Evan’s Remains is not trying to make a bold statement about a player’s agency at all, but has an interesting take on how some people’s perspective on morality can be quite skewed from others. There’s a bigger world and cast of characters that Evan’s Remains dips its toes in that could be further elaborated in another form. Though for once, it would be refreshing to finally see a piece of media showing an ideal world where scientists aren’t assholes and their work is being used for a common good. Maybe.
Evan’s Remains presents straightforward gameplay with compelling ideas and pleasing visuals. The game can offer something fulfilling for anyone seeking another puzzle game for their library. Although the story is interesting at heart, many elements to it could have been reworked or reimagined in such a way that is more palatable. Evan’s Remains is otherwise decent for what it is hoping to achieve best, where its biggest strengths lie in its puzzles, not its plot.