Empathy is part of that genre of games that can cruelly be described as “walking simulators” but probably prefer the label “action adventure games”. Much like Firewatch or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter the title prizes exploration and appreciation of an immersive world.
It’s quite a setting that developers Pixel Night have created, too. The player is introduced to a place where humans have vanished, leaving nothing behind but their memories and experiences in the shape of objects imbued with mysterious power. It’s up to the player to explore this world and try to solve this mystery. The world is crumbling all around and it’s only by piecing together these memories that it can be put back together again.
The preview takes place in a park grown on the back of a giant statue of Atlas - the titan who holds up the world in Greek mythology. There’s a tale here of a man shot, his blood spattered against the wall of a makeshift shack. Every interaction with a memory brings about a well-voiced reconstruction of how it got there, and wandering around this empty landscape accompanied by these ghostly voices leaves quite an impression.
It’s not all walking: the game will provide the player with a scanner to help them find the most important and story-driving memories. Despite that, though, there will be a multitude of secondary pieces scattered around each level to help build up the world and its narrative. They’ve been designed in such a way, Pixel Hero tells me, so that people will stumble into them while trying to find main story clues - though there are a few that are out of the way.
The world of Empathy is at once unsettling and beautiful, at once peaceful and worrying. The developers have utilised a diminished colour palette to really emphasise the washed-out feeling of a world missing its inhabitants. I’m promised, though, that every level is distinct from those before it to really map out the player’s journey from murky misunderstanding to full-on dawning realisation.
Empathy is set for release in Q1 2017 on Steam.