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A screen grab from Empathy.

Game review – Empathy: Path of Whispers is a walking simulator that soon becomes pedestrian

An impressively rendered world and a promising enigmatic start is let down by one-dimensional puzzles, repetitious gameplay and wooden acting

Video gaming

Empathy: Path of Whispers

Pixel Night

3/5 stars

Most people can’t stand so-called walking simulators and it’s hard to blame them.

Video games have the capacity to move beyond the simple pleasures of books and films, to involve and engage and allow the player to influence the story. Most walking simulators do exactly what they say on the tin: make you walk through an often poorly conceived story, with no sense of effect.

There are notable exceptions, of course – What Remains of Edith Finch and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture – and the genre seems to be making some progress. Empathy: Path of Whispers (available for PC) is the latest attempt, following its forbearers’ use of the strange and surreal to create a mysterious world filled with haunting environments.

It’s great at the outset, the enigmatic narrative slowly revealed by seeking out diary entries and other clues along the way. None of the story is fully explained and that’s almost a good thing, the pay-off often a disappointment compared to the overall set-up.

The general sense of intrigue is also heightened by the impressive world, a retro-modern landscape with a meticulous sense of design, using everything from cinematic angles to bits of dirt on the floor.
A screen grab from Empathy.
The sound effects are impressive as well, a disembodied voice guides you through much of the process, even if the acting can be wooden at times.

Empathy promises fairly great things, until the gameplay kicks in. Atmospheric worlds are all well and good, and they’re a dime-a-dozen when it comes to walking simulators. There has to be at least a little bit of interaction to back it all up, but the puzzles here are sadly one-dimensional. They start out well, and involve matching up the many wavelengths you come across. But then you have to do it again. And again. So much so,that what starts out quite interesting eventually becomes boring.

It’s sad that they couldn’t think of something better to keep the interaction alive. Games should be first and foremost about the way you play, but developers desperate to tell their tales are clouding the marketplace with overly moody releases.

Empathy is better than most, and at least attempts to round out its striking design with a bit of contact, but doesn’t quite cut it.