The element I’ve always loved most about video games is their ability to tell amazing stories. Walking simulators are therefore titles I enjoy, although they’re not to everybody’s taste; sometimes I just want to be swept up in a narrative and follow the characters on their journey.
Marie’s Room was an entry in the genre which caught my attention a couple of years ago. It may have been free on Steam but there was an awful lot of quality evident in it, and the highly-polished visuals, great voice-acting and lovely soundtrack gave the impression I was playing something created by a team much larger than two people. When I heard that the duo had formed a studio called like Charlie and Application Systems Heidelberg got in touch last month with a kind off of a key for the demo of their next title, I jumped at the chance to try it out.
In Ghost on the Shore, players step into the shoes of a young woman named Riley. She heads out in her sailboat seeking adventure and finds herself stranded on a desolate island after a storm, but she’s not entirely alone: somehow, a headstrong ghost named Josh finds his way into her head. You’ll get to know him as you explore the crumbling ruins of the homes of the people who used to live here and, as you put it all together, you’ll discover how the island’s history led to Josh’s death.
The demo seems to jump forward to a point where Riley has come to accept Josh’s presence rather than start at the beginning of the title. A good preview is one that doesn’t outstay its welcome or give too much away immediately and so it feels as though this was a good decision by the developer; players can get a real feel for what Ghost on the Shore is going to be like within half-an-hour without having to spend that time watching the relationship gradually grow between the two characters.
This isn’t to say I’m not intrigued by Riley and Josh however. Similar to Marie’s Room where I was left very impressed by the voiceovers, the same is true here and the actors do a wonderful job of showing a camaraderie between the protagonists. They’re both lost in their own way and rely on each other for support but at the same time, there’s still that small underlying suspicion about this person they don’t yet fully know. It’s hard to imagine what their meeting is going to be like but I’m looking forward to seeing it for myself when the game is released.
Although the island in the demo felt open and I was able to wander among the trees and overgrown grass, subtle highlighting guides the player down a linear path and so I never felt unsure of where I was meant to go. The journey took me on a walk through silver birches, abandoned houses and sandy beaches, with Josh telling me the things he remembered about these places and the people he used to know. In one building we found drawing of boats stuck to the wall and my companion told more about its inhabitant.
I didn’t always have to agree with what he said though. At certain points I was given the opportunity to respond and could make a choice from several dialogue options. Although I kept it amiable during my demo, it seems as though you can form a different sort of relationship with Josh and choose to alienate him if you wish. The Steam page advises that Ghost on the Shore provides both emotional choices with consequences and a branching narrative with multiple endings so maybe it won’t necessarily have a happy conclusion.
This is backed up by a scene at a derelict school I came across about a third of the way into the preview. After seeing its name on a plaque outside, Riley remarks how she doesn’t like it; and a drawing appears in her journal with a note about how she feels a bone-chilling shiver at the sight of it. After heading further in and finding the key for a locked filing cabinet, I uncovered a 1820 newspaper article about the Crown family and how they were here to ‘dig for gold at the expense of the fine folk who inhabit these islands’.
It’s through items like this that the history of the land we’re in is told, with drawings, books and other documents scattered around the buildings and each revealing little secrets. Many of these mentioned will-o’-wisps. As explained in a short story written by a very young child, travellers could be led by these fairy lights ‘right off a cliff, or they can follow them into quicksand, or they can follow them and be eaten by a bear.’ Could there be something supernatural going on here more than Josh?
The answer to this is clearly yes. While exploring the decaying stone houses opposite the beach, I suddenly heard a child’s laugh and felt the hairs on the back of my neck begin to stand up. Illuminated footprints started to appear on the path ahead before everything immediately around me turned dark, and then I witnessed a scene between a mother and child ghost. The demo ended with Riley seeming to black out and Josh asking her ‘What the hell just happened?’
I wishlisted the game on Steam immediately afterwards. I want to discover the history of these spirits, why Josh has made his home in Riley’s head, the mysterious reason for his death and whether she makes it off the island. Walking simulators only work for me personally if I can find some way to connect to their characters and like Charlie seem to be working on a gorgeous project which is going to achieve this. Any protagonist who says the line ‘Let’s investigate the shit out of this’ is going to be one I can relate to.
Ghost on the Shore is due to be released this year so hopefully we won’t have to wait too much longer! In the meantime, give the developer a follow on Twitter or check out the official website to find out more.