Ghost on the Shore Review: An Emotional Journey that Transcends Death
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in gaming, one that I think has been largely overlooked: The development of games that broach the subject of death and dying. It’s an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people, and Americans in particular. When it comes to death and dying, our culture is one of denial and silence; like politics and religion, it’s considered impolite to talk about. Which is strange, when you consider how very natural death is. Having gone through the trauma of losing several loved ones in a relatively short period of time, games that tackle the very subject of death and dying are surprisingly therapeutic. So I was quite excited to give Ghost on the Shore from Like Charlie a try.
A Look into What Remains After We’re Gone
Ghost on the Shore puts players in the role of Riley, a woman out exploring the sea in her boat only to find herself stranded on an island dotted with the remnants of a once-thriving community. You’re not alone, however: accompanied by the disembodied voice of the ghost Josh, you’ll set off across the series of small islands, exploring the abandoned homes of the people who used to call the islands their home. Along the way, if you can piece the clues together, you may just find out what happened on these forlorn islands so many years ago.
Because the game is on the short side, I don’t want to give away too much of the story. The story is largely told in two ways: your conversations with Josh, who begins regaining some of his memories of the island the more you explore, and by examining the bits of bobbles of the islanders’ lives. It’s oddly compelling and addicting, and I found myself probing quite literally every nook and cranny in every abandoned house, shed, and church. The surprisingly intimate, beautifully brief glimpses into both the mundane and the deeply personal were reflective of the very lives they represented: no matter how humdrum or remarkable, all lives are just a flicker against the backdrop of time.
Not Your Typical Ghost Story
Ghost on the Shore is essentially a walking sim with a generous helping of dialogue. The game is seen through Rory’s eyes in first-person, which helps you immerse yourself in the game’s environment quite nicely. Exploration is key, obviously, as you’ll need to examine the vestiges of the lives that came before. You’ll discover letters to friends and loved ones, photographs, drawings, knick-knacks, recordings, and more on your journey from island to island. As you find these little mementos, Riley will fill out her journal by sketching in what she sees and writing small notes around the drawings.
In addition to filling out the journal, Josh will begin to remember more and more, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask him questions as you trek across the island. He’ll also ask you some questions about yourself, leading to branching narratives and multiple endings. You’ll also reveal the history of the island by triggering short scenes: once you reach a certain point on the island, you’ll notice glowing footprints on the ground, and as you follow them, the rest of the island goes dark, and the ghostly images of the previous inhabitants will appear for a short scene.
Haunting in More Ways Than One
Aesthetically, Ghost on the Shore has a lot going for it. While the environments are perhaps a tad on the simple side, it works well. The colors pop, and there are a lot of tiny touches that really bring the island to life: bugs buzzing about above small ponds here and there, the sound of the breeze sighing through the trees, and the crunch of the earth beneath your shoes all help to immerse yourself in the island’s scenery. There is little soundtrack to be found, save for when you watch one of the ghostly scenes mentioned above. Instead, it’s the sounds of nature that will provide most of your listening experience, and I strongly recommend headphones to take full advantage of it. And the drawings in Riley’s journal are absolutely gorgeous, the sketches looking beautifully hand-drawn.
It’s hard to find fault with Ghost on the Shore. If I had to nitpick, maybe the models of the ghosts were a little too basic at times, and maybe the game was just a little too linear. But then again, it is mostly a narrated walking sim, so it’d be hard to find a reason to return to previously explored areas.
An Uncomfortable Topic Beautifully Explored
Ghost on the Shore is a short, beautiful experience. Accompanied by nothing more than the voice of Josh in your head, you’ll travel across three islands, piecing together what happened along the way. Every answer you give to Josh’s questions will affect your relationship with him, ultimately affecting the outcome of the whole game. I found myself surprisingly emotional more than once during my experience. Ghost on the Shore is more than just a ghost story; it’s a look into what remains of us after death, both real and metaphysical.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC; Publisher: Application Systems Heidelberg; Developer: Like Charlie; Players: 1; Released: February 22nd, 2022; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy of Ghost on the Shore to Hey Poor Player.