Eternal Threads Review: Timey Wimey Nonsense
You’d think time travel would make it easy to fix historical issues, but that’s not the case in Eternal Threads. As a time operative, you’re sent back from the distant future to a random house in 2015 where a bunch of young adults were living together despite the house being in pretty rough shape. I say were because they’re all dead, killed in a house fire. Definitely sad, but not on the scale of tragedies a time traveler would usually decide needs historical correction.
Apparently, though, their deaths are a result of having messed around in the timestream, and leaving them dead will have catastrophic consequences in the future, so you have to save them. Seems easy enough; just stop the fire, but that won’t work. Apparently, not only do they have to live, but the fire has to happen too for the future to go right.
A True Influencer
Without being able to directly interact with the residents of this house, apparently because of the rules of how time travel works, you’re only able to subtly influence a series of key choices throughout Eternal Threads. That’s where the actual gameplay of this title begins. You’ll wander your house, using a futuristic device that looks a lot like a Pip-Boy to find up to 196 scenes that are important to one or more of these characters. You’ll watch them interact and, at times, have an option to influence a decision. While these decisions don’t often seem to have a lot to do with surviving a fire, in combination, they can help your residents survive.
Outside of you actively moving around the house, Eternal Threads has a lot in common with FMV games. You can influence choices but can’t actively interact with the residents. You’re free to move around, and walk up to them, but they won’t react. This will just allow you to see the scene better. There are plenty of scenes that are just for character building or even humor, while others will give you information to help you make the right decisions. There are also areas of the house which are initially locked but which can be opened with keys whose location is found through various scenes.
Keep The Cast Alive
You can view these scenes in any order you like, though some of them are dependent on other scenes, so you must go in and make different choices to open them up. Start at the end, or the beginning. Jump around or sort scenes by character if you’re trying to work on a specific person. There are many options, though the story, to me, at least, made the most sense when viewed from start to finish.
It was good that I mostly liked the cast, considering I spent the entirety of Eternal Threads trying to save their lives. Tom is the owner of the house and everyone’s landlord who is going through issues with his ill mother, who has been moved to a care home. Ben is a doctor living with his girlfriend, Jenny. Neil is dealing with anger management problems, while Linda is his married sister who has moved in while dealing with problems in her relationship. Raquel is an artist and friend of Jenny, still feeling stuck thanks to trauma from her past.
These characters’ stories are often connected, though they each have their own concerns they’re working through. Each individual has some twists to discover, and most don’t go exactly as you would expect though none really shocked me either. I most connected with what Linda was going through while Jenny felt underdeveloped compared to the rest of the cast.
Left Wanting More
My biggest issue with the story is that the two sides of this story feel unconnected. Even after completing the game, I’m not quite sure why this fire happened or even these people living were important. There are some vague allusions to the butterfly effect but nothing that feels narratively satisfying. For large portions of the game, it’s easy to forget entirely that this is even a time travel game. Your character is barely a character. He’s more a cipher through which you see the stories of these characters in 2015. I would have loved to see more of his time and the broader world that had him traveling back to the modern-day.
The endings for the present-day characters aren’t overly satisfying either. It isn’t a spoiler to say you can save all of their lives from the fire, considering that’s the entire conceit of the game, but even after making a set of choices that kept the group alive, I wasn’t quite sure why those choices kept them alive. Beyond just survival, there’s also a goal of getting each character their best possible ending, but that’s very much in the eye of the beholder. Linda’s true ending, in particular, felt far less satisfying and less like a proper resolution to her story than the one I had prior to finding her best path. Obviously, the development team disagreed, but it seemed to fly in the face of what she’d learned.
There are some cool ideas in Eternal Threads and a series of characters that I mostly liked spending time with. The mechanics work well, even If I’d have liked to see a little more puzzle-solving and interaction. When your whole game is built around its narrative, though, it’s an issue when so little of it comes together and leaves you with a satisfying conclusion. I wish I could recommend Eternal Threads as the actual process of playing through it is mostly entertaining enough, but, in the end, I was left wanting so much more.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Secret Mode; Developer: Cosmonaut Studios; Players: 1; Released: May 19th, 2022; ESRB: TBD; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Eternal Threads provided by the publisher.