The second game from developer like Charlie, Ghost on the Shore, falls into the oft-derided “walking sim” genre. You play as Riley, a young woman shipwrecked on the desolate “Rogue Islands”, who has somehow bonded with a ghost, Josh, who has been dead for so long he remembers little of human interaction or what happened on the now-deserted island. Stuck as a voice in her head, the two set off across the island to find clues about the island’s former inhabitants and Josh’s fate.
Walking sims always have to strike a difficult balance between the scope of their environments and their narrative beats. Creating a large, atmospheric environment can help set the mood and frame the narrative, but it can leave the player wandering aimlessly for long period of time with no engagement. If you focus on the narrative and puzzles in too confined a space, the entire “walking” element feels like a pointless addition and the game might as well have been a pure point-and-click adventure.
Ghost on the Shore offers up stylised and often pretty environments but it’s a visual style common in the genre. More impressive and immersive is the quality of the music and voice work.
Ghost on the Shore strikes a balance by having Riley frequently discuss what she’s seeing and thinking with Riley as they move between places of interest, allowing the player to direct her conversation with Josh (such as digging for more information or empathising with him). It’s a simple but effective addition that allows you soak in the atmosphere without realising your interactions with the world are extremely limited. When you do stumble across a location of interests – typically the ruined homes of former inhabitants – the gameplay sticks close to genre norms.
Riley, based on some quips, fancies herself as an amateur investigator (that or she’s just looking for purpose while stranded) and is always quick to describe what she’s seeing, or tries to piece together journal entries, drawings, and other remnants of the islanders. As someone with a self-proclaimed love of words and drawing, her constant dialogue – either to Josh or herself – is well written and often funny. Her sketching ability is a major part of how the player understands events. Riley will often make sketches of beautiful or key locations, which will be filled out with additional details as you discover more clues.
There’s a lot to observe and read in the environments – with a handy indicator to tell you if you’ve found the pertinent stuff – and Riley will often create sketches of the scene to fill out the blanks.
The last storytelling element is Riley’s mysterious ability to pick up echoes of past events, something that even perturbs her ghostly companion. At certain locations, Riley with experience ghostly flashback that flesh out key characters you may have only identified from journals and sketches before. The more she explores, the more she discovers, and apparently the outcome of Ghost on the Shore (and presumably Riley’s fate) will depend on her dialogue with Josh, and her understanding of the island and his ultimate fate.
When it comes to presentation, Ghost on the Shore is built in Unity and offers stylised visuals but a look that is not uncommon in the genre. The visuals are clearly not the focus, however, as the ambient audio, subtle music, and excellent voice work are what sell the experience and ground you in the world. That said, as a Unity engine game, it remains to be seen how optimised the final build is, as I had wildly varying performance during two runs through the demo.
It takes a while to encounter ghosts other than Josh, but reliving these past events is another important element of understanding the islands past.
Overall, Ghost on the Shore’s demo was sufficiently captivating to have me interested in seeing the story to its conclusion when it releases. The setting is both beautiful and haunting, the banter between Riley and Josh is great way to flesh out both their personalities while exploring, and the paranormal elements are more unsettling than frightening (so far). If you’re after an unconventional, narrative-driven ghost story, keep an eye out for Ghost on the Shore.
You can wish list this game on steam here.
This first look was written by Andrew logue one of our Freelance writers.
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