The idea that you could alter past events to change the future is a seductive one. The last couple of years has seen a glut of time-loop games – Deathloop, 12 Minutes, The Forgotten Cityto name a few – perhaps unsurprisingly given the global Groundhog Day of the Covid pandemic. The beauty of Eternal Threads then, is that there isn’t one correct sequence of events. Sure, there are moments in each timeline that are near identical, but the game promises multiple solutions to its puzzle.
You play as Agent 43, a time-travelling operative working for the secretive Second Chance Project. Tasked with fixing corrupt timelines in the past, you travel to the North-West of England is 2015, where six people died in a house fire. Your goal is to alter events in their timeline so that all six of them survive. Simply putting out the fire is off the cards (because that messes Time up even further, apparently). Instead, you’ll need to alter the decisions each person makes to unlock alternative events and outcomes.
Still with me? If this all feels a bit too much, I don’t blame you. Opening up the time-map for time can feel quite overwhelming. This screen is basically a huge timeline that plots all current (and possible) events over seven days in the run-up to the fire. Some events are greyed out, but you can unlock these alternatives by changing decisions in the current timeline. You could watch these scenes in any order you like, but I strongly advise going through them chronologically to begin with, so you can get a sense of the story and key decision points.
After selecting an event on the time-map, your scanner device gives you directions to the room where it took place. At first, there’s something haunting about watching these ghosts play out their past lives in the present day. In one of the first rooms I explore, a new housemate is unpacking on the bed. Sat right next to them, in the present, is a bright yellow police evidence sign, obviously marking where someone died. But after 20 or so events (barely a quarter of the way through), traipsing from room to room to observe fairly mundane scenes becomes a bit of a slog. To be fair to Eternal Threads, it does offer an Abridged Mode at the beginning, but naturally I opted for the full experience.
The strongest part of Eternal Threads is the environmental puzzles. Those of us who had the pleasure of renting an old, Northern student house will remember the creepy-as-fuck basements that came with it. These were excellent for a piss-up, of course, but at 3am you were never quite sure if you were talking to a party straggler or the ghost of a Victorian coal merchant.
Either way, my interest is piqued when I discover the cellar door in Eternal Threads. Frustratingly, it’s locked. I search the house up an down but to no avail. I put it to the back of my mind and continue watching events unfold, until I witness a scene where the landlord hands a housemate a spare set of keys. Cut to me, back in the present, dashing to the stash, finding the key, and unlocking the basement, which in turn reveals more alternative events for me to explore. It’s a really thrilling feeling, kind of like an escape room in four dimensions. It’s a shame, then, that these moments are few and far between.
After watching the events through for the first time, it’s an exciting challenge to go back and tweak your decisions to alter the outcome. When you unlock something new, or even save a life, it’s a real buzz. But sometimes it can feel like all you’re doing is switching things on and off on the timeline map just to see what happens. The most rewarding moments are those where you can deduce which changes you need to make to keep a character alive, based on the story. For example, Neil, the gamer boi, has a bit of an anger/drinking problem. You realise that in order to save him, you need to change certain decisions to address these issues. After all, he’s got a better chance of survival if he doesn’t pass out with a kebab on his face while the house is ablaze.
Grim up North
Eternal Threads is a moody game; the house is dark, dingy and eerily quiet. Each room feels perfectly preserved, a window into the lives of its inhabitants. It’s only when you hone in on the smoke-black walls that you feel a sense of destruction. While atmospheric to begin with, the dim lighting can become an issue. Even after messing with the game’s gamma settings, you’ll struggle to strike the right balance.
For a game that’s heavily driven by narrative, it’s a real shame that the dialogue and voice acting is poor. Most of the characters are fairly two-dimensional, spouting hackneyed phrases that hold the story back. On the whole, voice acting is either weak and wooden, or way over the top. To be fair to the actors, the script they’re working with is in need of a redraft. It is refreshing, however, to hear Northern accents in a game, and in particular, the word ‘shag’.
Eternal Threads has a lot of promise in its time altering concept. Sadly, the game is overlong and the story needs a good edit. Watching the full sequence of events through for the first time feels like a slog. It’s only after when you start changing key decisions that it becomes interesting. When you eventually start cracking the case, it feels really satisfying, but it’ll take you a while to get there.
Once you manage to save all six lives, you can continue altering events to give each character the most optimal outcome. But by then, you’ll struggle to really care enough about the characters beyond completing the main mission.
It’s a worthy attempt at a complicated mechanic, but ultimately, Eternal Threads just needs a little more time.