Essays on Empathy is not a cohesive game, but a series of games created by Deconstructeam. Other notable titles from the developer include Gods Will Watch and The Red String Club, as well as some of the games included in Essays on Empathytie. Some connections are very small, while others serve as a demonstration of how Deconstructeam is starting to find its storytelling voice and how each game shows its evolution. In addition to the mini-games included in Essays on Empathy, each game comes with a video that gives you an insight into the development process and Deconstructeam’s thoughts on each game.
While none of the games are particularly long, they can handle heavy themes. Deconstructeam makes sure to use trigger warnings before dealing with any sensitively themed games, which is a nice change of pace considering the backlash against using trigger warnings in video games. From a story standpoint, each game exists in its own bubble, and some are definitely easier to play than others. Difficulty stems not from game mechanics, but from the themes encountered in each game. Yet each game is poignant enough that it sticks with players long after they’ve finished it.
Game mechanics vary from minigame to minigame. The first game in Essays on Empathy, titled “The Hangover Underground,” is a Metroidvania-esque game in which players must help a group of miners get home after they’ve been forgotten on a planet they’re digging. Instead of using traditional tools, players will have to use some interesting tools at their own expense to help miners get home. The main controls are keyboard commands, no big deal, but the mines are spread out widely, giving players plenty of opportunity to find the ore they need to get out of. The Underground Hangover actually takes place in the same universe as Gods Will Be Watching, as confirmed by the developer in an accompanying video.
‘Supercontinent Ltd’ is the second game in the Essays on Empathy lineup, and it’s quite captivating. It’s a point-and-click adventure where players take on the role of a hacker trying to learn information about the criminal syndicate Supercontinent Ltd. The player must use a voice modifying device that allows the player character to adopt anyone’s voice and further advance the game with different calls. The more information you learn, the faster the story moves. In “Supercontinent Ltd” attention to background detail is crucial and having pen and paper at hand to write down some phone numbers. The game wasn’t as thought-provoking as others, but it took an unexpected but exciting twist at the end.
“Behind the Greatness” is definitely one of the more difficult games to play. Again, this isn’t a game mechanic that’s easy to navigate (arrow controls and spacebar), but rather the premise of the game. Players take on the role of a wife who handles household chores while her husband is a hot artist. It quickly becomes apparent that the wife can only do so much each day, leading to criticism from her husband and any other characters who come later. It’s an honest, raw look at abusive relationships and the minds of people struggling with depression. While not everyone can handle the “behind every great character” theme, it’s worth playing and experiencing life as the wife knows.
Other titles in Essays on Empathy include “11.45 A Vivid Life,” “Eternal Home Floristry,” and “Zen and the Art of Transhumanism,” just to name a few. “11.45 Vivid Life” is incredibly poignant and puts players in the role of Laynie – a girl who believes her skeleton is not hers. The game allows for different endings based on her discoveries, making it easy to replay. However, while the game isn’t graphical, it does involve mutilation, which isn’t for everyone.
“Eternal Home Floristry” is another great game that lets players step into the life of Gordon, a recently injured killer who lives in the home of old gardener Sebastian. Players will assemble flower arrangements and learn how flowers affect in-game events. Although “Eternal Home Floristry” is short, it’s a sweet story about growth, connection, and love in different forms.
Perhaps the star of the show is “De Tres al Cuarto,” a brand new game from Deconstructeam that follows the efforts of two comedians. Unlike most other games, this one is around 90 minutes long and doesn’t have a save option because it’s meant to be played through in one go. It’s very much a narrative story, but the gameplay is about picking the right cards in stand-up comedy. Players can use the money they earn in the game to buy new cards, upgrade them or discard them.
Every game tells its own story in an immersive world that players can easily understand. There’s no explanatory dialogue or information — players are thrown into the game and have to piece it together themselves. This is a real strength that each game demonstrates, as these brief glimpses into the lives of characters reveal that they live within a larger world. It also allows players to interpret things as they see fit, especially in games like “11.45 A” Vivid Life” and “Eternal Home Floristry”.
Overall, Essays on Empathy is a good look at the lives of the different characters and how they fit into the world around them. It might not be the most advanced graphically or mechanically, but that doesn’t seem to be the goal of the game. Essays on Empathy gives players the chance to put themselves in the shoes of people different from them and understand them better than before. While some players may have difficulty dealing with certain topics each game, the topics discussed are part of a larger conversation worth having.
Essays on Empathy launches for PC on May 18. Game Rant obtained the code for this review.