Zachtronics has just released their latest game – Eliza. It has been a year since Exapunks was released so I consider us due another indie game. Zachtronics is a small game studio started by Zach Barth. Earlier in the year I reviewed his book Zach-like which contains sketches of many of his ideas. If you are interested in a copy go to his Twitter page because he has started a re-print scheme.
Eliza: A very different game
Eliza is a very different game from any of Zachtronics previous releases. First and foremost it is a visual novel. As such there is much less interactivity than you might expect. The upside is the story, which is gripping to say the least.
Eliza is an in-game app that performs psychological counseling. You play as Evelyn, a woman who works at Skandha which developed the app. Through the app you listen to the clients who are in need of counseling and you respond whenever the app says so.
In fact, the app makes all the decisions, you just act as a proxy. This may seem weird, and it is. You may be thinking that Eliza requires you to tailor your responses to the situation. This is not the case, as player of this visual novel you taken for a ride.
The story is nonetheless captivating, even if it means a lot of clicking through dialogue. For the player it quickly becomes clear there is something off about Evelyn. She has just started working for Skandha but there are plenty of references she worked there years before. She may have even developed the first version of Eliza.
For the last three years she has had little to with her friends and removed herself almost entirely from social media. Until recently that is. Her inbox, which is also your inbox, contains references to a job at a bookstore which Evelyn also quit abruptly.
If this mystery does not make you click through the story I do not know what will. Yet Eliza is much more. The sardonic humor from previous Zachtronics games also returns. The player gets a front row seat to the absurd world of start-up companies. You interact with manic-depressive, hyperactive underperformers, overbearing male bosses and outright bullies.
Eliza sports beautiful environments which are hand painted. The visual style is reminiscent of Exapunks from last year. The game also has impressive ambient score that does much to add mood to the game. Despite it being a visual novel there are some min-games such as solitaire you can play. A nod to previous Zachtronics games.
I have not completed Eliza yet, but I am certainly hooked to continue to the ending. Despite a completely different gameplay mechanism Eliza reminds me of Firewatch from Campo Santo. If you think that is something you might like than do pick-up Eliza. The game is currently on sale for $ 14.99 on Steam.