ZED launched for the PC on 4 June 2019. It was developed by Eagre Games and published by Cyan Ventures. It is a first person, mystery storytelling game.
AIR Entertainment obtained a digital copy of the game for review purposes.
Here is the trailer for the game:
ZED is the story of an artist, who is suffering from dementia while maintaining a lot of regrets in his frail mind. The story was co-written by Joe Fielder (Bioshock Infinite, The Flame and the Flood) and David Chen (Metal Gear Solid series, Narcosis), just to give you an idea of the team that put this beautiful story together.
As the game starts, there are hints to the story, which you need to unlock more of as you play through the game.
The trail of the story is narrated by two characters, while being the same character. It the the Ego and the Id of the artist’s mind, the thin thread that holds what is left of the artist’s sanity together. Freudians will love this game, as it delves deep into the psyche of the artist, exploring various aspects of his mind, the parts of his past that he both loved and regretted.
The entire game is an experience through the aging artist’s mind, while at the end there is a special gift to his granddaughter; a legacy of sorts. The game has a very personal touch. Which is not surprising, considering that the developer and owner of Eagre Games based it on someone close to him.
“This game is very personal to me,” said Chuck Carter, founder of Eagre Games in a ZED press release on 26 February 2019. “I had a dear friend and mentor pass a few years back. He suffered from dementia in those final years and my visits to him became the inspiration for ZED. This is not his story, but a broader cautionary tale of not waiting till the end to examine your life.”
That quote alone is enough to send chills down my spine. Knowing that, playing the game became one very touching, emotional roller coaster ride, and is a very fitting memorial to someone Carter clearly cared about.
I want to start this section with a disclaimer of sorts. Before I started playing ZED, I made an assumption that it would very much be like the Cyan Myst games. I would say this was a fair assumption, since the publisher is Cyan Ventures and Chuck Carter, the developer, is said to have been involved with the first Myst game in every ZED press release I have read.
Having read some other online reviews, it has become clear that many made this assumption. And while the graphics and mechanics plays out very much like the Myst and Obduction games, the gameplay differs in terms of the difficulty and type of puzzles needed to traverse through the storyline.
I cannot overstate that ZED is first and foremost an artistic storytelling game. The puzzles are the same within each level. You walk through small areas which form the many aspects of the artist’s mind, find items laying around, find a graphical image as a clue to the final puzzle in that area, solve the puzzle and you are through.
And that’s pretty much it. I’m not even simplifying it. That’s all you need to do. And it takes roughly 2 hours to casually complete the game. Now, I know I may have made it sound very boring to some, but my intention is to caution you to not expect multiple layers of puzzles. If you want a game that challenges every aspect of your high IQ, ZED is not going to do that for you. Instead, the game focuses on the story, telling you about the aging artist with his dementia.
Which does not make it a bad game at all. It was a refreshing change, being used to mowing down soldiers map after map (Black Ops4), or reaping my way through demons (Diablo 3), or running through a fantasy world battling dragons and eating strange plants (Elder Scrolls Online). The gameplay is very easy and simple. Travel through the artist’s mind and uncover the regret, the love, the pain and the joy of his life almost forgotten.
I would have loved a more challenging game, but I cannot deny that I did enjoy the simplistic gameplay mechanics. There will be many who might be disappointed and probably expect more, but if one accepts the game for what it is, a storytelling game dear to the developer’s heart, then it can easily be forgiven.
The graphics are utterly fantastic and immaculate. The game could easily fit into the Myst universe based on the graphics alone. The details, the lighting, the atmosphere. Everything is wonderful and perfect. It’s hard to fault anything, and I can only imagine how superb the VR versions must be.
And it’s a good thing that the graphics are so superb. Most of the game is spent walking through multiple layers of the artist’s mind. Each area is such a pleasure to walk through, bringing to your eyes the visionary tale of a man who is entangled in the landscapes of his own memories. I was half expecting to find a copy of one of the Myst games or books in a hidden location or bookshelf, just like in Obduction, but my detective eyes could find none unfortunately.
The sound and music scores are just as wonderful. Most of it is peaceful and soothing, creating the perfect atmosphere for the areas you walk through. No sound is out of place.
Of course, it helps that Stephen Russell did some of the voice acting for the game. For those who don’t know, Russell did some of the main voice acting for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and all of the Fallout games. When I heard him speaking, all I could think was “Omg, it’s Jarl Balgruuf from Whiterun!!!” It’s very hard to miss that voice, especially for us die-hard Elder Scrolls fans. Yeah, he can do audiobooks for my epic fantasy novels any time!
ZED brings to visual life the tale of an artist lost to his dementia, while trying to recover some of his fondest memories and painful regrets, as a means to leave a legacy behind. Inspired by someone in real life, it is a riveting, emotional story that will leave chills down your spine. While the gameplay may not be all that challenging and might leave many hardcore gamers disappointed, the main focus is the story, which is only complimented by the outstanding graphics and eery, captivating audio themes. ZED is a game that is good for the soul, and reminds us not to take life for granted.
ZED receives 9.5/10 for an overall score.
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