AER: Memories of Old PS4 Review
The world of AER: Memories of Old is a beautiful one. It boasts simplistic, blocky, low poly environmental and character design that’s still adorned with intrinsically detailed contours and curves. It’s core ideals are similarly alluring, inviting players to take flight and soar through wondrous floating islands in the sky. A craving for exploration is key, as this is a game that refuses to handhold players on their journey. To be confident enough to give players such independence while exploring is brave to be sure, but in turn that enduring penchant for freedom turns out to be one of the game’s greatest weaknesses.
In AER you control Auk, who joins the burgeoning vanguard of mute characters that dare not utter a single word throughout their adventure. Whilst a mute character may not appeal to everyone this decision is core to the ideals of AER. The game wants players to find joy in the simple act of exploration and discovery. With that in mind having a character constantly chatter is not a good fit. Auk is on a pilgrimage; one that may or may not have religious undertones. In truth, her exact story is confusingly vague, and constantly deals with layers of ethereal themes rather than spinning a defined narrative. You are existing in a living, breathing world in AER, but finding concrete story elements is strangely archeological. Ultimately, this makes Auk a beacon of light tasked with protecting the world from darkness – a tale that has been told countless times with a better character arc layered atop.
Auk’s most important talent is her ability to transform into a bird whenever the notion takes hold. Seamlessly morphing from walking to flying is an amazing trick that never gets old. Any time you want to fly – and you’re in an open area – a quick double tap of jump sees Auk take flight, the music swells, and you are gliding through the air. I was reminded of Bound as I flew – a title that ties platforming gameplay to the majestic movements seen in interpretive dance and rhythmic gymnastics. In Bound simply moving throughout the world was a joy; and the same is true for AER. Landing initially feels somewhat hazardous. For a game that makes flying so majestic I was constantly coming back to earth with a thud. Soon I realised you have to lead the landing a bit, and it was not long until I was executing in a more dignified style befitting the rest of the game. It’s a great freeing feeling to have an instant capability to reach the top of almost any object you see, and flying there is always a joyous experience.
AER’s main failings come from constantly getting confused and lost. Both of these are a necessary byproduct for a game that wants players to discover and explore but the scales were tipped in the wrong direction for most of my playtime. I am not sure how to solve this either, as putting an icon on the map to follow is ruinous to engaging players in the act of exploration. The scale of AER’s open world very much reminded me of how Breath of The Wild offered players great freedom earlier this year. Like AER that game never told players what to do, but was more capable at signposting and suggesting ideas, or simply hinting at interesting visual landmarks. Even though much of AER is beautiful to look at getting to the parts needed to advance the story always felt like a hassle. AER also lacks combat. This is not initially a failing, as not every game needs forms of violence to entertain, but the lack of enemies placed in the world means even fewer ways for the developer to indirectly suggest interesting places to visit. AER made the armchair developer side of me come out in force. I constantly wondered “how could this be done better,” but could come to no reasonable conclusion.
The other downside comes from constant detours to temples that contain basic platforming puzzles. Temples are also areas in which Auk cannot fly. Your main task when in flight is to find said temples, but your reward for finding one is the limited removal of the single greatest part of the whole game. Whilst it is necessary to offer different styles of gameplay to stop a game becoming monotonous; replacing it with something notably worse is a rather large hindrance to enjoyment. Every time I’d complete a temple I’d rushed to the exit to fly again, but regretfully the familiar feeling of confusion would rear its head as I struggled to find another one. One final knock against the game is length – which totals little over three hours even when you include constant trips in the wrong direction.
I grew to believe everything about AER may be too vague for its own good. A luminous moose told me to go burn a root. I was not going to argue with such an imposing being, so I carried out his wish. After pleasing the moose, I gained a key, and a two tailed but otherwise featureless fox told me tales of my next destination. To the north east I must go with no other precise details to guide me. You really have to be in the right mindset, and have enough available time and gumption, to fully engage with AER.
AER is at its best whilst flying through the sky with little care in the world for the extra tasks the game demands. The flying is fun, strangely meditative, and feels freeing. Sadly, disappointment comes from AER’s choice to remain hands off in directing players towards its content. Instead of been filled with wonder as I explored, aimless wandering soon took over as I wished for a more authored experience. That feeling of been continually lost quickly began to erode the fledgling feelings of joy I had at the outset of my adventure.