Eternal Threads Accessibility Review — Can I Play That

Ben Bayliss8 minute read

Eternal Threads Accessibility

Deaf / Hard of HearingBlind / Low VisionMobilityCognitive

A captivating story title that can become complicated to follow, but button prompts and narrative notes help make the experience less daunting. Some features such as subtitle customization and remapping would be ideal, but the inability to turn off any flickering imagery that is present in the main menu area is a concern.

Score

5 out of 10
  • Markers are fairly easy to locate
  • Subtitles have thick font and speaker label differences
  • Timeline events detailed with short callbacks and can be replayed
  • Two modes for play with one reducing the narrative branches
  • Lots of flickering, flashing, and strobing imagery
  • Subtitles cannot be customized and are tiny
  • No remapping
  • Numerous characters can be confusing to keep up with
  • Text can be tiny across the game

There’s a house, right? It burned up, the fire spread, and a number of people living within it died. But you’re this time-traveling person that can create alternative paths by manipulating the choices of various members of the house. I guess I’m here to save them, but I’m actually looking into Eternal Threads and what the game offers for accessibility.

Eternal Threads is one of those games that involve a lot of watching, reading, and confusing timey-wimey terminology. I actually found the story to grow somewhat captivating, but there are a lot of things happening. Before we talk about those though, let’s start from the beginning.

Flashing Boot Struggles

During my first boot, Eternal Threads does not have a dedicated menu to allow players to adjust anything ahead of the main menu. However, this wasn’t the issue — not every game will have one, nor do they need one sometimes. Instead, after a seizure warning and some company logos, a block of text appears with a voiceover reading along to it, “Has the game already begun?” I start questioning.

After some world-building, the main menu appears and an animated background continually flickers with very strong chromatic aberration to boot. Then, every time I click through a menu category, the screen flickers some more in what feels incredibly jarring and problematic.

Sure, there’s a warning at the first boot, but to be so in your face from the off where someone may need to leave is a big no. Can I Play That? did reach out and we can confirm that the studio released a patch to “reduce the transition effect between menus and completely eliminate the transition when moving to the Quit option”

An objective marker floats in the corner, a button prompt shown.

Upon installing the patch I tried it again, but the difference is practically minimal, even after running the previous sequence and the new side-by-side in a video editor. Can I Play That? was also informed that “an additional flashing light warning” has been added to the Steam page so players see that in addition to the start-up warning in-game.

We do have an example of the main menu flashing. A warning though, there’s flashing in this Eternal Threads main menu clip. The fact this flickering style is present during the main menu does set up the assumption that there are going to be more flashing lights to come.

And So There Were

Unsurprisingly, there’s heavy motion blurring and some flashing imagery from the opening cutscene which lasts for a fair while. When I’m actually into the gameplay, there’s a sequence where I place some devices that eventually will start flashing in a strobe-like effect for ages.

After that, the game does ease up and lights gently flicker and chromatic aberration artifacts appear intermittently. When I choose an alternative narrative path though, there is a strong full-screen effect that comes into play, although its not entirely jarring.

While it’s clear this is the artistic intention, having no way to turn anything off for a more comfortable experience is concerning. I found myself progressing with a lingering worry that there could be a random scene later on that reintroduces strobing effects. So far I haven’t witnessed any.

A Frayed Narrative and a Timeline

Eternal Threads is very engaging and captivating as a story, it tells the lives of six characters living in a shared accommodation set in the UK. The timeline you’re assigned to is set a week before a deadly house fire and builds up to the said fire by showing you snippets of events that take place within the house.

These events are presented on a timeline screen in a linear way, but you can access them in a non-linear way providing you’ve unlocked access to future events. This is achieved by being given the power to leave the timeline to play out an original choice or change the event through an alternative choice. Choices, as expected, affect the outcome. Confused?

With this many characters on top of a branching storyline where numerous events can be accessed in a non-linear fashion, it can be somewhat complicated to keep track of the happenings. Events are named with short and relevant titles and I’m able to go back and change choices if desired.

In saying that, there is another mode available that reduces the number of narrative possibilities. However, the downside here is that portions of the game become unreachable due to missing out on key story beats that tie to their involvement.

Subtitles Need Customization

Subtitles are initially turned off, which is primarily down to the game desiring as little HUD information as possible. Turning the subtitles on does not include any customization options, but what’s offered isn’t the worse.

There’s a speaker label that is different from the subtitle color, making it stand out. The font is thick which helps for legibility given that the tiny size can’t be increased. While the majority of the game is dark, there’s no background box for those who would rather avoid subtitles blending into world elements.

My main issue with the subtitles, outside of the lack of customization, is that they’re too close to the bottom of the screen, and some lines could be given a line break. There’s also audible dialogue from a robot voice that details the event’s location and who is involved, but this isn’t subtitled. It may not appear to be useful dialogue to provide subtitles for, but the reality is, that it is.

Directionality and the Beepy Device

Eternal Threads is set in a house complete with a basement, ground floor, and upper floor, really, there’s not much chance of getting lost. The most navigation given is a beepy handheld machine that reminds me of the device from Alien: Isolation. This device will show left and right arrows while I physically turn to face the direction of the objective. The device will then show a white dot if it’s on the current floor, or an up or down arrow to indicate the objective is upstairs or downstairs.

Everything being so contained is useful, and there are no time limits to rush from room to room. Additionally, the beepy device projects the scene into the room and only starts should I activate it. Scenes have a little timer on the left of the device that goes down to indicate how long you have left before the scene ends.

Some scenes come with choices and those choices appear on the screen differentiated by both color and a “Current” and “Alternative” label.

Prompts and Controls

The HUD is designed to be practically non-existent the majority of the time, but when it does appear it’s only in the form of button prompts or markers. I saw location icons glimmering for some objectives, while the prompts for interactions appear such as using number keys to make a selection and even pressing F to pick something up.

There are random items scattered around the world that explain bits and pieces of the story, such as letters or text messages. I’m able to pick them up and read them directly from the interactive model, or I press a button to open a panel that provides a more legible way of reading. This is particularly helpful when there are letters with messy handwriting.

The gameplay is mostly walking around, playing the scene, and then watching it. The timeline screen and wandering around act as the most interactive points in between where I can essentially choose the next scene to watch.

There are also moments where the game will pause and display a tutorial, or explanation box. These often describe new features or reiterate useful information that’s relevant to understanding the game.

This means that there are not a lot of controls to deal with, although, the lack of remapping means that players are stuck with the default inputs. Vibrations for the controller exist, although I’ve not tested this out.

Conclusion

The simple gameplay of Eternal Threads and its captivating story do make for a somewhat enjoyable experience. However, the flashing lights from the main menu and onwards are problematic and a huge cause for concern that may turn a lot of players off. The timey-wimey branching story can be enjoyable to explore, but may also become a bit confusing the more time goes on, but thanks to condensed explanations of each event, this can be less daunting.

Remapping, text size increase, and customizable subtitles would have been lovely to have available. Although the lack of blind accessibility means that players will struggle to find their way around, which could have been somewhat achieved with directional audio design from the beepy machine.

A review copy of Eternal Threads was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Ben
BaylissEditor-in-ChiefHe/Him

Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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