Ghost on the Shore Review
It’s that timeless coming-of-age story: A young woman sets out to find herself, single-handedly sails a small boat into some rocky weather, ends up on a picturesque island, then gets haunted by a ghost who talks to her in her head. As far as gap year adventures go, Ghost on the Shore is a little different to standard backpacker fare. There’s nary a full moon party or bucket of booze in sight. But where walking simulators are concerned, Belgian developer like Charlie takes cues from a well-worn route and gives them a light sprinkle of the supernatural, like wandering around Koh Pha-ngan after a few too many magic pizzas.
Our plucky protagonist is Riley, a woman tied down by some serious emotional weight. The reason for her arrival at the island will be made clear over the course of the three-hour story. In the meantime, you’ll have to contend with lively conversation from Josh, a chipper Irishman who sets up a stall in her mind and proceeds to have a lively back and forth. Josh, as it turns out, doesn’t remember much about his past, or why he died. The Rogue Islands — the colourful setting for the game — used to be populated, as the abandoned buildings and towers can attest. However, as clues from the 1800s lead into the 1900s, it’s clear that there are several significant mysteries spanning two centuries left behind for Riley to piece together.
How does she do that? Mainly by walking. This is a game with little interaction other than picking branching dialogue options in response to Josh’s questions and comments. Occasionally, you’ll have to find a key or other object to unlock something nearby, but these tasks are unlikely to cause you any problems. This is a narrative-first game; you won’t plummet to your death from the pretty cliffs, and the linearity is such that the paths make it hard for you to get lost, even when you try to. Information is transferred to the player by clicking on hotspots to learn about elements of the island’s history. Whether you find a recipe in a rusting tin, a photograph of an unknown boy or a cassette recording of a woman who stayed behind when the last ferry left the island over a decade earlier, each item is painstakingly recorded and sketched in Riley’s notebook. Other hotspots let you make drawings of the surroundings, imagining how the Rogues used to look or pondering questions about the long-dead inhabitants.
If walking and talking for 95% of a game isn’t your bag, then you’ll likely lose patience. The genre has always been a divisive one, but also one that relies on a strong plot and voice acting. Ghost on the Shore has both of these, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The performance in particular is harrowing at times as both frame rate drops and pop-in threaten to ruin the visuals. The music is fabulous though, especially during the end credits, and I did notice an interesting lilt in Riley’s voice which I figured was accidental but which proved deliberate. That was a nice touch.
Towards the latter third of the game there are multiple flashbacks which serve to ramp up the revelations of Josh’s story. The game does a cracking job of making you question what is true or not, right up to the finale. Speaking of which, there are four different endings, should you decide to revisit the three-hour game again. Personally, I didn’t see the need as the ending I reached was satisfactory enough, but the option is there for completists and depends on the dialogue choices you make with Josh. It isn’t clear how they affect the ending, however, so in that respect you may or may not deem the time investment worthwhile.
For fans of games like Dear Esther or Gone Home (or my personal favourite: What Remains of Edith Finch), Ghost on the Shore will tick most of your boxes. But despite best efforts from a stellar cast and some great writing, the title is unlikely to convert people who don’t get along with the genre.
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