The Gallery – Ep. 2 : Heart of the Emberstone Review

‘The Gallery – Ep. 2 : Heart of the Emberstone’ is a well-written puzzle-platformer that is hard to put down. The game is filled with action, great puzzles, and powerful storytelling that will draw you in. This sequel to the original ‘The Gallery’ stands on its own as a unique experience, especially compared to the original.

Now that the team has a new member, it’s time for them to tackle the giant puzzle before them. All ten of them. It’s a giant one. But how long can a puzzle be? How many puzzles can they solve? And how many of them will they solve?

The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone (2017) follows Call of the Starseed (2016), the first episode in the narrative-based adventure puzzle game series, by a year and a half. The second episode, as a follow-up to one of the first room-scale games, delves further into the ’80s fiction-inspired world and fleshes out what turns out to be a narrative as rich as the cinematic direction hinted in the first. The second episode, far from being a one-hit wonder, vastly improves on the first in virtually every aspect.


Taking up where Call of the Starseed left off, you find yourself on the other side of the cosmos, looking for your adventurous sister Elsie as you follow in her footsteps into an alien planet. To see your sister again, you must “fetch your grip,” a strong upgrade to your telekenetically-powered gauntlet, at the request of a hunchbacked ruler. You travel further into the abandoned world as both actor and spectator of a long-ago tale, with the capacity to move heavy items imbibed with a mystical power ore.

Without giving too much away about the plot, most of the action occurs via holographic memories displayed in front of you, as well as discovered recordings and diary entries. Except for strange tiny weevil-things that appear to survive on the sandy planet, the world you’ve arrived on is basically lifeless. You’ll have to figure out how it got that way for yourself. I will say, however, that the story provides important commentary on the opposing forces of nature and man, and leaves a lot to think about as you delve deeper into the bizarre power differential that results from a monarchy that is in charge of an entire world’s resources while also being endowed with superhuman abilities to keep the peace.


You’ll go some back-and-forth to acquire missing pieces, so although the world isn’t huge, it also means there’s no wasted space. I first hoped for more free exploration, but I was left with a scenario in which a new puzzle and a new narrative breadcrumb were constantly within reach to keep me engaged. This also prevented it from seeming too linear, which is what I like to refer to as “IKEA adventures.”

Aside from a single problem that’s just a more difficult version of Simon (repeat a series of color-coded tones), the puzzles in Heart of the Emberstone left me feeling like I’d never done anything like them before.

Most doors and quest items are accessible by directing your gauntlet’s stone through a transparent tube with moving obstacles, which resets everything if you misguide it and contact the barrier or the tube’s edges. These vary in difficulty from the most basic (a straight tube with no obstacles for frequently used places like elevators) to the most challenging as you go.

You also have your gauntlet, a stronger ‘grasp,’ and an energy slingshot to assist you blast down ore boxes that open rooms. These boxes may be fitted into position and utilized as moving components in puzzles that are bigger than a room.

The gear puzzles, in which you must slot in the correct gears within a specific period of time in order to utilize a door-opening lever, were one of my favorites. Because the little gears have different-shaped axle inserts, you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you can fit them all in before the timer runs out, or you’ll have to start again.


Despite the fact that none of these problem types is very tough, the sensation you experience when you complete them is complementary. The creators could have simply had you click a basic button to unlock a door, or distributed keys around the game and forced you to go on an unending search for them, but the door riddles not only make you feel accomplished, but they also make you feel stylish.

I’m sure you’ve been looking for it, so here it is. It took me 3.5 hours to finish Heart of the Emberstone. I went ahead and bolded it. This free time was spent reading any book I could find, scribbling on scraps of paper, and listening to Elsie’s cassette recordings. While I’m not sure how the game’s developers claim 6 hours of gameplay, Episode 2 does not include any pointless trinkets that would otherwise stretch the game’s duration. Almost everything you discover adds to the story’s history, giving you various perspectives on what’s going on.


I was eager to play again when the final credits rolled. Heart of the Emberstone has a lot to unpack, a lot more to digest than a single reading would allow. Despite the fact that I understood what was going on and never felt perplexed by the events that unfolded in front of me as an observer, I’d rank the level of storytelling on par with some of the best TV dramas, such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones—shows you go back to rewatch even if you know what’s going to happen (albeit in a reduced form).

It’s not often that great voice acting, good art design, and a completely realized universe with a compelling narrative all come together in one package, so forgive me if I let out a well-deserved “wow.”


When comparing the sequel to the first in the series, Heart of the Emberstone seems like a lot more comprehensive experience. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s more than three times as long as the first episode, with about the same density of riddles and essential story components.

Whereas Call of the Starseed felt gimmicky at times and reminded you that you were in a game rather than a real adventure every now and then, Heart of the Emberstone throws you into an entirely new alien environment where expectations are less primed by real-world interactions but where your actions have a greater overall impact. Once you’ve figured out how to utilize your gauntlet, you’ll be bombarded with riddles and powers at regular intervals, never leaving you guessing what to do next. This isn’t to say that you’re being led by the hand; the game only teaches you how to accomplish anything once, rather than pestering you with the tired (and simply overdone) ‘helpful robot’ cliché.

Immersion is harmed by poor narrative. Poor storylines and voice acting make you feel as if you’re in a false world with fake characters, which is why I usually mention it in both the gameplay and immersion parts of evaluations. Apart from being a visual delight, the environment seems alive, despite the fact that everything appears to be as dry as a dead dingo’s donger. The narrative displays an emotional spectrum that doesn’t reeks of the low-rent melodrama of more inferior games, further grounding you in the reality. The effervescent brightness that Elsie constantly appears to bring to every situation is punctuated with heart-wrenching moments of betrayal.


Of course, there are times when the developers offer you a little wink wink, nudge nudge, as if to say, “We’ve neatly placed this narrative piece here to move things along, but we know you know that.” However, this is only done a few of times during the game and isn’t really a main point.

Object interaction has greatly improved in terms of nuts and bolts, demonstrating how hard Cloudhead has worked to build things that provide strong haptic input and function equally well in both left and right hands. The holographic logs strewn throughout the game provided a far more realistic experience than the notepads or books in Starseed, which simply provided a few ‘snap-to’ hand positions. Menus, maps, and logs take the place of your hands, obviating the need for hand postures completely.

The hand models were a small aesthetic flaw for me, since they seemed excessively spindly. The location of my hands in relation to the controller was also incorrect, stretching farther than they should have. Hand models, like their predecessors, don’t make full use of the Oculus Touch’s capacitive buttons, depriving you of some of the controller’s more lifelike flexibility. This is obviously not a problem on Vive, which is why it is just mentioned briefly.

The loading windows are fast and inconspicuous, but they get frequent as you go across the global map—a obvious, but inevitable pain point.


Blink teleportation was one of the features that made its way from Call of the Starseed to Heart of the Emberstone. One item that has altered is the addition of smooth movement (bolded for skimmers), which should make teleportation skeptics scream with delight. This does not, however, offer smooth yaw stick turning, so you’ll have to make do with snap-turn only—a.k.a. “comfort mode.”

Controller-oriented stick-move, head-oriented stick-move, strafing options, and varied movement rates are all available for smooth mobility. The standard blink teleportation provides for a very pleasant experience for anybody, from beginner to experienced VR user, since they are non-default settings that must be toggled by the user.

One of my few reservations with Heart of the Emberstone is the absence of a sitting mode, which would be useful while completing the game from beginning to end.


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