I learned about this game from a PluggedIn review. (Which, for the unaware, is a conservative media review site run by Focus on the Family.) I saw promise, but I had a few concerns going in:
-Is the game actually good on its own? Because many Christians will support Christian media regardless of quality just for being Christian, some companies capitalize on this by releasing products that are quite shoddy and/or derivative. And even with the best intentions, some Christian media companies just aren't the best at delivering a quality product.
-How "preachy" is it with its Biblical parallels? It's easy to turn off non-Christians (and even some Christians) if the product hits its audience over the head with its message.
-What kind of message does the game preach? Many authors use Biblical tropes, yet completely throw out the Bible's worldview.
-Is the monetization model fair and condusive to both the players and the developers?
I'll be addressing each of these individually, but here's the short answers (in my opinion): Yes, not very, mostly good, and uncertain; respectively.
First off (and possibly what I have the most to say about) is the game itself. The steampunk world in which the game is set is quite lovely. The stylized, slightly simplistic aesthetic will undoubtedly be a big hit with the younger audience, while allowing the game to run smoothly, even with a lot of stuff happening on screen. The music is a nice touch, and though it's not the most memorable on its own, it always fits the tone of the game like a glove.
But the gameplay is where I feel this game truly shines. Remember when I said I was worried about this game being shoddy or derivative? Those, this game ain't. The combat system is fairly simplistic, with a spinner deciding whether your weapon misses, hits, or activates a special. But what really impressed me is how deep it can be. While you start off with just one or two kinds of weapons, you eventually can get up to five (that I know of; there might be some I haven't found, and/or more coming in later updates). Each type has a few different varieties that you can craft and re-craft, and every has its own unique properties to set it apart from the others. Not only that, but the enemies are varied enough to reward players for thinking through their options, instead of just picking one weapon to use in every battle. I only wish you could have more than one weapon per type.
Another thing I really like is the crafting and items system. You can find basic items lying around, or loot them from enemies. But since the game allows you to drag nearly any item onto the world around you, there's just so much to discover, like "How many different things can I put in a tin can?" or "What happens if I put this item in the compressor?" And it's amazing how many items have utility functions in battle, too. Even aside from items designed for combat (like dynamite and gyrostabilizers) you can, for example, use a watering can to extinguish an ablaze ally. There's just so much fun to be had playing around with different items.
Now I'll address the game's story, which is also what my middle two concerns fall under, thought a lot of this stuff might be a little early to say for sure. I've played to the end of the first episode, which is about as far as you can get as of now, and I thought it had a fairly nice story. As far as the Biblical parallels and possible "heavyhandedness" is concerned, most of it so far is regulated to "flavor text", I.E., the Postman's Journal and bonus emails. In my opinion, the game so far seems to have struck a nice balance with the Biblical themes: They're there for people to notice, and to explore further if so desired, but not so obtrusive that the game feels like a sermon in disguise. In spite of that, the stories are quite faithful with their source material. But there is one thing that bothers me...
(Mild spoilers this paragraph.) ...That being the Aether mechanic. After you craft the Aether Meter, you get Aether (described as a living energy) by helping with things like clearing trash and destroying/retooling propaganda machines. It can then be used for various things, like healing in battle, crafting, and using some objects in the world. I can see where they're coming from, and I get that allegories have to take liberties, but the way it's implemented kind of feels like a mystical Karma that you get by "being good" and can use whenever you feel it's convenient. Not enough to throw out the game (IMO) but maybe worth parents discussing with children.
Finally, there's the monetization. I was hesitant when I learned that The Aetherlight uses an episodic system, but I ultimately decided that the price was fair. But as I drew near to the end of the first episode, I developed an entirely new concern, which is the scope of the project. The game launched with the first episode earlier this month. The second episode is scheduled to launch in August. If all episodes take about the same amount of time to create, we're looking at three months per episode, and thus only four episodes per year. At that rate, it might take a fairly long time to get through the Bible the way they plan to. And if not enough people buy into it, I'm worried that the team might run out of resources partway through and be forced to close the story prematurely, resulting in an unsatisfying ending. So if you're interested, I would highly encourage you to give it a try, and to purchase the first one or two episodes if you like it to help them out. But at the end of the day, I believe that if God wants this to continue, he will allow it to happen one way or another.
Whew, that was a mouthful. (Or if I'm typing, does that make it a fingerful?) The Aetherlight definitely has a lot of potential, both to be a great game and to tell the Bible's story to a wide audience. It's still pretty early, though, so we'll have to wait and see. Whatever happens, I plan to be there for it.