There’s been a bit of a renewed surge in the videogame industry for revitalising classic titles which were once massively popular. Capcom’s Resident Evil series has seen this on several occasions and Square will soon be releasing the highly anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake. The virtual reality (VR) scene is a little too young to see anything on quite that scale but there are standard videogames rife for a little VR treatment. The latest comes from Wales Interactive which is enhancing a PC puzzle title for new formats, Soul Axiom Rebooted.
Like many reboots, this launch isn’t going to be purely about putting a glossy finish on the previous Soul Axiom as the videogame was only released in 2016. Yes, the visuals have been enhanced thanks to a new game engine but the studio has also added new features such as an objective system and mid-level checkpoints to make the experience less daunting and more manageable. That’s all great yet does it translate into a true VR experience?
First of all Soul Axiom Rebooted seems to have been primarily created for a release on Nintendo Switch, with the PC edition also including VR. Which does mean VR is more of an add-on rather than the sole reason for the reboot. And this is noticeable throughout due to the interaction mechanics which don’t actually involve any motion controls whatsoever, it’s all sticks and buttons, removing that unique sense of presence VR offers (more on this later).
Soul Axiom Rebooted’s storyline is a strange cyberspace thriller involving death, immortality and preserving memories for future generations. The premise is that some company has created a virtual universe called Elysia, where people can upload their memories to either relive them over and over again or for friends and family to remember those that have passed on. You play an unnamed character introduced to this fantastical world, given little reason to why you’re there or what’s going on when things start to get a little twisted.
What Soul Axiom Rebooted does well it tends to do really well at, puzzles and environments. The main hub world looks like a glorious homage to Tron, towering neon-lit buildings of minimal design which stretch into the distance, seemingly devoid of life. There’s a stunning use of light and colour in several areas, a digital dreamscape which is made all the more impressive in VR. In stark contrast, some of the main levels are set in more real-world settings like a jungle, museum, island and other locations. These certainly don’t have quite the awe and spectacle of the hub yet serve their purpose well enough.
There is a real emptiness to Soul Axiom Rebooted due to the general lack of NPC’s, just a lot of walking around going puzzle to puzzle. Once the main puzzles of a location are complete you’ll get video snippets, memories to help flesh out your character. However, it’s difficult to really connect to the person and character in any meaningful way so it’s best to get stuck into the puzzles themselves.
When it comes to this side of things Soul Axiom Rebooted has got you covered. It’s a massive videogame offering hours and hours of gameplay – and that doesn’t mean loads of walking. While recent puzzle titles such as Ghost Giant and The Curious Tale of the Stolen Pets are delightful in their design and execution, the gameplay time is painfully short, no worries about that here.
Gameplay mechanics revolve around your hands in a sort of Karate Kid ‘wax on, wax off’ style. For example, the first magical skill you gain is the ability to materialise/dematerialise certain objects, dropping a ramp in to reach a higher level or removing a blockage. Another is a play/pause skill to move objects and stop them in a particular location. These are colour coded into the puzzles for clarity, the former a blue hue and the latter in green.
What’s annoying from a VR perspective is that lack of being able to use your actual hands and arms, with the right and left simply controlled by the corresponding triggers. Be rest assured, anyone who has played even a little VR will instantly want to put their hand out and grab an object or use their powers like some sort of Jedi. There’s none of that here which really negates the need to stand up, playing Soul Axiom Rebooted seated is the wiser choice.
The videogame does also suffer with the odd technical issue, a little bit of latency here and there. Mostly though it was the play/pause ability which became a nuisance. On the occasional puzzle – a tall one involving pipes in the jungle comes to mind – trying to make an object ‘play’ either didn’t work or only partially worked. Infuriating when you know and can see the solution, dragging a puzzle on longer than it should.
Much like Wales Interactive’s other VR titles Soul Axiom Rebooted elicits a mixture of emotions, joy, puzzlement and dab of exasperation. Beautiful and unnerving, Soul Axiom Rebooted has plenty to see and do, great for puzzle fans seeking an expansive experience. Yet the addition of VR does feel like a last-minute inclusion, putting you in an impressive virtual world without the ability to reach out and touch it.