Gamers aren’t really short of puzzle games to play on Playstation VR, with an abundance of them being actively available on the system since launch. Whilst we’ve had releases such as ‘Waddle Home’, ‘SUPERHYPERCUBE’, and ‘Tumble VR’ available since day one, new puzzlers are released on a regular basis. Only last week we saw the release of ‘Statik’ – a game that I don’t only consider one of the finest puzzle games on Playstation VR, but also one of the best I’ve played on any platform.
With Symphony of the Machine we have another puzzle game with a unique hook – you utilise lasers and the weather to solve a series of tricky enigmas. It feels different to anything else available on the system, with each puzzle in the game very unique in design. However, its brevity and a few nuisances with the controls prevent it from being a ‘must own’ virtual reality puzzler.
Symphony of the Machine places you in a barren lifeless desert that has just one stand out feature – a giant tower that overlooks everything. This tower just so happens to have a massive beam of light blasting through the centre of it too, so it’d be a spectacle regardless of its hulking size. As you can imagine, it’s pretty impressive to look up at the tower in virtual reality, though that’s nothing compared to the sense of awe you’ll feel when you’re actually on top of it. It’s something that can only really be appreciated when witnessed in virtual reality, especially when combined with the weather shifting mechanics of the gameplay.
When you’ve made it to the top of the tower, you’re tasked with bringing life to the dusty planet. How? By assisting your little robot companion in bringing a group of plants to life, and then helping them thrive in the somewhat desolate conditions of the planet. You’ll do this by reflecting the huge beam of light from the tower and carefully pointing it at a series of glyphs that’ll affect the weather around you.
It’s a clever mechanic and it looks great in-game. Seeing the weather shift so seamlessly is pretty impressive, especially when seen from a massive height that allows you to check out all of your surroundings so freely. Each plant you have to look after might require a different set of conditions; one might require an emphasis on the heat from the sun, whilst another might need a lot of rainfall to thrive. Other times a combination of different weather conditions will be required, so you’ll be bringing an ever-changing shift in the weather upon the environment if you want to succeed in the game.
It’s indicated to you what weather conditions are required to help bring a plant to life, so it’s never too perplexing to figure out what glyphs you need to activate. Actually doing so is a different matter altogether though, with different glyphs seeing a barrier blocking them in order to prevent you from easily guiding a laser in their direction. These barriers will keep shifting around as you progress through a puzzle too, so there’s a sense of unpredictability that you’ll have to constantly keep on top of. Thankfully, you have a collection of tools at your disposal that can help you out – you’ve got things like mirrors and splitters that’ll not only allow you to split a laser in different directions, but also reflect them around the tower in order to reach their destination.
In principle it’s a fairly simple process, though the game’s movement controls can make everything feel a little awkward. Movement is restricted to simply pointing the move controller at a specific spot and teleporting there – there’s no free movement for those who don’t suffer from any of the nausea brought upon by virtual reality. Whilst this has worked efficiently in other releases, Symphony of the Machine’s demand for precision in how you place items can make things feel a little clumsy. It could be difficult to put yourself in that sweet spot for success, with placing each mirror or splitter proving awkward thanks to the Playstation VR’s fairly restrictive movement recognition. Add to that the fact that if the camera loses track of your move controller it automatically resets whatever item you were carrying to its original location, and it makes for some rather frustrating moments in-game. The little robot companion does try to help you out by bringing new items over to you, but even his movement could be a little erratic and leave him in inconvenient location to reach out to.
For the most part the tracking is fairly consistent, but there are a few moments where you won’t be able to help but feel frustrated. There’s nothing worse than knowing what you need to do, but not being able to do it with ease due to the limitations in the technology. It’s something I think could’ve been rectified by adding a more free control scheme to the game to better position yourself, with the teleportation scheme that’s currently implemented proving a bit hit and miss.
At least the puzzles themselves are fun to solve, with the game’s reliance on reflecting lasers around the tower proving to be quite fun. As you work your way through bringing the plants to life, each puzzle becomes progressively more challenging, though never to the point where anything felt overly difficult to solve. There is an obtuse vibe to the game in the way that it never fully directs you on how to approach each puzzle, but it feels fitting and never hinders the player. It’s clever design that makes each puzzle you solve feel all the more rewarding, with ‘eureka’ moments aplenty as you work through the game. There’s also the satisfaction of seeing the world around you bloom with life with each puzzle you solve – not only does it look wondrous in-game, but also gives a clear visual indicator of your success.
Don’t expect to stick with Symphony of the Machine for long though, with the game easily beatable in around an hour and a half. There’s not a whole lot to bring you back to the game after completion either, with no real variety brought to each puzzle that would make you feel like you could’ve solved it in a different manner. Admittedly though, it was a bit of a relief to see the credits role – whilst I enjoyed the game, the intricacies of the later puzzles combined with the awkward controls could make for a frustrating experience.
The whole premise of Symphony of the Machine is a neat one, with the puzzle design both clever and beautiful in the way that it utilises the environment around you. It makes for an attractive experience that becomes all the more impressive when seen within the confines of virtual reality.
Whilst the game is clever in design though, the actual execution of the movement mechanics can make it a real pain to play. I never felt like I had full control of my position, whilst the awkward placement of items and the fact that they’d reset to the original location if the camera lost tracking made for some incredibly frustrating moments. It’s a real shame – if the game made it easier to do what you wanted to, it’d be a much more enjoyable experience.
Symphony of the Machine is certainly not a bad puzzler though and there’s fun to be had for those who enjoy a perplexing enigma – just don’t be surprised if you find yourself frustrated with the clumsy controls during your brief time with the game.
Developer: Stirfire Studios
Publisher: Stirfire Studios
Release Date: 25/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive