EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
Stranger in a Strange Land
One of the best experience in games is, in my opinion, when you’re so drawn into a unique and strange world that you can almost feel it. Soul Axiom, while still only a few hours long at this stage of its development, has already drawn me more into its world than most of the games I’ve played this year. It’s the perfect mix of beauty, familiarity, surrealism, and mystery that echoes feelings of the first time I entered Rapture or City 17.
When my game started I was falling through the sky for who knows what reason with silhouettes flashing in front of me. Next thing I know I’m on the deck of a flying pirate-esque ship with some strange people staring at me. I blink, and they’re gone. After walking below deck I flip the switch that opens the ship’s digital sails, which attracts some kind of giant angel creature that rips what I assume is the power supply from the “boat” and sends me crashing to the ground. I wake up in the love child of a computer program and the New Vegas desert by a lone, creepy saloon, grab a strange cube, and use it to open a portal in a pond. The portal brings me to an ancient Egyptian themed place which in turn brings me to the Tron inspires land I spent most the rest of my time in. And that was all in the first 15 minutes or so.
I’m not going to talk about much else besides the world and tone of Soul Axiom because that’s what the game’s all about. There are some puzzle elements that I’ll talk about later, but they aren’t really the focus. It’s hard to describe exactly why I was so pulled into the world of Elysia, which, it turns out, is a company that digitizes people’s memories and lets them relive the ones that they choose for all of eternity. The graphics are severely dated looking, but the art style is superb and the music is great (though for some sizable chunks all music cut out, which is strange if it’s intentional). I felt like I was walking around the latest Tron movie, except for the fact that beneath the tranquility and scale of the environment laid a constant feeling of unease. Why are there buildings everywhere and no people? What’s up the giant stone angel that keeps flying around and grabbing things? Why was there some kind of being lying on the ground in the church only to be blown away by an unseen force like ash from a cigarette? I have no idea, and I’m glad I don’t as the sense of mystery is, at this point, the perfect balance of evocative without feeling cheap or too confusing. In my gut I had a constant feeling that I was on the verge of something sinister, like the first time you snuck behind a broken panel in Portal. I’m not sure how much will be made clear throughout the game in its full form, but I hope it’s not too much, as removing the strange unease would be to remove the game’s biggest strength.
There are puzzles in Soul Axiom and they’re pretty awesome in concept. As you traverse the digital landscape you’ll find a few different hand-looking things that give you the power to do things like move objects along an animation cycle or build/destroy certain objects. The puzzles are unique enough and look cool, but at this point there seems to be a bit of a difficulty balance issue. It’s the only real negative I have for the game right now, but about 90 percent of the puzzles are very easy, while the other 10 percent give no guidance and are fairly confusing. I’m actually all for the easier puzzles in this game. Getting stuck on the more overly challenging ones really killed the mood of the game and pulled me out of an otherwise engaging experience. There’s still time for some smoothing, of course, and things might be different in the rest of the game, but it’s worth noting at this point.
If the rest of Soul Axiom continues with the quality that it’s upheld to this point in its release, along with maybe tweaking some of the music and puzzle settings, it’s going to be a really, really cool game. Right now, though, it’s a “watch.” While what’s there is good, there isn’t enough of it yet to justify a full price purchase. This is definitely a title for anyone interested in slower burning, cathartic games to keep their eyes on until it exits early access.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.