by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
I Dream a Dream
Back in 2014 I did a preview for Soul Axiom and noted the fantastic job that it did drawing me into its surreal, dream-like world of puzzles and mystery. I was worried, however, that once the game extended past the couple of hours present in the Early Access build it may overstay its welcome and lose some luster. Now released in full, Iím happy to say that my opinion hasnít changed much with the full game, which has matured into an enjoyable experience from start to finish; one that continuously throws the player from one ethereal environment to the next, building upon its strange tone and feel.
A World of Mystery
For the first good while in Soul Axiom, youíre not going to have a clue what the heckís going on in the narrative. Youíre falling through the sky for who knows what reason with strange, vague silhouettes flashing in front of you. The youíre on the deck of a flying pirate ship with some strange people staring you down. A blink later and theyíre gone. Walk around a bit, hit some switches, and a giant angel creature flies in and rips what I assume is the power supply from the sky boat, sending it crashing to the ground. From there youíll find yourself in the love child of a computer program and the Fallout: New Vegas desert by a lone, creepy saloon, grab a strange cube, and use it to open a portal in a pond. The portal leads to an ancient Egyptian themed place (obviously) which in turn leads to the something that looks like itís been ripped straight from Tron. And that was all in the first 15 minutes or so. It doesnít make any more sense in-game than Iím sure it does reading here, but instead of coming off as confusing or overly random, it does a fantastic job of letting the player know just what kind of crazy theyíre getting themselves into.
Iím not going to talk about much else besides the world and tone of Soul Axiom because thatís what the gameís all about. Itís definitely a title more concerned with building a world. There are some puzzle elements that Iíll talk about later, but they arenít really the focus. Itís hard to describe exactly why I was so pulled into the world of Elysia, which, it turns out, is a company that digitizes peopleís memories and letís 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. I felt like I was walking around the latest Tron movie, except beneath the tranquility and scale of the environment laid a constant feeling of unease. Why are there buildings everywhere and no people? Whatís up the giant stone angel that keeps flying around and grabbing things? Why was there some kind of being laying 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 Iím glad I donít as the sense of mystery is 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.
There are puzzles in Soul Axiom, and theyíre actually pretty awesome in concept. As you traverse the digital landscape youíll 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 but unfortunately thereís a bit of an issue with the puzzle difficulty. Itís the only real negative I have for the game, but about 95 percent of the puzzles are very easy, while the other 5% percent give no guidance are fairly confusing. Iím actually all for the easier puzzles in this game. The puzzles are really there, in my mind, to give you a reason to keep going through the world. Easy works with their purpose. Getting stuck on the more overly challenging ones, conversely, really killed the mood of the game and pulled me out of an otherwise engaging experience. Itís not good to have one of your gameís elements deter from itís greatest strength. Luckily, like I said, these overly challenging segments arenít common enough for it to be a huge issue.
A Pure Escape
Youíve kind of got to know what youíre looking for in a game before I recommend you make the jump into Soul Axiom. Youíll be disappointed if youíre looking for deep mind-bending puzzles or deep, engaging dialogue. I, however, happen to be a big fan of the games that are content letting you move through them, soaking in their world without intensive or demanding ďgame-yĒ elements like combat or complicated puzzles. I really enjoy the escapism. If that sounds like you, I definitely recommend giving this title a shot.
Establishes an excellent sense of mood, level design and visual style are extremely well done, and the music is very good.
Some odd puzzles are randomly extremely challenging, and pull you out of the game.