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, I’m happy to say that my opinion hasn’t 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, you’re not going to have a clue what the heck’s going on in the narrative. You’re falling through the sky for who knows what reason with strange, vague silhouettes flashing in front of you. The you’re on the deck of a flying pirate ship with some strange people staring you down. A blink later and they’re 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 you’ll 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 it’s been ripped straight from Tron. And that was all in the first 15 minutes or so. It doesn’t make any more sense in-game than I’m 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 they’re getting themselves into.
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. It’s definitely a title more concerned with building a world. 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 let’s 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? What’s 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 I’m glad I don’t 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 they’re actually 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 but unfortunately there’s a bit of an issue with the puzzle difficulty. It’s 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. I’m 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. It’s not good to have one of your game’s elements deter from it’s greatest strength. Luckily, like I said, these overly challenging segments aren’t common enough for it to be a huge issue.
A Pure Escape
You’ve kind of got to know what you’re looking for in a game before I recommend you make the jump into Soul Axiom. You’ll be disappointed if you’re 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 “game-y” 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.