by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
As of this month, it's been a year since the HTC Vive virtual reality headset, backed by Steam, hit the market. It's still clear that the device is going through its growing pains. As much as I've loved my device, and as mesmerizing as I still find th technology to be, scrolling through the VR section on Steam can be an exercise in patience as I try to comb my way through a mixture of half-done "early access" games, buggy messes, and glorified tech demos in order to find something worth playing. As frustrating as that reality can be, it makes me appreciate games like Symphony of the Machine even more. It might not be the most technically dazzling or content-packed game I've played in VR, but it is a well made, complete experience that does what it sets out to do very, very well.
At its core, Symphony of the Machine has a familiar premise that, on paper, didn't immediately garner much excitemeny from me. However, the way that it wraps and delivers its content elevates it to satisfying heights, standing as a fairly unique experience in the VR market. Boiled down to its most simple description, the goal is to guide a laser beam from point A to point B (and eventually point B, C, and D). We've seen this premise a thousand times in 2D puzzlers and even board games, but the transition to the third dimension adds some delectable spice to the familiar recipe. At first the only tool you'll have is a small, square, flat reflector that works as a simple mirror to bounce the almighty beam. Soon things get more complex as you'll be given multiple reflectors and T-splitters, plus immovable laser barriers, all of which must be utilized to hit the targets. Add in two small circular filters that can be placed to toggle the beam between three states (various of which are required for each reciever in each level) and things hit the right balance between challenging and satisfiying, while remaining a remarkably relaxing journey from start to finish.
Make It Rain
Not content to simply throw some puzzles out and call it a day, Symphony of the MAchine surrounds the player with a pseudo narrative that adds flavor, character, and visual charm that made the run-time seem like a much more "premium" and polished experience than many other VR puzzlers I've tried. When the game first booted, I awoke standing in the middle of a desolate, sand blasted desert of sorts and learned the basic controls in a small nook amongst the rocks. I then walked (well, teleported, like most VR games) a ways down a path where things opened up and I found myself at the base of a gigantic tower. Hopping on an elevator platform brought me up a few dozen stories to a small, room-sized platform where the game proper began. This brief intro, while relatively inconsequential and only a few minutes long, is indicative of the small design choices Stirfire Studios employs to engage the player in ways that do add up. By getting to walk around a bit (something you'll also be able to toy around with after completing the game's puzzles) the world seems more alive (well, dead in this case, but you get what I'm saying). The long ascent up the tower lift helped too.
The desert isn't just a static backdrop either. While on your platform workshop among the mountains and high above the sandy floor below, you aren't just guiding lasers for the heck of it. Instead, each of the four recievers correspond to a weather effect, including wind, precipitation, sun, and clouds. Each time a reciever is hit, it summons its respective type of weather, which grows a potted plant, and slowly brings life back to the land. You also get to see the weather combinations happen out in the world, which starts out simple with rain, sunshine, etc., but gets more complex as all four combine along with the "hot" and "cold" filters to create quite a few environmental effects. The game is definitely on the short side, but with a price to match it's hard to argue with the content given, especially given its quality and attention to detail. There isn't much replay value once you've worked through all the puzzles, but you are able to keep toying with weather combinations and walk a bit around the environment around the tower to sight see, which is worth doing for a short while just to enjoy the world you've created under various effects.
Symphony of the Machine does what I'd like to see more VR games do. It doesn't try to shoot above its developers ability or resources and promise a life-changing experience. It doesn't rely on gimmicks that quickly lose their luster. It doesn't toss VR in for the heck of it just because it can. It's a title built from the ground up for room-scale that delivers a game not possible with a mouse and keyboard that accomplishes what it sets out to do efficiently. Symphony of the Machine is an easy recommendation for anyone with a VR device.
High polished, attention to detail, satisfying puzzles, good use of room-scale VR tech
Could be just a bit longer