Reviewer’s Note: Something about the visuals of this game made me feel physically ill. It was only a minor discomfort, but in 20 years of gaming I’ve never had a game make me feel sick before, so this is not a common issue for me. This was not something that was taken into consideration as part of the review or scoring process, only something you should be aware of if you are susceptible to that sort of thing.
The concept of “the cloud” is one that is becoming more and more a major part of gaming. Whether it be the mythical cloud computing of the Xbox One, physically running games on off site hardware with things like Onlive or Sony’s upcoming Gaikai service, or simply backing up your game saves, the cloud certainly isn’t going anywhere. While the cloud is becoming ubiquitous across gaming services, it hasn’t really been the subject matter of a game, that is until Master Reboot.
Master Reboot is set about fifteen years into the future and takes place entirely within “The Soul Cloud.” The Soul Cloud is both an interesting and somewhat frightening concept, a server that houses the memories and personalities of deceased individuals in a simulated environment in order to allow family members to interact with their lost loved ones. This unique and interesting premise is utilized to great effect throughout the course of the game and is easily the game’s biggest selling point.
The Soul Cloud is a creepy place, which is expressed through outstanding art design that evokes both wonder and unease. The game follows the memories of a woman named Madison, the founder of the Soul Cloud and main character of the game. It doesn’t feature much in the way of conventional narrative, but is driven by excellent environmental storytelling. You learn more about Madison and her loved ones as you explore her memories as you piece together the events of her life and what led her to this point. As you explore these memories from various points in her life, you are constantly being pursued by an off-putting woman, implementing elements of both mystery and horror to great effect. You may be left with as many questions as answers by the end, but the clues are certainly there for you to make your own conclusions.
Played from a first person perspective, this is by no means a shooter. The meat is exploring Madison’s memories, and the interactivity lies primarily in examining the environment and solving puzzles. Despite being a first person game with full freedom of movement, the puzzles are a lot like what you’d find a traditional point and click adventure game. These puzzles mostly involve using items on specific objects and solving logic challenges. Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward, though some get a little more complex. The majority of the puzzles give you everything you need to solve them, though there were a few instances of puzzles that weren’t as clear, with trial and error winning out over careful thought.
In addition to simply absorbing the environment and solving puzzles, the game also tasks you with some platforming, which is a real shame. Like most instances of first person platforming across gaming, it’s not very enjoyable in Master Reboot. The common issues associated with first person platforming all apply here, including lack of positional awareness, difficulty timing jumps, and an inability to control the camera independent of the character. It’s unfortunate that it features as much platforming as it does, because it often brings things to a halt and disrupts the otherwise fantastic sense of atmosphere and immersion.
While the storytelling and puzzle solving are interesting, the sense of atmosphere is the real star of the show. It’s one thing to have a fantastic premise, but another to make great use of that premise, and Master Reboot certainly does. When you’re exploring one of Madison’s memories, things look like the real world, but there is always that lingering sense that it isn’t real. The game makes great use of digital effects, shading, and unconventional angles to create that feeling of otherness, making something like a beach or park feel wrong somehow. The visuals are by no means super detailed, but the use of art direction and visual effects keeps you from noticing the lack of detail. This sense of atmosphere is also enhanced by excellent use of music and audio cues that contribute to that feeling of unease that the game so successfully creates.
There are a few minor issues in regards to PC features, but nothing too major. Most notably, the game only supports a handful of resolutions, so if you’ve got a 16:9 monitor in between 1080p and 720p (like say 1600×900) you’re going to be forced to play in 720p. Also, being an Unreal Engine game there is no native support for anti-aliasing, though aliasing wasn’t very noticeable. Lastly, the game doesn’t allow you to rebind your keys in game (you’d have to dig into the .ini files), but the default layout is exactly what you’d expect from a first person PC game.
Master Reboot is a game with an outstanding premise that is backed up by solid execution. It builds an outstanding sense of atmosphere and suspense which is complemented by mostly well done puzzles. It’s a game that’s easy to get lost in with its outstanding art design, compelling environmental storytelling, and an great sense of mystery and discovery. Unfortunately, it is held back by poor first person platforming and the occasional obscure puzzle, but on the whole this a game that fans of adventure games or simply exploring an interesting world should enjoy.
Version Reviewed: PC