Virtual Surrealism In Soul Axiom

UK-based indie developers Wales Interactive’s Master Reboot created a tense, tangible and thoroughly interesting world for players to explore that kept us enthralled last year (here’s our review). The Soul Cloud, a server where people immortalized themselves by uploading their consciousnesses and memories, acted as the backdrop for the slice of sci-fi horror the game offered, extrapolating on the idea of cloud computing and the eventual and by some accounts inevitable singularity. Now, the team brings us Soul Axiom, an eerie first-person adventure game set in a post-Soul Cloud future and it is shaping up to outstrip its already impressive predecessor. Currently in development and available on Steam Early Access, to say this exploration through a virtual world is impressive is selling it short.

Players are dropped without any explanation onto a ship in the middle of a storm, alone and with minimal lighting. Some light obstacles introduce the basic movement mechanics while instilling the sense of awe that pervades the game even in its early state. As will be the case throughout, environmental cues nudge you towards your next objective but the world is full of discoverables which provide much of backdrop and narrative. Just when you begin to settle in, the game drops its antagonist in in a spectacular fashion: the gigantic winged humanoid will haunt and taunt you at every turn, ensuring that no sense of comfort is kept for too long, and that the wide-eyed sense of discovery is always tinged with worry.

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Though sparse on the overt storytelling, Soul Axiom does players the favor of introducing the world relatively early on: you find yourself in Elysia, an immortality service wherein individuals upload memories for personal enjoyment and for the sake of their friends and relatives after passing. This uploading of the soul is guaranteed to be glitch-free by some accounts, though players rapidly discover that not to be the case. Redacted features quickly become necessary to advancement: players are granted Powers like the ability to solidify or break apart objects which give rise to unique and interesting puzzles which feel both intuitive and complex though not frustrating. Wales Interactive has succeeded in creating a narrative-heavy and exploration-driven adventure game with minimal aimless ambling about despite a lack of many overt clues, a welcome change from the sometimes excessively boring and unclear progress markers present in other adventures.

You’re transported between distinct and equally visually-stimulating environments through portals and other jarring transitions, making the switch from vastly distinct environments all the more impressive. Though sometimes a touch too dark, each is unique and inspires exploration and appreciation. It very much feels like every detail in each world is deliberately placed and contributes heavily to the atmosphere, be it a crashed helicopter or flashing advertisement. I often found myself stopping to get a good look at my surroundings, both to get a great screenshot and to make sure I don’t miss any of the objects that tease and slowly reveal the story. Eyes peer through walls only to reveal cryptic, poetic text and Personal Memory Objects – PEMOs – add additional backdrop in the form of newspaper clippings, photographs or e-mails. Piecing together the story is rewarding, interesting and makes poking through the environment all the more satisfying.

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The dreamlike quality of the game is highlighted in a number of fashions that make this surreal world all the more interesting and motivating to explore: low-poly aesthetics blend with glitchy touches like textures or objects phasing in and out of focus. The moon in one area will occasionally pixellate beyond recognition, and your powers allow you to manipulate the environment in spectacular fashion, all of which allow you to feel very much like you’re experiencing a lucid dream. A hub world later on very much solidifies the game’s setting as a virtual environment and the nebulous antagonist, flashes of realities and slowly pieced-together background all contribute to what is undeniably a refreshing, immersive and very interesting experience. Keep an eye on Soul Axiom, as it’s shaping up to be an awe-inspiring and compelling journey with shades of TRON and Bioshock.