Soul Axiom (PlayStation 4) Review

By Tomas Barry 08.06.2016

Review for Soul Axiom on PlayStation 4

Inspired by abstract greats such as Journey, Wales Interactive aims to add to the canon with its Welsh BAFTA-nominated Soul Axiom. The self-described "first-person story-driven adventure puzzle game" promises an immersive experience in which you "unlock your identity, your story, your mystery."

In the Tron-like world of Elysia, spirits are uploaded onto a server providing a digital afterlife of sorts. Gateways are littered everywhere across the hub-world, like Super Mario 64's castle, providing access to the protagonist's memories and experiences. The player is equipped with various abilities, such as solidifying and vanishing surfaces, moving objects around in time, and even shooting fire.

Tasked with exploring forty varied locations, the objective is to piece together the mystery of the protagonist's story. Although Elysia is somewhat basic in design, it's still very aesthetically striking and without a doubt a very memorable over-world. The initial hour spent exploring it conveys something intriguing, full of atmosphere and promise. Unfortunately, this feeling is quite short-lived.

Screenshot for Soul Axiom on PlayStation 4

Despite Wales Interactive citing Journey as a creative source, the similarities between them seem relatively superficial. Soul Axiom certainly borrows some thematic elements, and they're both 'walking-sims' at times. However, where Journey is fundamentally committed to abstract, indirect storytelling, Soul Axiom does its fair share of exposition. There's certainly a lot of narrative setup, and the game even has four separate endings. In this sense, Soul Axiom is not fully committed to the true ethos of Journey or similar experiences. This works to its detriment, since it liberally makes use of indirect storytelling as well. It's used to the extent that it almost seems like it's meant to cover up more fundamental issues of pacing and intuitiveness.

To access the first set of stages, for example, the second power is required to fiddle with some spiral stairs, but since the player has to stumble upon the area that's located in, it's possible to waste a frustrating amount of time just figuring things out. This is a regular occurrence. Strangely, expectations of what the player might experiment with often seem to be more in line with the N64 era of gaming. It's possible to waste huge amounts of time exploring irrelevant nooks and crannies, not stumbling upon what's required to progress. Should the player think outside the remit of the developer's set expectations - like slowly walking up the glowing frame of the aforementioned spiral-steps without the correct ability, which prematurely allows access to the first four worlds that cannot be completed without it - frustration prevails.

Screenshot for Soul Axiom on PlayStation 4

This is not to say the game doesn't have its impressive moments; it's just that they don't happen often enough to make the experience absorbing. Games such as these rely considerably on the sense of mystique that is created by the sums of their parts. In Soul Axiom, the sense of immersion gradually reduces as the player encounters the numerous and jarring 'what next' moments and other mechanical issues. The puzzles themselves are often enjoyable to work out, but some are also a laborious test of your patience. They're often solved only through trial and error. The biggest issue is that there's no sense of gratification, since it's hard to feel particularly invested in the story due to the broken mystique and lack of any immediate reward for beating a level.

This leads to the big issue with the game, which is that it never quite decides whether it is in fact "story-driven" or quite the opposite. Regardless of the intention, it's questionable how committed any player would be to pursue multiple endings for something so regularly devoid of narrative power. Although retrospectively, the story is evident and can be clearly extrapolated, during the actual gaming experience, the player is unlikely to recognize any of its significance. The narrative just seems poorly executed and a bit muddled in the sense that it flips between being a coherent story and abstraction when it suits. This, in combination with a very erratic sense of pacing, leads to an overall frustrating experience, which is a great shame given that the concept should have a lot of mileage.

Screenshot for Soul Axiom on PlayStation 4

Mechanically, the game is also less than perfect. The ability to vanish and solidify surfaces is slow, and the glowing neon indicator can often be confusing, leading to hurried players' possible frustration when they fall through something they thought was solid. Other minor things seem just lazy, like the fact that your protagonist can walk on water on a beach level where you can also use a boat, but only on a set path. Some graphical slowdowns and even some crashes occurred on the PS4 play-through. Hopefully, these issues will be addressed by the upcoming patch, for which a date has not been set.

Screenshot for Soul Axiom on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

Undoubtedly, fans of abstract puzzle games will find a lot to enjoy here. But those not so inclined to stick with something a little frustrating and overtly self-insistent perhaps may prefer to wait for the next reboot of this intriguing but poorly executed experience. Where Journey uses the concept of abstract, indirect storytelling to its empowerment, Soul Axiom ends up leaning on it like a crutch when it suits, much to its detriment in terms of the overall experience. The confusing PR description of the game, which is nothing like the experience you actually get, is testament to that muddled framework. This is well worth a go, but it is not a polished gem by any stretch of the imagination.

Developer

Wales Interactive

Publisher

Wales Interactive

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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