Symphony of the Machine – PC Review

I’ve been following Symphony of the Machine from Stirfire Studios since PAX Australia 2016.  After genuinely being impressed with the game I was given the opportunity to play around further in the comfort of our own office with a preview build.

You can check out my PAX thoughts here and my impressions on the preview build along with a 20 minute game play video here (although I’ve included the same video below for ease).

Since then I’ve lost a little weight, the office has gotten a little cooler and I fixed the position of our HTC Vive base stations to get better tracking.  Just in time for the full release version of Symphony of the Machine to arrive.

First up, it’s great to see an Australian developer moving boldly into virtual reality, not only on PC with HTC Vive but also on Playstation 4.  PAX last year was a smorgasbord of Australian indie titles, many of them VR.  What was even more impressive was the diversity of titles beyond simple wave shooters.

Now there is no need for me to do an entirely new playthrough video, what I created for the preview build is still indicative of the final game in terms of mechanics and puzzles.  Visuals may have been tightened up a little but for the most part it’s largely the same, but please bare in mind it is a preview build I’m playing in the video.

While there are lots of VR titles available on Steam many of them are junk.  Repetitious, quickly produced, cash grab junk.  It’s easy to become quickly bored with the vast majority of the titles on offer and finding the needle in the haystack is the biggest challenge facing many VR consumers currently.

Even more so if you aren’t the type to enjoy shooting at things.  While there are some absolutely fantastic titles that break the mold such as Siegecraft Commander, The Lab and Job Simulator it’s still hard to find a game for those that might not possess brilliant reflexes or are looking for a puzzle game with a slower pace.

For me it’s my wife that falls into that category. While she was actually pretty good at the space invaders style title in The Lab, she much prefers the slower games where she can move at her own pace, without the threat of a timer or imminent death.  I have to agree. I think VR has a bright, bright future in deep adventure / puzzle game titles; just think of the investigation scenes in something like ‘LA Noire’ and now make them in a virtual environment.  But I digress.

Symphony of the Machine has no timer, no enemies, no way to die and no rush.  You are free to move about at your own pace with no penalty for failing to solve puzzles.  The object of the game is to terraform a barren planet into a lush, green environment.  In order to facilitate that desire you’re going to need to use the large weather tower that dominates the play zone.  With a single beam of light rising from the floor you will use mirrors and T pieces to redirect and split the beam striking various contact points, each of these producing a weather effect.

As you do so you’ll bring life to the planet and various potted plants presented to you by the robotic assistant.  Each puzzle will require different weather effects to be running concurrently, to make it more difficult though each panel you enable will create barriers to block the light beams, forcing you to rethink your approach and shuffle around T pieces and mirrors to suit.  Towards the end of the game it can get quite convoluted –

Visually the game is striking, with everything looking clear and crisp.  Light and shadow come into effect as you change the weather contrasted by the bold colours of the light beams and shields.  The entire game carries an aesthetic that works well and manages to convey it’s message without the need for text (Language wont be a barrier in this game for anyone).

Sound effects are suitable and do the job well. I particularly enjoyed the orchestral soundtrack which accompanied the gameplay well.

The game itself is fairly intuitive. You don’t need a complicated manual to learn how to play the game; through the visual prompts of the robotic assistant and your own simple trial and error you’ll have the basics figured out in no time.  The complexity comes from solving the puzzles themselves and learning where to specifically place a T piece or mirror.  Thankfully the game doesn’t penalize you for solving problems in non-conventional ways either, something I spoke about with the developers in PAX and something they warmly welcomed.  If you manage to tweak a particular T piece or mirror in such a way that it solves the puzzle in an ‘odd’ way then all the more power to you.

The puzzles never got to a point that I felt frustrated or overwhelmed. Stepping back and simply looking at what is going on is needed at times however; often adjusting one or two small things will win you the day. Once or twice though I had to completely rethink and rebuild my approach.

My absolute only complaint with the game (and it’s one I feel you’re going to hear plenty of in the forums) is the length.  I’m not a game developer of any kind and I therefore cannot appreciate nor relate to how much work and effort would have gone into a title like this, so my apologies to Stirfire Studios.  Symphony of the Machine isn’t a long game, in fact you’ll probably complete the entire thing in under an hour, logic solving skills depending.  Completing the game does open up a Sandbox mode and more puzzles for you to solve, and for those who like to hunt achievements there are 13 to unlock with three being hidden.

This wouldn’t be a big problem if the game was $5-$10 USD but the game is $19.99 USD (~$26.71 AUD) when not on special.  The launch price of $15.99 USD (~$21.37 AUD) doesn’t do much to lessen the blow.  The price appears to be the same on both Steam and the US Playstation Store.

To be fair it seems par for the course that many VR titles are quite short, so no doubt the work involved in bringing a title to the VR market is considerably more than your typical game.  Perhaps this could be the basis for another article where I discover just what is involved?

Ultimately Symphony of the Machine is a fantastic title that I’m proud bares the ‘Made in Australia’ badge.  If you are looking for a change of pace with your VR titles definitely give this one a look if you have the budget to spare, otherwise pop it on the wishlist and grab it when it’s 50% off.

Score – 80%
Playtime – 2 Hours (Across all builds)
Review Specs – Intel i76700k, 32GB DDR4, Nvidia 1070GTX, HTC Vive.

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