Soul Axiom Review – Broken Memories (PS4)
One of the advantages of using first-person perspectives in video games is that players can become truly immersed in a world. It’s something that has been used to incredible effect in the past, and it’s especially captivating when you’re exploring mysterious locales for the first time. It’s also one of the reasons why Soul Axiom has such a strong start.
Players end up exploring a strange, unfamiliar world with their only ability being able to materialize certain objects (which are all helpfully outlined in blue) in and out of existence. It gets slightly more complex than that (for example, early on you take energy from areas in order to build stairs), but it’s all pretty simple early on.
The gameplay grows from there, as you get other abilities for your hands that will allow you to manipulate certain objects (only the ones that emit an arbitrary green glow, though). You even get the ability to destroy objects later on. It all builds rather nicely, and the puzzles are typically fun to solve.
After the introductory act, which sadly might be the strongest stretch of the game, players end up exploring worlds recreated from memories. This provides an excuse for the game to visit a ton of different locales (such as islands, museums and mansions). It’s great in theory (as it basically gives the developer the freedom to choose any setting they want), but it really provides a disjointed world where nothing feels alive.
It doesn’t help that you’ll always be doing the same thing in each world. Players have to explore these semi-open environments until they find cubes (which are rewards for completing puzzles). Once you collect enough of these items, they’ll eventually open up a pathway that will end the level and send you back to the game’s hub world. So much more could’ve been done with this idea by making each world feel unique, but instead it’s just a different skin on the same ideas.
As you can see above, another issue with going to all these locales is that the game doesn’t really have an art direction. Players go from exploring a gorgeous Tron-like world to a military base where the vehicles look like they’re straight out of a poorly made PS2 game. Soul Axiom regularly went from being gorgeous to looking like the developer just plucked a bunch of random assets from the Unity store. Nothing looks cohesive, and it just looks poorly made.
If there’s one bonus to the poor visuals, it’s that you won’t be able to see half of them. That’s because Soul Axiom has ridiculously poor lighting effects. Even after adjusting the brightness in the options all the way up, it was still difficult to explore some of the game’s locales. I’m not quite sure what happened in the transition to bringing this game from PC to console, but these issues weren’t in the prior version of the game.
One of the great things about The Witness was that once a player got stuck in an area, they could explore the rest of the island and come back to a particularly tough puzzle later. That’s straight up not possible here. The game refuses to save the player’s progress within a level, so you have to complete a level in one go. That isn’t productive for such a tough game, as anyone who regularly plays puzzle games will know that sometimes the solution will come to you after being away for a bit.
Softening the blow somewhat is that each level is only around 15-20 minutes long if you don’t get stuck on a puzzle. So it doesn’t take too much time to retrace your steps in a level. That said, it’s still completely ridiculous that players have to do that in the first place. Even something like a hint system would’ve helped here, but assistance is non-existent here.
The narrative is largely comprised of seemingly unrelated brief cutscenes that are shown upon completing a level. Surprisingly, it actually comes together in a somewhat interesting way. I wish I could say it was worth the ride, but being “somewhat interesting” isn’t enough to recommend trudging through hours of frustrating design.
Aside from all the faults I find with the design choices, Soul Axiom just seems rough around the edges. It lacks polish as I regularly clipped through objects, and even saw the protagonist’s hand go through a desk during a scripted scene. There’s a solid game here, but it shoots itself in the foot constantly.
Soul Axiom is an incredibly uneven game that feels disjointed and unpolished. Moments of beauty in its futuristic overworld are only temporary, as half of the game looks completely out of place. It’s incredibly disappointing that the game isn’t able to come together since some of the puzzles are delightful to figure out. Instead, gamers are left with a puzzle game that’s merely okay, and one that is easily passed up when you’ve got incredible offerings like The Witness on the system.
Review code for Soul Axiom provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.