If you’ve ever wanted to be able to control the weather from atop your ivory tower, Symphony of the Machine is here to make your fantasy come true. With no text whatsoever, Symphony of the Machine is a game that puts players in a desolate landscape, with nothing but a tower above where players can control the atmosphere. While simple in premise, the game quickly becomes more complex as mechanics are introduced and requires intricate maneuvering from the player in order to achieve results. While the idea is for everything to work together in symphony, what ultimately ends up happening is the limitations of virtual reality and some of the machinery in the game, end up pushing against a smooth, puzzling experience.
The simplicity of Symphony of the Machine makes it an engaging experience right out of the gate. Utilizing either a PlayStation Move or DualShock 4 controller, players are tasked with positioning laser beams so that they are pointed at the desired weather effect. The end goal? Making flowers in a region where there is nothing. You’ll control the elements of wind, cloud, rain, and sun to induce the blooming and successful growth of several different types of plants. Of course, there are plenty of additional mechanics like refracting and reflecting of the laser, and increasing intensity to take into account. Not to mention some of the obstacles you’ll face trying to position the laser.
If I were to pinpoint one limitation with this game, it would be its platform of choice. I reviewed the game for PSVR, though it is also available on HTC Vive (which I feel like its room-scale technology would help make this a better experience), and I kept cursing under my breath at the game constantly losing where I was. You do a lot of grabbing items and bringing them to places, sometimes on the other side of the tower. What ended up happening for me was that I would have to take small leaps forward, constantly dropping the item, moving to its new location, picking it up and dropping it further towards the destination, and rinse and repeat. The tower isn’t too big, but that gives, even more, reason for the game to have allowed for some more options.
For example, the ability to simply roam around freely is understandably foregone for most games because they either use two Move controllers or for motion sickness reasons. However, because virtually all of Symphony of the Machine is comprised of you walking around the top of a small tower, I don’t see the gameplay justification. It also only uses one Move controller, which makes sense but only because the game can’t seem to track much on the right or left of the player. It only notices when the controller is in front of you, with minor exceptions. This is a huge problem for a game that requires finessing and tweaking of reflective surfaces in order to perfectly get that angle you wanted. Sometimes it felt like I was thinking further outside the box than the game, which is a real shame.
I say all this with love because the core concept is neat, and I could see it being applied to other puzzle games. The spatial awareness required for the game is something only available with VR. It also requires a presence that only VR offers. Being able to just reach out and grab a surface to tweak it is what makes this a great use of VR and motion sensing technology. When physical obstacles come in the way and players have to tackle a puzzle differently, that’s when the game shines. I’d stop and move a couple things, just attempting to get something close enough to what I want and then think from there. That stuff is all really satisfying. It’s just those minor inconveniences that pile up into a frustrating experience.
The other neat feature is the simplistic visual design. There’s a laser, four targets (with symbols on them representing which element they are), some objects to use, and a handy robot to bring you items and tell you what you need to make the flower grow. There’s no text, and no one talks to you. You are alone with a weather machine, and a robot who nudges you along and provides more pieces to the puzzle as required. It’s kind of beautiful, but at the same time, I ran into something which would be a recurring problem as I progressed through the game. The robot simply would not leave me alone. It would hover around me, and the issues arose when I was close to the focal point of the laser and tweaking many of its refracting beams near the center. The robot would block the original laser, effectively stopping the entire puzzle. It only happened a few times, but once again, compounded with everything else, I just kept getting more and angrier.
Symphony of the Machine is a compelling concept, that excels at its visual flourishes, simple mechanics, and minimal storytelling. Watching weather change as I was changing it was a satisfying experience that only VR could provide. How great it would be if the game utilized at least a second Move controller that was dedicated to moving around the tower while holding items, but with the way the game is right now, it’s a lot of stops and starts. I feel like a god with the power to change the weather, but Symphony of the Machine provides too many limitations to feel like I can use the power effectively.
A Playstation 4/Playstation VR Review Key for Symphony of the Machine was provided by Stirfire Studios for the Purpose of this Review