As with all Early Access games, previews don’t always paint a true picture about the game as there are continued updates to functionality, gameplay and content. The following Soul Axiom preview is based on the “Chapter Four” update from April 13th 2015.
Developer: Wales Interactive
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Previewed on: PC
Also Available On: Mac and Linux
Release Date: Out Now in Early Access
Damn, this game just works. I’ll admit that for the first thirty minutes of the game I was unsure how I felt about it. It serves as a good introduction to your first ability, being able to phase objects in and out of space, but is mainly a climbing exercise. The first few missions don’t offer story or purpose; a better idea would have been to move the structure around so you get a small chunk of story before you get given your first ability. Once you plug your way through that opening exchange mind, the game kicks into full gear. The high concept is revealed and you enter the true core of the title.
Although the main point on here is to relive the memories of dead people on each level, that isn’t what makes this game work and is actually a small part of the title. When you complete the levels you collect an orb off the bodies you discover, cueing a cut scene which gives you just a glimpse of what transpired. From what I’ve seen so far these cut-scenes don’t overly offer anything to the story, at least initially. The quality of these video scenes aren’t triple-A quality by any stretch, but are short enough that you don’t really notice the fairly poor quality.
The are several parts which really work in Soul Axiom, and It’s not in the story. The game does a fantastic job of giving you a level to explore and immerse yourself in. Each level has a specific focus, and you can tell a lot of time has been spent enhancing that focus, plugging in realistic sound effects, convincing level design and colour palette. Take the War Zone level, which although can be confusing to start as a puzzle (which we’ll come back to), the level is just beautiful. A lot of attention has been paid to make the level as immersive as possible. A purple horizon indicates the setting, with communication areas, army crates, radar towers and more. The best part of the level is as you walk around, a plane ramps up in the distance, eventually passing over head. The sound and look of the level was straight up awesome, attention to detail was key here.
Although this level was my favourite, the others aren’t bad either. None of the levels were disappointing and each served it’s own purpose. At the moment every level is distinctive and you’ll definitely enjoy playing through them again just for the immersion and visual and audial experience alone. There are plenty of these distinctive levels already, none feel anything like the others and it seems they’re adding more and more content as we go along.
No matter how good the level design, the puzzles you have to complete in order to get to the memory orbs must be good so when you’re moving through the great level, you have something to accomplish. Fortunately, the puzzles are damn clever for the most part. There is the occasional puzzle which doesn’t present itself too well. The Warzone level in particular has a solid barrier to entry, with the initial puzzle being difficult to find. The difficulty doesn’t go away as the level relies more on walking back and forth instead of just moving objects which can be frustrating. I’ll admit that for one of the puzzles, I had to visit the Steam Community to figure out what to do. For a majority mind, the puzzles are good tests in logic, platforming and placements. There’s a good balance of each type of puzzle, which means there’s no fatigue on a particular type.
The question you’re probably asking at this point is probably “How do you play the game?”. The abilities you get here are awesome, and get a fair use as you go through. There a three different abilities you have at your disposal. The blue ability allows you to phase objects in and out, the green gives you the ability to animate or play fallen objects while the yellow is a simple projectile which can destroy certain objects. Although you don’t have free reign to use these abilities as you choose, the objects you can interact with have a coloured sheen on them, showing which ability you need to use on it.
The abilities are somewhat narrow minded, with each purpose only doing what it’s meant for and there’s not much variation you can do. The exception to the rule is the green ability. You can pause an object mid-animation. This is somewhat useful when the animation is to move an object across a room. It’s particularly useful when you need to move walls across a statue monkey’s path. Pausing the animation mid way through the room meant I had freedom with my movement.
There are a couple of bug bears which mean this isn’t a perfect experience mind, some texture quality is below par, but the two biggest issues are movement and the location of puzzles or objects you can interact with. The movement is janky to say the least, I often couldn’t jump to where I wanted and fell from high places when turning in tight spaces (which caused me to restart the entire level at one point). The location of puzzles is the more frustrating of the two. The problem I had was that sometimes you couldn’t find the object you needed to interact with to even begin the puzzle. I’ve mentioned War Zone already, but the initial puzzle is hard to find and you can only find the interaction in a small window on the screen you have to look right at for the icon to appear. I know they’re patching these issues with every update, so hopefully these issues are sorted by the time the full release rolls around.
At the end of it all, I can really recommend Soul Axiom if you appreciate platforming and puzzle-based single player experience. The story will come together as they release more chapters, but the gameplay more than makes up for it. It’s immersive with huge quality in the level design and sound. The hub world makes loading into levels quickly and there is more than enough content to keep you happy should you dive in to this exciting early access prospect.