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Master Reboot

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By PeterChi04-11-2013
BloodyFanGirl (editor)
Bis18marck70 (editor)
Master Reboot

The Defence

Developer:
Wales Interactive
Publisher:
Wales Interactive
Genre:
Adventure, Indie
Release Date:
29-10-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core i5
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce GTX 280
AMD Radeon HD 4870
RAM:
8 GB
HDD:
2 GB
DirectX:
9.0c, 11

The Case

The concept behind new first person psychological adventure horror game, Master Reboot, from developer, Wales Interactive, piqued my interest. You begin the game unaware of your identity from the beginning, but what quickly becomes apparent is that you are in the Soul Cloud, that something is wrong, and that you’re going to fix it. You’ll confront immortality, a digital landscape in an attempt to find out who you are, the question of if you are actually dead and what’s going on. Can Wales Interactive, best known for creating apps and casual games for phones, really pull off a game with such scope?

The Trial

Master Reboot is set in the near future and casts the player as a worker in the Soul Cloud, a digital store of people’s memories and the data of their souls created by the Mysteri Corporation. People can select memories to leave to their loved ones so that they can visit in the cloud after their death by buying a village on their own personal virtual island. The buildings on these islands hold their memories, guaranteeing a kind of digital immortality. The idea almost feels like a gaming version of a Charles Strauss novel, like Accelerando or Glass House.

The beach looked cleaner on the tour company’s website.

The beach looked cleaner on the tour company’s website.

Master Reboot starts without any long introductory cut scene or story-telling, opting to drop the player directly into its digital approximation of real world settings. You begin, in solitude, on a monorail and then you find yourself waking up on an abandoned beach, with a strange, glowing cube at one end. This takes about ten seconds and from there on, you are on your own. Upon exploring the beach you will realise it is surrounded by water on all sides and has a strangely out of place train wreck strewn across it. The cube in the corner will take you to a misty forest with more strange artifacts dotted around. This feeling of bewilderment, of not being sure of how to interpret your surroundings, is exactly what Wales Interactive want you to feel. They want you to dig to find the story.

There are three main elements involved in how the story gradually unravels. Firstly, the levels are integral parts of the story. They aren’t just randomly designed to provide a platform for the gameplay but are tailored specifically to the story. They are all memories that build someone’s life, reveal clues to a person’s past and therefore who this person was, with each level building upon the last to present a character. Secondly, there are little blue rubber ducks hidden throughout the levels that contain documents and messages that may seem insignificant or even confusing on their own. But these slowly build throughout the game, connecting the levels and the characters to form a cohesive story. Thirdly, when you complete a memory, you are treated to an animated cut scene that reconstructs the important parts of the memory you have just explored. These are often emotionally charged memories and they flash from scene to scene quickly like when you remember something you had forgotten.

One house - one memory.

One house - one memory.

The player advances through levels by selecting a house from the memory village that they will eventually find themselves in. Each house contains one specific memory that the player must piece back together. Once you’ve done that you are then rewarded with the actual memory as an animated cut scene. When you enter the memory village you are shown a broken memory cube surrounded by houses. Four of the house’s porch lights are lit, signifying that you can go into these memories and attempt to reassemble them through a series of puzzles. As you complete these memories more lights come on, allowing you to venture further into the person’s life. The levels have to be completed in sets of four, and the story is easiest to follow if you complete each four in order, although you don’t have to. Unlocking in fours also stops you from jumping right to the end of the person’s life from the very start and it also allows you some choice about where to go next.

Master Reboot’s visuals are hazy, dreamlike, and highly stylised, reminiscent of the likes of Rez, Proteus and Tron. Master Reboot is hard to pin down to one specific visual style, but it is a blend of many. Sometimes everything appears real; a setting you can recognise like a beach, or a school, but at the same time, nothing is quite right - the angles of a door, the indistinct colours of a backpack or the cartoonish appearance of a blue rubber duck. Colours are overly bright or just gone, leaving black pools with only luminescent highlights allowing the player to understand what they’re seeing. These incoherencies jar with the apparent reality of the game’s many environments, making them feel not quite real, like the background elements of a memory; the things you didn’t pay attention to, but were there. You’re struggling to see through the haze in a forest while the sun cuts tree-shaped silhouettes through the mist and it is at once beautiful and disconcerting.

DIY is shunned in the Soul Cloud.

DIY is shunned in the Soul Cloud.

The sound design in-game adds greatly to the visuals and emphasises the duality between the reality of the environments and the fact that they are only digital reconstructions. This is particularly noticeable in the childhood stages of the game where the music sounds like a child’s music box but with a deep, thrumming synth-line hovering in and out of hearing. The sound effects are used to heighten the tension in the levels to great effect. Early on, this works well but at some points sounds get overused, like the sound of someone moving beside you in the snow, or something racing past you. These moments are often still effective, and are quite scary the first few times you hear them, but by the end of the game they are played so often you will just ignore them.

Master Reboot’s environments are diverse and range from a child’s bedroom, to a digital soul village, to a car speeding the wrong way up a road in the rain, to a dark, boarded up Fun Park. Each place feels unique due to the diverse artistic and musical styles in use, while still adhering to the general feel of the game. The choice of first person perspective works well to immerse the player into this surreal game environment, leaving you wondering exactly who you are - something you will spend quite a lot of time trying to discover.

I don’t think she's happy...

I don’t think she's happy...

The controls are easy to use. Interactions within the world use a context sensitive button. Most of the time this works well, allowing you to chop a log or flick a switch, but sometimes the icon letting you know what you can do gets in the way, making it hard to see the item. Worse still it’s sometimes hard to get into the right position to make the icon appear so you can interact with objects. Some objects seem to have too small an interaction radius and some too large. One puzzle in particular that requires the player to rotate blocks into position was very tricky and had me turning the wrong blocks quite a few times, or the blocks ignoring me completely despite my cursor being squarely on the one I wanted to interact with and my mashing of the button. Despite this, I found these annoyances to be the exception rather than the rule, with most interaction being easy and intuitive. Movement feels good and allows for sprinting, although for some reason how far you can sprint is limited, which, while not a major issue, seems a bit redundant as a mechanic given you are in a digital world.

Master Reboot’s gameplay varies throughout the different levels. One level will be straight puzzle solving, while others contain shooting, platforming, or stealth sections. Some puzzles are easier than others and some can have you stumbling for a while but mostly the puzzles are about forcing you to explore and understand your environment. This forces you to stay in an area and, through music, visuals and sound effects, come to have an emotional reaction to your surroundings.

Tron meets Pacific Rim.

Tron meets Pacific Rim.

By the end of the game I felt like I had played through lots of different mini-games. Some of the game mechanics in these different sections could definitely do with being tightened. For instance, I found that only by aiming slightly to the left of the crosshair could I hit the intended target in the shooting section. On the other hand, the different gameplay elements are so spread out that no one element’s slight inadequacy ever becomes overly irritating.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Master Reboot, ends up feeling like an interactive story that rewards exploration of its environments. It does have issues with some of its gameplay mechanics, but these can be easily overlooked because you will be enjoying the strange digital world the developers created. The game’s visuals are real eye-candy and its music is enchanting and haunting. The story is engaging and deals with ideas of mortality, conveying itself with subtlety that requires attention and the ability to read between the lines. While the game definitely isn’t perfect, Wales Interactive should be applauded for creating a game without forcing it to slot itself neatly into one genre or another. In Master Reboot Wales Interactive have dared to try doing something a little differently.

Case Review

  • Excellently Realised World: Sound and aesthetics come together to create a unique digital world.
  • Varied Gameplay: Master Reboot’s gameplay varies enough for each level to feel different from the last.
  • Interesting Story: The story is engaging and had me wanting to follow it through to its conclusion.
  • Missable Story Elements: Some details can be missed by the player if they don’t hunt around for the blue rubber ducks.
  • Overused Sounds: Some sound effects are used to the point that they don’t even register any more.
  • Some Bad Mechanics: Occasionally gameplay sections feel like they could do with extra polish due to mechanics just not working the way they should.
3.5
Score: 3.5/5
A jack of all trades, but a master of none, Master Reboot manages to hide its problems with good storytelling and some great atmosphere.

Appeal

This game is not for everyone. That is something that really must be made absolutely crystal clear. If ever a game could be said to be a niche title, Master Reboot would be the very epitome. So much so that it falls into that unfortunate category where most people will debate whether it’s really a game at all and some will question whether it needs to exist in the first place. But, in an industry constantly screaming for something truly unique, something radically different, Master Reboot is the epitome of that too. Yet it will inevitably suffer the fate of being cast aside as a curio by the vast, vocal, majority of the gaming public who claim to be demanding something precisely like this.

However, for those who genuinely are looking for something off the beaten path, this is one that cannot be missed. Whilst it is not a technically impressive game, the striking visuals expertly reinforce the theme of a meandering exploration of the Human psyche. The narrative, such as it is, is incredibly complex and expansive but finding it, via ducks hidden within each memory segment, can be difficult. Surprisingly this actually works in its favour as a running motif of the game is exploration and mystery. What, precisely, has gone wrong with the Soul Cloud? That is what you are here to find out. The bulk of the gameplay takes the form of various puzzles that, a lot of the time, don't even feel like puzzles (not in the classic sense at any rate).

All of which combines to make Master Reboot an unusual, intriguing and thought provoking experience, layered with some uncomfortably candid sneak peeks into the psyche of the damaged mind you are ostensibly trying to fix. It makes you feel just a little too much like a voyeur most of the time. The experience is interspersed with some beautifully understated music and extremely disturbing imagery and those who are inclined to experience and appreciate such a journey will remember it for many years to come. The only complaint to be had is that it suffers from some compatibility issues, which causes the game to sporadically crash while loading. It can be a significant nuisance at times, as the game requires completing a memory in its entirety in order to save progress, but the overall quality of the game makes it easy to look past this flaw which, hopefully, will soon be patched anyway.

4.5
Score: 4.5/5

Appeal

Master Reboot is a very surprising title. It has a lot of depth and meaning to it, all the while feeling very creepy. It has a deep story inside it that follows a group of friends and individuals by showing some significant events in their lives. You follow their stories within the Soul Cloud, a server that holds the memories and dreams of people that gives relatives of the deceased some comfort by communicating with them. But something is happening to the system, something corruptive...something evil. It’s your job to go into the Soul Cloud and figure out what is causing this corruption by visiting previous memories from another person.

The game is truly atmospheric, different memories feel distinct from one another, but they are all equally creepy and daunting. The soundtrack and surrounding environmental sound effects add to the overall immersion and atmosphere in each memory, as well as the environment. The graphics are top notch with a cartoon styled finish but this doesn’t subtract from its beauty or the terrifying moments that you’ll encounter inside the infected system. What you can expect from the game is that in each memory you’ll mostly be solving some very clever puzzles in order to be able to re-construct the memories in full. Meanwhile you’ll also be interacting with a lot of blue neon ducks, which will tell you quite a lot of the story about the lives of the group of friends central to the game’s plot. The deeper you go, the more you’ll find out about what exactly happened and why you’re actually in the Soul Cloud in the first place.

Despite the attention to detail and the interesting design of the memories, the experience felt a little too short. Although it does have a suitable price tag, it feels like it was just a tad short and could have used a few more memories to fill in some more gaps. But don’t let me put you off of this incredible niche gem, it is actually a very well crafted horror title that will creep you out whilst you try to repair things and find out what the hell you're actually doing there. I highly recommend it if you’re into deep, atmospheric, puzzle orientated games, shrouded in an interesting side story filled with mysteries to be solved and questions to be answered.

4.5
Score: 4.5/5
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