Symphony of the Machine is a new puzzler from Stirfire Studios for PlayStation VR. As developers experiment with what works in VR with games like Job Simulator (1), we more times than not we end up seeing much less action filled VR games, starkly contrasted against the OMG I’M GOING TO F’ING DIE experiences like Resident Evil VII. Symphony of the Machine is another one of those slower experiences. It’s also one of many games that uses a more artsy aesthetic rather than trying to go for realism – since that doesn’t seem to work so well on Sony’s headset. Symphony clocks in at around ninety minutes to two hours in length, which is the average expected play-length of most VR games.
What sets it apart then? The primary objective is to direct light with mirrors and other reflecting/refracting contraptions in order to help plants grow. I’ve never done that in a game before, although I did mow down droves of enemies with CD-ROMs in order to save the members of the band Aerosmith back on Sega Genesis.
So yeah, video games are weird.
Anyway, in Symphony you start it in a barren desert with nothing but a very tall tower in front of you. After entering the tower and reaching the top, you meet a little robot that looks straight out of Wall-E whose job is to help you restore plant life to the world that humanity probably destroyed because we’re assholes. There is also a giant beam of light my cat would die to sunbathe in with various glyphs representing different types of weather like sun, rain, wind, and clouds. Your new little Robo-friend then presents you with a pot, bulb, and what’s required to help it grow and flourish.
The game and controls start out easy enough, only requiring a mirror or two as you direct the light beam into glyphs one at a time in order to get your bearings. Shortly after, it becomes painfully apparent that Sony’s decision to rehash Move controllers proves to be a bad choice for character movement. It’s not the tracking I have issues with anymore—the company remedied that in a past firmware update on both PS4 and the headset itself. My issue is, once again, my inability to move around freely. Maybe if the left Move controller had a joystick, it would remedy this issue. Like so many other VR games, Symphony opted to use teleportation.
I hate teleportation.
I don’t get sick, though for many free motion in VR is jarring and uncomfortable. For me, however, having to use it rips me out of the experience when playing a game in a first person view. The problem is there aren’t many other options left without a joystick other than using a standard controller which in turn breaks some of the immersion. Unfortunately, even the DualShock 4 method Symphony offers gets cumbersome as the whole game requires precision placement of items and quite a bit of movement around the tower. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to place an item only to have your robot friend bump into it and knock it out of the way. Other times he’ll annoy you by being just out of reach when giving you an item, requiring you to awkwardly teleport around until you can reach him. I also found it difficult to manipulate items in 3D space…..which you, uh, kinda do a lot. My biggest gameplay gripe is if the PlayStation Camera loses sight of your controller, any item you were carrying resets back to where it originally spawned from, causing you to backtrack unnecessarily .
The overall gameplay and puzzles start out simple enough: your robot pal gives you a pot, a plant bulb, and displays what weather conditions are needed to help it flourish. It also gives you all the items you’ll need in order to make the light hit the required glyphs. Once the plant grows you set it aside and move on to another plant with more requirements. Each plant gets more complex as you play through the game, with barriers popping up to block the obvious easy solution. These puzzles were fun and challenging, but quickly became frustrating rather than rewarding because of the unfortunate control issues mentioned above.
So, as you can tell this game is a far from a perfect experience and definitely not as relaxing as I hoped it would be. Having said that, messing with the weather and watching the environment change around you doesn’t get old—especially with such a nice view. This is something Symphony of the Machine does well. The ambience is relaxing and even though it can get on my nerves, I have a soft spot for cute little robot companions in games, and this one is no exception. Hopefully Spitfire Studios releases and to fix the glaring control issues because there’s a fun game in here, you just have to fight your way through it. And not in a satisfying TumbleSeed (3) kind of way.