Symphony of the Machine is a game based around the idea of controlling the weather. It’s an experience which is equal parts elegant and clumsy, intuitive yet frustrating and ultimately one which falls short of its true potential.
The basic game play loop of Symphony of the Machine is simple, reflect beams of light onto panels which alter the weather. Doing so will allow potted plants around you to grow. Different plants require different conditions and as the requests get more and more complicated, more thought is required to solve each puzzle. Symphony of the Machine’s game play is a perfect example of why VR is so enticing.
Simple puzzle mechanics which would be straightforward and mundane in regular games are elevated to something more special with the addition of tactile control and immersive environment. Given the right execution these simple game play mechanics can come together to produce a unique and satisfying experience. It’s a shame then that Symphony of the Machine falls so short of giving its best parts the chance they deserve.
The main problem with the game comes down to the controls. Largely due to the limitations of the hardware and in part due to there being no real effort to work around them, the game is incredibly difficult to play. Puzzles involve lifting objects and orientating them in free space around you. This leads to several instances of the tracking lights of the controller interfering with those of the headset. And in a game where precise movements are required to progress through the game, these tracking problems become unbearable. Another questionable design choice is the way in which the player moves around the world.
The player can teleport to a fixed location wherein they can rotate the camera in small segments. Problem is this completely removes the ability to make smaller adjustments to where you are standing meaning you must teleport away and try again. It is also not an option you carry objects with you when you teleport. Instead you must place the object into a floating robot who will do its best to follow you across the room. More often than not, my robot pal would end up behind me, requiring me to rotate the camera completely around in order to face it, that is if it doesn’t get caught on an object on the way over.
While Symphony of the Machine certainly highlights the limitations of VR in its current state it also shows glimpses of why the medium is so special. At the start of the game for instance, the player ascends a huge spire via an elevator. During the ascent I was able to survey the whole world around me. The whole journey gave me a real sense of scale and wonder as well as triggering a predictable amount of vertigo. The weather effects too, are absolutely beautiful. Watching rain turn to sleet turn to blistering sun is simply breathtaking and inspires a real feeling of calm and tranquillity. The score too is serene throughout which really gives the impression of a living, breathing world.
The game also does a great job of easing the player in by slowly adding game play elements one by one before combining them in more challenging puzzles. During my time with the game I always felt challenged which made each puzzle solution all the more satisfying. Problem is though, most of the time I would work out the solution to a puzzle only to be thwarted by the game’s terrible tracking. Some puzzles require mirrors to be delicately placed in front of the beam of light. This proves extremely difficult when the object consistently stutters and warps around the room. Symphony of the Machine constantly steps on its own toes, burying what could be a good game under a mountain of hindrances.
Ultimately your enjoyment of this game will be based on whether you can look past the frustrating controls and poor camera tracking to see the beauty hidden within. And there is definitely something about the way the game uses weather to tell a story. There’s a great VR puzzle experience hidden in here somewhere but the game’s refusal to work around the hardware’s limitations and its constant tracking issues prevent it from reaching its true potential. Symphony of the Machine reminded me of why I love VR, right before showing me every single one of the platform’s shortcomings.