James Haresign goes wandering around someone's digital unconsciousness, and tries not to get too scared
I have to be careful here, because most of the appeal of Master Reboot is trying to figure out just what the hell is going on. The game doesn't tell you a thing at the start, just drops you in some random forest and lets you figure it out as you go. And it's an approach that does the game well. The mystery surrounding it all is very much the driving factor of the game, so if I drop too many hints I'd be ruining it for everyone.
What I can say is that someone solved death. In the not too distant future, a group of friends figured out how to digitize memory and when someone dies they can be uploaded to the Soul Cloud, and you can visit them in their memories. Obviously something went wrong, and now you're in there trying to figure it all out.
The opening forest is gorgeous, and sets up the game perfectly. Unfortunately not all the levels live up to its promise
As you're dropped into these digital memories, Master Reboot seems to have everything. A stunning aesthetic, unsettling atmosphere, a mystery pushing you forward, and a creepy child scaring the bee-jesus out of you.
However, what actually happened inside the Soul Cloud is pretty clear about halfway through, though you're still left with the puzzle of who you are, and the bizarre demonic element at play in the game – which seems totally out of place – suddenly gets hinted at in the main story and you've got another mystery to unravel.
While the story manages to twist and turn and keep you interested, the other elements don't fair as well. Some levels work beautifully, both puzzle and looks wise, but these are rare. Some mess up the aesthetic, trying to go for detailed environments like a giant sized child's playroom or an aeroplane. Unfortunately the art talent of the team lets it down as they try to bite off more than they can chew, resulting in the the horror elements falling apart. It's made even worse by a questionable lighting system. When Wales Interactive leave the areas open, the Unreal Engine's own is used fantastically, but with closer sources it just doesn't work and highlights the low quality modelling. The torch itself is laughably bad.
For instance the Fairground, poor modelling and puzzle design turn it into a tedious affair
Other times, a perfectly scary level is ruined by the puzzles. You can be trudging around an unsettling graveyard, worrying if you're going to have to change your trousers again, only to be presented with a code. After wandering around for ten minutes trying to figure out the cypher, any presence the graveyard had is long forgotten and the level is no longer memorable either. I've got nothing against these type of puzzles, but there's sections – such as the school room or bedroom – that rely a lot less on atmosphere and would be perfect for the head scratchers.
Then there's the old horror rule 'less is more'. The scary child is well hidden for an early part of the game, her appearances few and far between, and usually when she does pop up it's brown trousers time. However, she soon starts appearing far too often. One level has you hunting for buttons in a maze, and every button not only opens a door but gives you a glimpse of her walking around, quickly killing any impact she has. Another has her trapped, grasping at thin air trying to reach you, only you can walk right up to her with nothing happening. This wasn't just me testing the game either, the devs actually put a collectible next to her. She went from being a terrifying presence to a bit of the scenery, completely ruining any point of her even being there.
The Soul Cloud can get a little Tron-like at times. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing
What seems most odd is for this slow, brain teasing horror game to end with a timed platforming section. Didn't we all decide that was a bad idea in first person perspectives unless you're Mirror's Edge? You've just spent the last four hours slowly putting back together a person's memories for it all to come down to rushing through some corridors and smashing things with an axe? It feels like the development team decided at the last minute that they should throw out all that thoughtful nonsense and just go full-on videogame.
MASTER REBOOT VERDICT
There’s some really good ideas in Master Reboot, maybe Wales Interactive have been a bit too ambitious with the project versus the size of their team, but it never quite fulfils those ideas. It comes close a few times, and the story is a genuinely interesting one which leaves you guessing all along, but as a horror title it stumbles far too often. Especially with the substandard lighting, which has a profound effect on knocking you out of the experience. I have to stress that the game isn’t bad, I actually fairly enjoyed the first two hours of the game. I feel bad about what I’ve written because I can see what was intended, and the enthusiasm that went into it. However, Master Reboot is full of unfilled potential and missed opportunities. Another six months of development could have done this game a world of good.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Dropping into the digital forest at the very start of the game. It looks amazing and you’re thoroughly confused as to what the hell is going on.