A VR game where you can manipulate the weather to grow plants is the kind of thing I’d expect to really enjoy. At the start, this makes Symphony of the Machine sound like my type of game. When I then discover you do all this by solving light beam puzzles, I get a little iffy. Still, I’m always interested in seeing how VR can be used to change normal gameplay ideas. So will I see the light in bending light, or is it better to remain in the dark?
At the start of Symphony of the Machine, you’ll ride an elevator up to the top of a tower, and it is here where you will spend the next two hours that make up rest of the game. Your goal is going to be to grow various plants by creating the weather conditions that they need. There are four weather panels on the wall, which represent sun, clouds, rain, and wind. If you want to turn these weather conditions on, then you need to reflect a beam of light onto them. Sounds simple, right?
Of course, you can’t just keep easily reflecting one beam of light until you win the game. You’ll have two tools to help you in this: mirrors to reflect the light and splitters to turn one beam into two. You need these tools, as any time you activate an element you’ll put up a shield that blocks a different element. For example, activating the cloud element means that a shield goes up that makes the sun element harder to hit. So if your plant is going to ask for both sun and cloud, then you’ll need to plan around that. Later in you also get modifiers that can change a beam to cause a “cold” or “hot” version of whatever element. For example, this will turn rain into snow. They also make additional shields that require additional planning.
At first, this is even kind of fun. Figuring out how to bend the light beam so it goes exactly where I need it to proved to be an interesting challenge, and I was enjoying myself with the puzzles. Making complex mazes of light to avoid various shields delighted me, and there was a real cool moment in stepping back and seeing the work I had done. It’s just, then I had to do it again. And again. And again. And again. By limiting itself to one room with one set up for the puzzles, I never felt like I was actually solving unique puzzles. Instead, I was sitting around resolving the same puzzle in slightly different ways for two hours. You never get more than those two tools to work with, and the shields are always in the same place every time, which only further made me feel like I was just going through the motions. I felt like I had just memorized a set of positions and kept remaking them to keep achieving the same results.
It especially doesn’t help when Symphony of the Machine is glitchy and full of frustrating design. You have a robot companion that follows you around and you can give items to hold. The problem is that he has a bad tendency to pick up objects you’ve already placed, disrupting your puzzle solution. My character was constantly letting go of pieces when I was holding them, and instead of staying where they were when you let go, they’d warp back to where you first picked them up, requiring time-consuming trips around the tower to reacquire them and try again.
I’m honestly not even sure if I finished Symphony of the Machine thanks to glitches. I mean, I’m about 80% positive I did. I grew all the plants, shut the tower off, and even got a trophy saying I fixed the world. Yet my final plant was constantly stuck asking for a weather condition I had already created. If there was an ending cutscene or any sort of indication that I reached the end of the game, it didn’t play. Instead, I just got stuck in the tower with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and confused. So at that point, I just threw my hands up, leaned back, and took in the rain. Good job me, I think I won.
No, really you’ve actually seen 100% of the game just from these screenshots.
If nothing else the rain was nice to take in. In fact, the whole game was. I enjoyed watching my plants grow, and sitting at the edge of the tower and just looking over the environment and trying to spot the subtle changes whenever I messed with the weather. It’s the kind of experience that works really well in VR.
I just wish I could say that about the rest of Symphony of the Machine. While the original idea may have been sound, the repetition, glitches, and poor design choices did more harm than good. I already was kind of iffy on light beam puzzles before, but after this, I don’t think I ever want to see one in any game again. It turns out there are some things that VR just can’t improve.
Symphony of the Machine was reviewed on PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on HTC Vive.