One of my favourite things about first person 3D games is exploring a world through the eyes of the protagonist, especially when it’s a visually interesting dreamscape like Master Reboot. Master Reboot is a psychological first person puzzle game developed by Wales interactive. It’s out on Steam for $14.99 (USD). There’s fifteen dollars worth of content here, but it’s probably worth waiting for a Steam sale to pick it up.
In Master Reboot, you play as a young Welsh woman trapped in the Soul Cloud, a large digital world where dead people’s memories are stored for family members to relive memories with the deceased members of their family. The levels are fragmented memories of her past, ranging from childhood to experiences in school and young adult life. The hub world is visually striking and completing each level adds objects to the hub world that were present in the memory you just explored.
The gameplay consists of basic puzzles: find this thing, put that thing here, super simple stuff. Death isn’t penalised; your character just ‘reboots’ and you start the section over again. Who’s out to kill you? The omnipresent antivirus Seren.exe, aka the glowy-eyed young girl on the cover. She hunts you down over the course of the game because she considers you an invader to the system. She exists mostly as a puzzle element or jump scare fodder. She’s effective in making me panic in the same way that the monsters in Amnesia do as they stalk you. The puzzles aren’t particularly satisfying or clever, but some are just downright stupid. For example, I was in a playground where I pushed a yellow cone into a tree, which caused a crow on the tree to shoot a comically large laser out of its beak to destroy a jungle gym containing a required piece of the puzzle. Not particularly clever, most of the time it’s nonsensical.
The game is built on Unreal 3 engine, which is a solid base for an FPS. The levels vary from truly beautiful, to super plain. The overall quality of the textures is low, while the more visually impressive levels hide in great lighting and shadow effects. It truly is a mixed bag from a visual perspective, but overall I found the look to be appealing and suitably dream-like. Master Reboot’s best looking levels were its more abstract ones, where they felt almost minimalist. It’s not to say all of the textures are low quality, but it’s inconsistent throughout the game.
The visual novel style cutscenes aren’t my cup of tea and are in stark contrast to the game’s art style, in the same way that the animated cutscenes from Mirror’s Edge felt flat and out of place. But in this case they don’t even animate, rather slowly panning static images. They are relevant to the plot and help clue you in to the story, but they feel crude for the most part. But art styles are subjective, so the cutscenes and overall art style may appeal to you.
The 3D models and animations are the weakest part of Master Reboot. Seren.exe moves with a clunky walk cycle to the point where she looks downright silly. It’s weird to see such disparity between some parts of the game which look amazing, and others where it doesn’t look finished. Rather than looking like a dream, some parts are just lazily put together, and it certainly shows in the later levels such as the carnival and playground.
During their Steam Greenlight campaign, Wales interactive got some flak for a jump scare at the end of the trailer. They released this statement:
“We have been listening to the comments from you all not only on Greenlight but also around the internet about the ‘jump scare’ aspect of the trailer. Unfortunately the ‘jump scare’ at the end of the trailer does not convey the actual horror and scare elements found in the game where we aim to give a unnerving atmosphere and genuine fear whilst exploring rather than a possibly “cheap” scare. A new trailer with a accurate representation of the horror we will have in the game has been uploaded as well as a game play video, which will be up soon, showing off mechanics and exploration, and of course horror and lots of it.”
Unfortunately, jump scares are still rife in the finished game. I can understand some people enjoying that aspect of horror games, but Master Reboot has such a creepy vibe to it that I think it hurt the atmosphere of the game. After the first scare, the rest are seen from a mile away, and it serves to discourage exploration in the larger levels. As there is no punishment for death other than restarting the short puzzle sections, they never feel like a real threat.