STAFF REVIEW of Soul Axiom (Xbox One)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

Soul Axiom Box art There are certain video game genres that allow gaming companies free reign to deliver their product. Puzzle games are one such genre as companies can chose, or not, to include some form of story that they can weave through the delivery of the puzzles themselves and their ultimate solutions. Soul Axiom, an ID@Xbox title from Wales Interactive, is the latest such game on the Xbox One that tries to do this, and on the surface things seem to be quite promising. But are they? Let's find out.

First off, even before I begin, I have to be honest and say that one of the best qualities of Soul Axiom is the music. Right from the beginning I was quite surprised at the production value of it and I loved how the music changed and shifted throughout the areas. One of the little things that I personally love when reviewing a game is find several points where I can set the controller down and just listen to the music. I ask myself such questions as "How does it feel with the atmosphere of the game?" or "How does it fit with the situation at hand?". These are just a couple of the questions that I tend to ponder when judging the music.

Right from the beginning, Soul Axiom had me hooked. Everything from haunting vocals to melodic synths to fluid, and at timed dynamic, percussion can be found as it permeates every level of this game. If anything, Soul Axiom could easily be enjoyed for the music alone. Ok, now where do we go from here? How about the plot?

There's barely any story here. Let me be more clear, as there is one but you have to spend a tragic amount of time searching for all the clues that would allow you to sit down and figure it out for yourself. Soul Axiom's story is vague in its premise and does a poor job delivering any type of significant plot progression. It had tremendous potential, but as I progressed I found myself becoming less and less interested in the story, and that actually bothers me, because having a premise that the game narrative is a psychological thriller, you would think that there would be some way to keep the puzzles while still delivering a quality story.

Now I know that it's hard to tell a story when you have puzzles as your only outlet, but wow, Soul Axiom could have done a great deal more with such a medium. Think about it. The premise is set upon a digital afterlife where you can receive messages from the 'other world'. Outside of looking like it was taken from Tron, they could have done much, much more. You are tasked with obtaining powers to complete the upcoming stages and puzzles that lay ahead; however, the puzzles are somewhat simplistic, poorly laid out, and require minimal effort to sort out.

These powers I just mentioned though are Soul Axiom's bread and butter. Using different color codes for different puzzle items, your character can phase objects in and out of reality. Keeping with the Tron feel, think derezzed. Other powers include the ability to control and manipulate time such as being able pause it with some objects and more. Each power comes with its own color and assigned button on the d-pad for easy selection, so being able to select what power for what puzzle is never a challenge.

The level design can span great distances, but in the end it offers very little outside of the puzzles themselves. I did however find the whole cyberpunk/Tron-like art style of the visuals put a classic nostalgic touch on the game. It almost reminds me of some of the first CD based mystery games from the past. I just wish where was more done more with it in terms of creating content, and add some more light. I say this because this game sometimes gets dark, almost to the point where you need a seeing eye dog.

The varying levels seemed to develop somewhat as you went through the numerous side memories, but the overall gameplay is very straight forward. Using the A button to jump and the B button to crouch, this makes Soul Axiom easy to just pick up and play without a complex menu system. There is a fault to this simplicity though. While I can understand why it's in place (no complex menu), it becomes the crux of Soul Axiom's destruction. Let's say for instance you spend some time on a level and you happen to encounter a puzzle that you need to solve with the time power. The catch is, if you screw up you are returned to the very beginning and all the traps are reset. Not all the puzzles involve a risk of death thankfully, but the whole feature of the puzzles being reset can become a pain to the point where you literally decide to play something else.

Soul Axiom ultimately tries hard to be something crafty and clever, but along the way it seems there were many issues with the execution of the message. You should be on the edge of your seat if you're experiencing something that wants to be a great psychological thriller, but with Soul Axiom there's little desire to even try to figure out the plot. Creating a game about attachment of memories in a digital afterlife environment, and not give the attachment to the story told throughout the experience, is a fundamental flaw that sadly puts the "ill" in thriller.

Again, I have to say that the music is the best part of this entire game, though that isn't saying much. With so many sources of inspiration that would have set this game up for tremendous success, you can't help but feel that this was an opportunity that sadly missed the mark. Priced at a mind boggling $19.99 + tax, Soul Axiom is a pretty good example of a game that chose quantity over quality. I wish I could say pick this game up, but sadly with all its faults, you're going to want to pass on it until a sale comes.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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