Symphony of the Machine reminds us how well certain puzzle game principles work in 3D – and how they can grow from their 2D origins into a virtual reality environment.
When playing Symphony of the Machine, I was reminded of a game so old that I can’t even remember the title of it. It was played using an overhead view of a 2-dimensional playing field, where your task was to manipulate prisms to guide rays of colored light so they’d hit the right targets without being stopped by obstacles while navigating around the various dangers that each level offered.
Symphony of the Machine, at its core, is quite similar, but takes this experience into a virtual reality environment. In the sense of taking the principle towards 3D, it’s also a bit like certain sections in the excellent The Talos Principle – although that wasn’t a VR title of course. In this game, you’re using light beams to manipulate the weather – which in turn affects the environment you’re in and can also affect the placement of obstacles in the level.
This becomes more and more complex as you get tasked with more elaborate goals that often involve hitting more than one marker at a time. To achieve this, you’ll need splitters (I call them prisms for nostalgic reasons), mirrors and other tools that either affect your beams of light or the playing environment. I realize that this makes it sounds like Crazy Machines of The Incredible Machine, but it never gets up to those levels of ‘crazy’.
The game can be controlled using either a gamepad or a set of move controllers – and I’d heavily suggest using the latter option. It’s not just more immersive, it works a lot better when placing and manipulating your objects. Controls are responsive, but can get a little challenging during levels where precise aiming is required to get around obstacles. To help with this, you can also move around the tower platform that you’re standing on.
Audiovisually speaking, I’d say the closest match here is aforementioned The Talos Principle. Just like that game, Symphony of the Machine is a game where your surroundings impress whenever you take a break from puzzle solving. In the case of Symphony of the Machine, its developers seem to have actually embraced this – after you complete all of the game’s puzzles it turns into a mini sandbox where you get to play around with different weather types and explore how they affect the valley below.
Games like this work great in 2D, but Stirfire Studios has shown us that it can transform a puzzle game into a puzzle experience using the power of VR.