An intriguing narrative and a clever setting can go a long way in a sci-fi adventure game, but it’s a difficult thing to pull off. As such, Master Reboot – a Myst-esque excursion by BAFTA Cymru award winning developer Wales Interactive – struggles to combine its great ideas into a compelling whole. The title comes close at times, though.
A big part of the release’s problem is the way in which its selected genre poorly coveys its plot. There’s a thought provoking, intelligent, and occasionally emotional narrative here that revolves around the Soul Cloud – a pseudo social networking site based upon the personalities of the dead, which allows a loved one’s life to persist online, allowing users to interact with them. However, the puzzles and exploratory elements impede its impact.
That’s not to say that these conundrums aren’t interesting when considered in isolation, though. The world that you inhabit is contained within the abovementioned simulation, and this serves as the context for a neat selection of brain teasers set in various different environments and locations. One noteworthy section sees you shrunk inside a child’s playroom, and finds you collecting items hidden among a maze of towering toys. Meanwhile, another places you in a playground which changes drastically as you uncover missing pieces of the equipment.
Much like the narrative, it’s all very clever. Discovering a new puzzle is a treat, as you’ll always ponder exactly what kind of crazy scenario the game’s going to throw at you next. However, they can also be pretty difficult to solve at times. For the most part, they’re fairly logical – but knowing how to complete the puzzle is often only part of the equation, as finding pieces or figuring out smaller riddles that exist as part of the larger challenge can stump you for far too long.
And this is perhaps the product’s biggest problem: once you’ve overcome the conundrum, you’ll be treated to a new fragment of narrative, but your brain will be so sizzled by the time that you get there that it won’t carry the impact that it should. Similarly, a large portion of the storytelling is conducted through collectibles, but if you happen to miss or skip some of these, your overall understanding of the plot will slip.
That means that, while there’s undoubtedly an interesting tale here, it can be hard to keep up with its ambition. Fortunately, the horror aspects are a little more successful. The main antagonist throughout the adventure is perhaps a little predictably portrayed as a young girl – but she’s the creepiest infant since Alma. In truth, she looks a lot like the F.E.A.R. series’ sinister star, and she’ll jump out at you on occasion, or – in the game’s most intense moments – even chase you. She’s truly horrifying, and the scares are well implemented, with excellent use of sound further accentuating the frights.
As already alluded, these scary sections complement the computer simulation setting well, as they represent the dark side of the software that you reside inside. Sadly, the occasional platforming segment can completely kill the macabre mood, as the mechanics are imprecise and result in unnecessary deaths and restarts, replacing any immersion with irritation.
Another barrier blocking your engagement is the aesthetic. The design is extremely basic and visually a bit unpolished, although there are some standout moments that will successfully hold your attention. And that really sums up the entire experience: there are instances of brilliance in this adventure, but you'll need to work through numerous frustrations in order to uncover them.
Master Reboot is worth powering up, as there’s a clever and frightening tale to uncover here. Unfortunately, the narrative is hidden beneath the actual gameplay, which can be downright frustrating at times. While there are glimmers of an outstanding experience, the title’s amalgamation of ideas never quite forms a perfect circuit, making this an interesting experiment that could have been so much more.