Master Reboot has a frankly brilliant premise. In the future, souls can be uploaded to a vast network called the SoulCloud, allowing close friends and family to experience the memories and pivotal events in a given person’s life.
Casting players as an enigmatic girl, struggling to piece together her identity and past, Master Reboot is a psychological horror adventure that aims very high conceptually. Disappointingly, the subsequent execution fails to achieve parity with its ambition; the resultant sum of poor presentation, inconsistent puzzles and cheaply fashioned scares.
A first-person horror adventure, Master Reboot is an awkward mix of obvious and abstract puzzles coupled with measured doses of psychological creepiness and bouts of superficial scaring. It’s really the puzzles which make up the core of the experience, as beginning from within the SoulCloud hub, players can enter the various memories of our mysterious protagonist and within each memory, a thematically unique world is created with its own puzzles and narrative beats.
In an era where the first person perspective has largely been sold into bondage with death dealing scenarios, Master Reboot remains refreshingly violence free; the game instead being focused on exploration and puzzle-solving.
The problem however, is that the experience is massively inconsistent, with some levels having obvious puzzles, others having brain-bendingly abstract conundrums and a few even having no puzzles whatsoever (a horrendously basic and jarring on-rails driving section where you can only move left to right to avoid oncoming cars springs to mind).
Taking the ‘school’ memory for example; in it players have to engage problems which include matching played notes to keys on a piano and arranging the order of the planets in our solar system; simple but fairly standard brain-teasing stuff. Another memory however, has you arranging shapes on a wall to match a symbol or logo that you only saw once hours before, which unless you have a photographic memory and a knack for holding odd, incidental details in your brain, means that your scalp will be short a few hundred hair follicles by the time the end credits start rolling.
Schizophrenic puzzle difficulty aside, credit must at least be given to the developer on account of the variety of worlds on offer as players will experience numerous locations ranging from parks and schools to airplanes and even the pulsating, Tron-like core of the SoulCloud itself.
Also, it isn’t just puzzles that are found in each of these worlds, as tucked away in the nooks and crannies of each are little blue toy ducklings that conceal clues about the girl’s identity. When collected, such clues manifest themselves as visual fragments such as letters, e-mails, diary entries, scrawled notes and as there isn’t any real dialogue in the game, they function well enough as one of Master Reboot’s chief storytelling devices.
With the puzzles and narrative forming two parts of Master Reboot’s essence, the last piece of the whole is the atmosphere; after all, a psychological thriller will pretty much live and die by how completely it enraptures the audience.
Let down by some poor presentation and a seemingly tenuous grasp of how to keep the audience on tenterhooks, Master Reboot atmospherics tend to be compromised by a blunt force trauma approach that opts to fall back on traditional and generic jump-scares, instead of the sort of creeping horror that should be synonymous with a game of this ilk.
While elements of dread do exist in Master Reboot, they are few and far between and the frustrating tendency for the music to cut out (or not even be there in the first place) does a little to foster the level of engagement needed with the player to make the atmosphere significant to the proceedings.
All that funny business with the music is sadly symptomatic of a larger problem; Master Reboot’s presentation leaves a lot to be desired.
From a visual standpoint, the game apparently leverages Epic’s Unreal Engine, yet when you see it in motion, it seems almost as if Master Reboot never made it out of the prototyping stage. Texture-less models and environments abound throughout the game as sparsely-detailed bodies pass through solid objects with the sort of alarming frequency that it makes you question quite how rigorously the game was tested prior to release.
Sadly, the ‘prototyping’ label defines Master Reboot a little too well since, if anything, the game feels like a proof of concept for a much more grand endeavour rather than the end result that falls short of such lofty ambitions.
For all its myriad of failings though, there really isn’t anything like Master Reboot on PlayStation 3 right now. Try and peer behind the veil of its aesthetical deficiencies and atmospheric missteps and players will find a unique, if not mildly engrossing explorative experience, but it remains one that unequivocally falls desperately short of its lofty promise.