Think back a couple of years and you’ll remember that survival games were at the height of their powers. They’d been tweaked and honed to become as intuitive and challenging as they possibly could, and no one could come up with something different to do with them. In a “hold my beer” moment, along came Song In The Smoke and asked what if we did it in VR? Nailing the mechanics and providing a solid survival experience in VR, it won plaudits and hearts, and crucially it delivered a full game and not just a couple of hours of novelty to pass the time. With Sony’s PSVR2 launching, Song In The Smoke Rekindled is here to bring the experience to those who either missed it the first time around, or just want to see how the new hardware can handle putting you in the physical role of the hunter… or hunted.
Set in what feels like a prehistoric world, you’re playing the key role of a hunter following a right of passage through dangerous lands where survival is not guaranteed. There is no one waiting to furnish you with clothing, no one handily leaving weapons scattered around, and no one there to help when the wildlife decide they’re hungry and you look good to eat. An enigmatic tale, Song In The Smoke Rekindled starts as it means to go on, by explaining very little. Picking your character (male or female) is about the only element that’s clear in the story, everything else is pieced together as you play assuming you can work out what the three-headed crow, shaman and ghostly happenings are trying to convey. Fortunately, speech isn’t a requirement and through simple interactions with objects you’ll start to learn to forage, craft and hunt to keep yourself in tip-top shape, and solve the puzzles present that will unlock travel to another land.
As far as mechanics go, Song In The Smoke Rekindled is standard survival game fare – you have heath, fatigue, poison and heat meters to manage; a limited space inventory to declutter; and most things in the world are going to do you harm. What brings the edge is the VR implementation. Being immersed in the world via the PSVR2 headset and using the Sense Controllers puts a whole new spin on the genre, with both positive and negative impacts. On the plus side it’s really easy to get to grips with everything because it’s all based on your actions rather than stick movements and button pushes (of course, those are still part and parcel of the game, you just are more connected with the on-headset movements). Pick up a stick with one hand and a knife in the other and it’s easy to whittle it down to what you need, smash rocks together to create sparks, or aim down an arrow shaft and let it fly to hit your target dead on. As a negative, it can feel a little more arduous with managing the inventory (and the constant battle against lack of ideal space), and needing to be spot on perfect with looking at objects to pick them up.
The game is structured around exploring an area for 3 mystical stones that when found work to open up a doorway to the next region. Typically, each located rock reveals clues and advice for tackling what’s going to come up, and you’ll have to be ready for a bit of stealthy hunting or a stand up fight to progress. Complete the trial and you can move on, fail it and it’s likely meaning you’ve died and need to reload a save. Saving Song In The Smoke Rekindled can only be done at a campfire, so it’s wise to have one available nearby at all times – you can setup three per region – and they also let you cook food, make clothing, and provide a spot to sleep, and even keep you safe through the night. Go into the dark hours without a thought to protecting yourself and soon you’ll incur the interest of various spirits and animals that’ll see you as fair game. It’s an interesting way to keep you on your toes and prevents complacency in your hunting and tracking skills – what’s the point of those against a ghoul? Against mortal creatures though you get to play with a trusty bow and a big club, being able to alternate quickly between both depending on whether your foes pick fight or flight.
The cel-shaded art style makes things distinctive, and Song In The Smoke Rekindled can certainly be colourful and detailed at times. There’s a simplicity to the surroundings too that ensure performance doesn’t suffer, and no area is too big to traverse that you get lost. Sure, it has some nice layouts that confuse and confound for reaching particular spots, but nothing a bit of thorough poking around doesn’t solve. Sound also plays an important part across the game, and you’ll find yourself naturally using it to detect hidden items and danger. It works very well, and it’s impossible to forget the first time you realise you’re being stalked and a beast is creeping up behind you. A full day/night cycle and varying weather conditions add to the sense of place and feed the atmosphere, and there’s a good balance between it managing to feel claustrophobic and agoraphobic when you simply don’t know what’s out there looking for you.
Song In The Smoke Rekindled brings the title to the PSVR2 without really changing much beyond improved rendering power and better visual output, but that’s not a bad thing. With the original releasing a couple of years ago and new players likely to jump on board, this is a game that’s got depth and longevity, where each visit to the world can unveil something new. Whether it’s secrets in the trees and bushes, or a new way of working with the detritus scattered on the floor, it may make the death you’ve just had worthwhile. Those that are in this hardware launch period and are looking for something that will keep them absorbed for hours need look no further than this; it’s a very well designed survival experience with sublime VR controls that crucially are able to be tailored to your skill level… and your ability to stomach FPS movement.
A PSVR2 review copy of Song In The Smoke Rekindled was provided by Perp Games PR team, and the game is out now for around £30 on most VR platforms. There’s a physical version due on 17th March that can be bought directly from the Perp Games store.
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