Indie developers always have a way of bringing something unique to the table with their work. Developer Sleepless Clinic tries to bring something new to the post-apocalyptic world setting in SYMMETRY, a new time-management survival game. This environment, paired with an impressive sound design, makes for a standout among games similar in nature. The otherworldly feel created by the music and SFX become a catalyst to create the sense of immersion I look for when playing a game.
On the other hand, SYMMETRY teeters more on its aesthetic than on its narrative. Although it creates a foundation on which to build an intriguing story, the lack of depth leaves a lot to desire. The game ends abruptly, leaving you with more questions than answers. This factor keeps this game from reaching its full potential. However, the redeeming qualities of the visuals and gameplay make this game a mostly enjoyable experience.
After mysteriously crashing on a desolate planet with sub-zero temperatures, your goal is to survive. The harsh elements paired with limited resources and the varied skills of the crew of scientists will determine your fate. The environment works against you throughout your mission. As each day passes, the frigid conditions worsen. The temperature may even dip to 70 degrees below zero when a blizzard hits.
I thought this challenge was particularly interesting. Having to work against unpredictable elements offers a unique layer to the gameplay. Like most games of this genre, survival is a matter of trial by error. You will probably die several times before you realize exactly how and when to react to what the game throws at you. Due to the conditions, some technology required to survive will break such as space heaters, rejuvenation chambers, the refrigerator, etc. All of these things, when broken, accelerate the likelihood of death of your crew members. When put together, these factors offer a challenging experience to discover the precise tactics needed to survive the game.
The gameplay also centers on your ability to manage resources. Crew members go out into the frozen wasteland to recover firewood and “electrowaste” for salvage to upgrade equipment. The electrowaste is vital to your success. The broken rocket ship requires a large amount of electrowaste to repair its two engines and power source. However, you may have to allocate electrowaste to other equipment for your immediate survival. Broken tech requires electrowaste to repair as well as any upgrades necessary. Each decision will lead to a consequence, and time becomes more crucial the longer your play. Although these traits are characteristic of this game genre, the use of the environment pitted against you gives the game some uniqueness.
This is where the game falls off for me. Some of my favorite games involve strong story-telling elements to enhance character-development and the overall experience. While SYMMETRY does utilize some of these aspects throughout the game, the lack of detail and shortness to the game end up making the game feel incomplete.
In the beginning, the hint of mystery from the short exposition piqued my interest. I wanted to learn how and why these characters landed on this desolate world. As you progress through the game, the crew members offer pieces of dialogue meant to explain the situation to the player. The idea of presenting the story in this model makes sense. However, the execution of this technique just left me confused.
The first problem being I was so preoccupied with the survival gameplay I could not give any real attention to the story. As I mentioned earlier, so many things need your attention in order to survive in SYMMETRY. I did not want to take the time to read a long box of text and take my eyes off the things that could inevitably kill me. If the characters had voice actors to narrate during gameplay, then this would have been less of an issue.
Furthermore, the story is too short and lacks depth. I read on the Steam page that this game benefits from having a “non-obvious” sci-fi plot. While this may be true, in my eyes, I see it as a way to hide behind lazy writing. I understand getting what you pay for as regards to price and size of the game, but if you present a plot line with potential and give it a good foundation, then build on it!
I’m not asking for a groundbreaking sci-fi fantasy. I just believe stories that have foundations as strong as SYMMETRY have the greatest potential to live up to. I hate to use the old “not mad, just disappointed cliché,” but that is the best way to describe my thoughts on SYMMETRY’s story.
Of course, most games in this genre will dodge the story-telling element entirely. The entertainment value takes stock in its gameplay and design (similar to They Are Billions). However, I am not saying the developers for this game should have done this. They took a risk and laid a good foundation to tell an interesting story. In my mind, if they could have expanded it, both in length and depth, it may have reached a satisfying conclusion.
Okay, now back to the good stuff. I loved the art-style in this game. Using vector graphics and pastel colors, the scenery paints a sense of other-worldliness. It adds to the mystery surrounding the situation. The design of the characters are all very 2-D and simplistic. Overall, the aesthetic of the atmosphere presents a canvas of creative decisions to immerse the player into the unknown environment.
Perhaps the strongest facet of this game is the sound design. The ominous music paired with the constant blowing wind effects were convincing tools of sound, further immersing me in the experience. I believe the easiest way to teleport an audience to another place is through audio reception. SYMMETRY uses subtle sound design to introduce shades of horror to the world.
As parts of the “symmetrical” world unfold throughout the games progression, the representation of a disrupted signal is a vessel to project the imminent death awaiting the crew members. As time passes, those signals grow stronger and more frequent, adding a layer of pressure to an already stressful situation. SYMMETRY is an example of sound design done well. It gave me the extra source of immersion I may have been missing from the story.
On the surface, SYMMETRY may seem like any other survival game. However, the unique world created through intriguing design choices makes for a playground unlike others. Pair this with the mechanics of fighting an unknown environment and you have a very re-playable game. Unfortunately, the story may detract with its lack of depth and confusing plot. That does not mean I think you should avoid it. On the contrary, I believe this game was an overall enjoyable experience for my first-time play through. Were there things I would have changed? Certainly. Nevertheless, gaming is about taking risks, and I am glad the developers took the risk they did to construct an interesting survival game.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Indie survival game introduces interesting elements to familiar gameplay mechanics
Gameplay - 7/10
Plot - 3/10
Design - 7.5/10
An interesting take on a familiar survival genre. The vector graphic art paired with the ominous sound design establishes elements of mystery. The environment plays a key role in your survival and these design factors make the gameplay all the more immersive. Unfortunately, the underdeveloped story and unclear narrative hinders this game from reaching its full potential.