Master Reboot imagines a world in which death is no longer final, the soul lives on and memories can be savored and experienced forever. A first-person psychological adventure developed by Wales Interactive, the game blends horror and puzzle elements by placing the player in what is termed the Soul Cloud – a server that stores the data of souls and memories upon a person’s death. The premise is this: an individual purchases an island on the Soul Cloud prior to their death, either for themselves or for a member of their family, and the server generates houses which store the memories of that person’s past.
Upon beginning Master Reboot for the first time, the player is thrust into this virtual world seemingly without an anchor. The opening sequences of the game are disorienting: I found myself wandering a deserted beach without any idea of who my character was, what I was supposed to be doing and just what, exactly, I was looking at, or looking for. Freedom of exploration is not infinite, however – I soon found myself blocked off by a digital wall when I attempted to go somewhere I obviously wasn’t supposed to.
Within the first thirty minutes of playing the game, I immediately sensed that Master Reboot is a title that is predicated upon presenting a sense of fragmentation. The disorientation and desolation of the opening sequence establishes this theme: the sparse visuals, the stripped back music and the lack of overall direction speak to the bare, minimalist approach Wales Interactive has taken here. It is largely appropriate, given the nature of the storyline and the fact that the primary goal of the player is to experience a selection of memories that belong to a character whose true presence in the Soul Cloud is somewhat of a mystery. These memories are located within the main base of the Soul Cloud and are given quite literal names: beach memory, park memory, graveyard memory, and so on. In order to play through a specific memory I merely had to walk up to a series of doors, each of which literally ‘housed’ one of these memories. These experiences are by their very nature fragmented, because they are incomplete. Instead, they exist as signposts on a journey in which the player is largely attempting to reveal the identity and fate of Master Reboot’s protagonist. In the midst of this lies Seren.exe, a virus that exists within the Soul Cloud and manifests in the form of a scary looking girl who pursues the player throughout these memories.
The puzzle and horror aspects of the game are primarily evident in the game play experience presented by these individual memories. The puzzles present in each of the memories are varied enough and, prevent the overall game play experience from becoming too repetitive. In a childhood memory I had to find three keys spread throughout a house in which my perspective was acutely distorted to reflect the age of the protagonist at the time. In a flying memory I had to find a way to unlock a cabin door while avoiding Seren.exe, who was patrolling up and down the aisle. A memory is completed upon reaching a white cube, upon which the player is returned to the Soul Cloud. Each of these memories is also littered with blue rubber ducks, collectibles which contain messages to the protagonist from the living world. In fact, the proliferation of ducks (yes, really) throughout Master Reboot speaks to the game’s more bizarre elements. In my play through I had to get toy horses in a playground to shoot a tree branch to pieces with lasers that came out of their eyes, and was also killed by an evil giant teddy bear.
Master Reboot’s presentation is also striking, although in a way that could potentially be divisive. I found it not only distracting but also significantly detrimental to my overall enjoyment of the game. The visuals are sparse and not particularly effective or effective. This may come down to individual taste: where I consider Master Reboot’s look to be dated, another player might appreciate such graphics as more unique. I also appreciate that Wales Interactive has likely made a very deliberate choice in terms of this artistic direction – while the game looks like a PC relic from the late 90s, the clunky, distorted visuals do fit the fragmented vibe that runs right through Master Reboot in terms of narrative and environment. Yet while evocative of the strange blend of dreamscape and nightmare the game presents, the presentation really did just look cheap at times. It didn’t work consistently and really detracted from my engagement with the game. Master Reboot is a strong premise that really deserved higher quality visuals that could just have easily evoked its abstract setting.
Frustrating game play mechanics also conspire to let Master Reboot down at key moments. In memories that required any kind of timed jumping maneuver, I found myself needlessly repeating certain sections due to a complete lack of control over the protagonist’s movement in air. This unpredictability unfortunately features prominently in the game’s final sequence, when the player must complete a series of objectives within a certain time allowance.
Finally, Master Reboot also features a series of animated cut-scenes at the end of memory sequences. In theory, these are intended to supplement the player’s understanding of the protagonist’s real life existence outside of the Soul Cloud. They are short and similarly abstract – it’s up to the player to fit all these memory fragments together in order to glean their meaning within the grand scheme of things. Again, while this fits in with Memory Reboot’s overarching themes, I often found these cut-scenes to be too disconnected from the wider narrative. While I admire the consistency with which Wales Interactive have stuck to their overall vision, a fragmented journey still requires a similar sense of consistency in how all these pieces fit together. This is what Master Reboot lacks – the interesting concept is let down by an inconsistent execution.
Master Reboot reminds me of two games that were released twenty years apart. 2013’s Remember Me presents a future world in which technology allows memories to be digitally uploaded and shared via a brain implant. It follows a protagonist stripped of all her memories fighting to regain her identity. Myst, released in 1993, is a point-and-click adventure game in which the player controls an unnamed protagonist who must unravel the mysteries of an apparently deserted island by solving puzzles. In Narrative, Master Reboot combines elements of both to interesting effect, and the disorientation of the protagonist is evident throughout. It blends puzzle and adventure in a style similar to Myst, albeit with less of an emphasis on exploration. Unfortunately, Master Reboot’s visual style is also far closer to the 90s era from which Myst emerged. Thematically this might be justified, as I’ve acknowledged. However, this lack of polish is part of the inconsistent delivery which plagues the four to five hours it takes to finish the game. Ultimately, I’d sum up Master Reboot by suggesting that it has, at its core, a great premise – a premise that is undermined by its own sloppiness in terms of graphics and game play mechanics.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.