There are few scarier things than your own death. However, I would say that the fear doesn’t stem from dying, but rather, not knowing what comes after. Or worse, knowing that your entire existence and experience halts at that moment. From there on, there will be nothing for you. The faux promise of an afterlife is a comforting resolution for those facing death. Although there is perhaps one intimidating aspect of Heaven: the idea of not being with those who you love and make you happy. In Soul Axiom, all these problems are solved, mostly . Multinational corporation Winter has devised Elysia, a digital world where people’s souls are introduced into after their death. Elysia, a reference to ‘Elysium’, a Greek notion of an afterlife confined to those with relationships with the gods, is an attempt to solve the very human problem of dying. It embodies the view in which people play God and defy the natural order (again!) to achieve something that’s beyond possibilities: immortality. And it works, kind of! Just put your pink-tinted goggles on and try not to ask many questions.
Soul Axiom is lived in first person, but without much explanation regarding who you are. As you start, an empty ferry — referencing Charon’s journey — takes you to the world of the dead, Elysia. You are dropped into Elysia’s lobby, a series of platforms hanging in space. Elysia is composed of minimalist and stylised cyberpunk architecture that imitates the physiognomy of server towers, reaching up nearly endlessly. The walls, floor tiles and columns are dark blue, juxtaposing to the few streams of neon oranges, purple or green that drive your eye to the horizon. This style is blended with a broken Zen garden that sparsely populates outdoor areas with crystal rocks and cyberpunk archways. The world you’re in is not real, and the references to the digital age are inescapable.
Nevertheless, the world of Elysia is nothing but a hub to other worlds. Just like in Crash Bandicoot’s games, one of the greatest appeals is that most of the action takes place in disparately exotic microcosms, be it a futuristic spaceship, the Amazonian jungle or the arctic pole. You beat all levels in a tier, and you unlock the next one, with more interesting and enticing levels in it. The logic behind this, apparently, is that a person’s memories are contained within their soul. This means that Elysia allows access to your memories and even the ones of others, conceding immortality through events previously occurred. And you’re probably asking, ‘can new memories be created inside Elysia? Why aren’t all these memories relived exactly as they happened? Why aren’t there any other people with you in Elysia? Who are you, even?’ Yes, yes, I know. There’s plenty of questions to be asked about Elysia. But don’t, because they seldom have an answer.
The main problem with Soul Axiom’s design is the way in which the puzzles are integrated in the game. Most of them are platform puzzles, which feel awkward in first person. Your jump is way too short, often being pointless, and ducking is used solely to go through vents. Maps are excessively large, and sometimes it’s too obvious that such large distances are a cheap way to mask the inelegant puzzle design. Don’t get me wrong, these puzzles merge with the architecture and landscape of each mini world appropriately. The spooky mansion has moving werewolf statues, for example, and in the science museum, you have to reconstruct a T-Rex skeleton.
The issue, however, lies in how blatant the puzzles are. They feel shoehorned into the level, turning the level into a movie set, or a badly-polished garage videogame. These different scenarios feel artificial, being just a superficially-interesting background in which to embed the puzzles. The powers you acquire reinforce the idea of being in a digital world: you can materialise certain objects and rewind the movements of background machinery. These powers are the core elements in the game, as well as a whole lot of walking — often aimlessly, due to the stretched-out size of the maps. Later in the game you will unlock a third ability, which will allow you to shoot fireballs at shiny objects and destroy them. And that’s part of what makes puzzles so awkward and plastic: the neon, bright contours pointing out the objects you can interact with, and colour-coded according to which power you should use in each situation.
These worlds rarely even have a connection to the story hidden behind each of them. Completing the level will give you access to the memory — a cutscene — concealed within it. Both the location of the level and the memory are vaguely interconnected. These memories narrate the stories of four different characters: an actress and the face of Elysia, a presidential candidate and one of the main political supports, and two of the doctors involved in the project. Soul Axiom is a game that in terms of narrative, sadly tries to bite off more than it can chew. It focuses on the spiced-up drama of the relationships among these four characters, neglecting to address how Elysia actually works. And the times it does, it’s fixated on the corporative side of it. The marketing of Elysia is, weirdly, one of the focal points of this game, and the extravagant situations that happen among these characters are a result of this.
And, embedded in marketing issues, Winter tries to address how subtracting somebody’s souls and inserting it into a digital system fits within religious cosmologies. The soul itself is a concept that is integrally tied up to Judeo-Christian beliefs in the West, so there is a constant narrative that addresses how religion and Elysia are made compatible. Elysia becomes a new world itself in which new religions are created, all addressing the new shifting paradigms that a project like this brings up. Even though some elements do feel awkward and confusing, it is a pity that this underlying narrative, the more interesting topics touched upon in the game, are relegated to a secondary position, and never given enough importance. Drama and affairs take the centre stage, and none of the aforementioned characters evoke any sympathy.
However, even though Soul Axiom does not excel in any aspect, it provides a variety of scenarios interesting enough to make you think. Finding the flaws in Elysia’s logic is actually quite engaging, and the questions raised give you quite a few “Uh…” moments. As I said, Soul Axiom’s appeal is in the variety of worlds and their exoticism. Nevertheless, even though it is a cheap tactic to make the game enticing, it works just as expected. The treatment of the soul and the afterlife is not disappointing, but the context in which these ideas are brought up are. It is a shame that puzzles feel so plastic and repetitive, because the multitude of scenarios and the ideas brought up in them tend to have a lasting effect on the player. But even though the characters are well-defined, the stories told by them are completely vacuous of thought-provoking content. Nevertheless, the world of the game and the ideas developed do have provocative things to say, so don’t dismiss this one entirely.
Soul Axiom (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
With interesting ideas and settings, Soul Axiom doesn't manage to have a narrative compelling enough. The puzzles, whereas integrated with the environment, feel contrived, and parts of the universe are too disjointed to make sense. It'll make you think, though, although sometimes with pain.