Cyberspace is not a typical setting for a horror game, at least when compared to ghost towns or haunted houses. On paper, it seems kind of silly; yet, sometimes the silly things in horror are truly sinister. Afterall, we didn’t initially create clowns to be sinister beings; yet years later we have a percentage of people who have a real phobia of clowns (coulrophobia). So here’s Master Reboot, a game that takes place in a version of cyberspace that at times is vibrant, futuristic, and even whimsical; but the setting is a thin veil that barely hides its sinister undertones.
Cyberspace is not the correct term for Master Reboot’s setting; it actually takes place in the cloud. This cloud is different than the ones we’re accustomed to today, but it works similarly albeit for dead people. Death is no longer a thing thanks to a group of engineers who have created the soul cloud. Customers only need to purchase an island, which will host smaller, island-sized settings for their memories. When the customer dies, be it a family member or the soon-to-be deceased, he or she has their soul uploaded into the cloud where they can relive their memories.
You don’t know this when you immediately begin the game. You are truly a blank slate. Even though you find details you about the soul cloud that makes it seem like paradise, you wouldn’t think so because of the threats that remain hidden from your peripheral vision. Fortunately, there are details hidden throughout the game, giving you the opportunity to put the pieces together. I don’t want to reveal anything beyond that the soul cloud and the player are connected; however, I will say that the way in which I discovered my past was effective. Rather than finding notes on the ground, I would find doctor’s notes, instant messages, and even internet pop-ups (all of them are represented by blue rubber duckies). To counter-balance this, the game would introduce demonic sigils, which demons would use to accuse me of causing everything that’s wrong with the soul cloud. It’s an effective way to present a story that uses the setting to create immersion.
I mentioned in the introduction that some horror works really well when the threat initially appears silly. If I hadn’t researched this game as a reviewer, and I had gone in blindly, I would not have expected a horror game from the offset. But, I would have gradually picked up on something sinister due to the amazing sound design. Essentially, I would often hear footsteps that weren’t mine, and I heard things that made me question if I were seeing things from my peripheral view.
But if I were to look at the levels alone without considering the sound, I would have guessed that Master Reboot was a science fiction story without any inkling of horror–that is until the levels incorporate spectacular lighting and shadow effects. At times, Master Reboot looks like it’s an ambitious visually designed game inspired from the best of science-fiction. In other cases, some of the levels contain jagged architecture similar to that of Kingdom Hearts 2, which are used to retell childhood memories. But glitches are coordinated with the aforementioned footsteps, making me feel paranoid despite the wonderful aesthetics. Usually these fleeting glitches hide faces of a threat; I felt like the game was mocking me. So at times, Master Reboot balances a visual style that’s equal parts futuristic, silly, and sinister. While this risks producing a visual style that seems too erratic, I think it actually finds a balance that creates something equally spectacular and horrifying–the sillier aspects only enhance the horror.
Like its story, Master Reboot’s mechanics rely on players’ sense of discovery. There are no objective markers, and you have no immediate ideas of what to do apart from exploring each memory. It’s an interesting idea, although most of the game involves searching and collecting random items.
Master Reboot does introduce other ideas, some of which are scarier than others. One of the most terrifying memories was the airplane. While I did have to collect three more squares, I also had to hide from the immediate threat that patrolled the aisle. Later, when I was exploring the vents, the threat would appear in the same vents but in a different location. Other times, I would solve simple but satisfying puzzles in a school, and occasionally use weapons sparingly—not necessarily for combat. There are levels in between the memories that usually contain intense chase scenes within the realm of cyberspace. In one of these chase scenes I was chased by a giant, malicious teddy bear and I had to clear wall after wall of internet pop-ups. These are some examples of Master Reboot’s best moments.
But there are some other aspects that don’t work as well. Near the end of the game, Master Reboot will expect you to jump across platforms and duck/dodge oncoming threats; given the first-person perspective, these sections don’t work so well. There’s also a level where you’re driving in the wrong direction of traffic, and you need to steer the vehicle left or right to avoid crashing. Crashes don’t make much of an impact, and the scene goes on for far too long. Finally, I got through some of the memories by exploring and collecting. As long as I didn’t overstay my welcome, I was treated to some effective scares; otherwise, I triggered the same scares until I became bored and frustrated.
The only other issue I had with the game is that the cursor was occasionally problematic. You can only interact with objects that show a hand icon. This hand icon will show up in the proximity of the object, rather than whenever I hover above the specific object with the camera. Other times, objects will be scrunched together, so even when I think I’m interacting with the object closest to the center of the camera, I’m actually use a different object. It doesn’t ruin the game, but it can be annoying at times.
Some of Master Reboot’s gameplay ideas are hit or miss. Despite some setbacks, I found plenty of bizarre, terrifying moments that kept me reluctantly intrigued for the 5-8 hour adventure. In terms of visual quality and atmosphere, Master Reboot is consistent throughout, and it’s able to keep me on edge, hairs standing up on the back of my neck even when the place is littered with blue rubber duckies.
This review is based on the digital copy of Master Reboot for PlayStation 3 provided by Wales Interactive.