Even in the deepest, darkest corners of my mind, I’ve never dreamed of anything as beautifully strange as Soul Axiom. Like a meeting of the minds behind Bioshock, Portal, and Tron, Soul Axiom is an experience in the abstract that I could only hope to explain in any way short of sounding nuts. Though my first fifteen minutes with its soul-crushing riddles left me no closer to understanding Wales Interactive’s psychological thriller then when I began, I think I want to. By Big Daddy’s drill, I really want to.
Seconds past its ominous menu screen, Soul Axiom dumped me deep in the heart of what I could only fathom was what it looked like – a (probably) ancient tomb. Was I buried in it? Kept captive? On a free tour? I couldn’t tell you. I could make out what looked like some slightly menacing Witcher medallions gazing at me from the wall and a dimly lit corridor in front of me.
I walk through it and then I realize that something’s following me. That boulder that barely missed Indiana Jones was coming for me. I raced down the hall through a string of cobwebs face first until I realize there’s something strange with this boulder – or rather, the projection of one. It’s hollow, computerized green sphere washes over me harmlessly and before I know it, I’ve haphazardly jumped down a shaft straight into another room.
I see a wall before me with the inscription,”He Has Given You Two Hands, One To Give, And The Other To Receive.” Okay, that’s weird. Then my hands start to glow like I’ve just chugged one of Rapture’s Plasmids. All right, that’s a whole lot weirder. Call me intrigued.
Soon, I’m overlooking a gorgeous courtyard of mystic ruins straight out of Journey with no one to greet me, the hot sun hanging high in the sky. Palm trees and obelisks appear before me like somewhere out of Stargate SG-1 or, ugh, Brendan Fraser’s Mummy movies. Egypt maybe? I notice there’s a giant sun mirror. A puzzle? It’s easy just to stare at in awe for just a few more moments than needed soaking in the view.
On a technical level, Soul Axiom has a few charms to offer. I can hear the pitter patter of my own footsteps and the sand under my feet. I silently wade through the shallow water flooding the courtyard, but I’m willing to assume it’s part of this matrix. The camera offers a mild bit of whiplash, but you likely won’t be rushing anywhere often in spite of the thankful existence of a dash button with a click of the left stick.
I think back to the inscription on the wall and what would you know! I can suck and un-suck my left hand with the left trigger and my right hand with the right trigger. Nothing here is real, but not everything’s permitted – some things have to be manipulated. The landscape’s adorned with blue, holographic webbing I can phase in and phase out at will with my trusty, radioactive-looking hands. Now, about that sun mirror.
There’s a sun beam piercing the sky and I direct it back to its little mirror friends, phasing them in and out in an order that seems logical. Low and behold, I, Radioactive Hands Man, have earned a holo-cube booth. I hesitate. Is this a boss? A trap? No? I reluctantly step in and am greeted with the sight of, well, something.
What followed from there is almost too crazy to make up and almost a non-spoiler as difficult as it is to describe in words. As its name would suggest, there’s a certain “truth” it wants you to believe – what that is I still don’t know, at least as far as one brainy British lady is willing to reveal. Though I wish Brainy British Lady could lip-sync, the sheer scale of its “idea” is admirable. That Soul Axiom wants to take me on a “quest to unlock your identity, your story, your mystery” is something I like a lot. Whether it can do that on its purported “8-12 hours” of gameplay and still modest production values I’m not so sure. But I hope it can.
The burden of big ideas and bigger promises can’t stop Soul Axiom from dreaming the dream that only so many games could aspire to. Its beautiful art-style and entrancing pacing of its demo keep things interesting from start to finish, but like the finest painting, I can’t guess how long I’ll want to think on it before moving on. Like a dream you can’t remember when you awake, Soul Axiom embodies that feeling you hope leads you to an epiphany. I imagine there is one here, a big one, and I can’t wait to find out.
Soul Axiom’s currently available on Steam Early Access and free digital download on the Nintendo eShop ’til June 22nd. The game will be coming soon to Wii U, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.