Song in the Smoke (VR) Review

Song in the Smoke (VR) Review 4
Song in the Smoke (VR) Review 5
Song in the Smoke
Developer: 17-BIT
Publisher: 17-BIT
Played On: PC
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
MSRP: $33.99 CAD
Release Date: 16/12/2021
| February 17, 2022

Everything in Song in the Smoke wants to kill you. Hostility is a given across another survival romp. The prehistoric setting feels refreshing when players are completely surrounded in it. An added presence takes away the safety net of a screen, while players are literally watching their backs as they scavenge to live. Japanese indie studio and publisher 17-BIT does a fantastic job of pushing the genre forward with virtual reality. Of course, Song in the Smoke is hard proof that survival games are played best in VR.

Immersion is a driving focus for Song in the Smoke. Similar to games like The Forest, ARK: Survival Evolved, Green Hell and Subnautica, players are dumped into an empty world with no inventory. Song in the Smoke’s playground barely gives you a friend or anyone to talk to. It’s a cliché that adds isolation for players. The effect works especially well in VR, thanks to a somewhat haunting atmosphere. 17-BIT never intended to make a horror game, but Song in the Smoke packs enough danger to make players think twice about stepping out in the open. This is immersion done by taking away a safety net.

Song in the Smoke also uses its prehistoric setting to some clever advantages. Players are expected to do more with less. Baser instincts are neatly tied into VR design. Players can react as naturally as they should when surviving. As a result, there isn’t a very big learning curve to playing Song in the Smoke. It’s an accessible way to enter the survival genre in more engaging ways than usual.

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VR pushes Song in the Smoke’s survival roots even deeper. Players are already invested in thinking about their conditions. From temperature to hunger and wounds, there’s enough to worry about. But Song in the Smoke requires players to do everything themselves.

It’s a step up from pushing buttons to function in conventional survival romps. 17-BIT successfully nails the right feedback and scale for VR. Grabbing and throwing comes with snappy, satisfying feedback, eating and mixing medicine are more engaging to pull off yourself. Song in the Smoke’s controls for combat feel just as responsive (more on that later). 17-BIT understands what makes VR engaging thanks to finely tuned controls which come standard by the 2020s.

Song in the Smoke also uses its prehistoric setting to some clever advantages. Players are expected to do more with less.”

Resources are key to just barely thriving in Song in the Smoke. Materials can be collected from the environment. But 17-BIT doesn’t make anything too abundant. Early on, players have a generous inventory which can quickly fill up. Thankfully, the game gives plenty of ways to spend resources in order to gain more. Materials like wood can be snapped in half for campfires. In turn, extras can be whittled down into arrows using a knife.

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Song in the Smoke works as well as your creativity does for combining resources. It’s especially great to see as 17-BIT lets you combine a surprisingly big number of items. Players benefit more from creating torches, which are crucial to seeing every cave and warding off carnivores at night. This comes with seeing all these nightmares unfold in VR. Yes, this includes seeing life-sized predators pounce out of nowhere.

Again, Song in the Smoke teeters on being a survival horror game. The biggest scares come from sleeping at a campfire. Until players are ejected from their slumber thanks to a creepy, but annoying wendigo ghost. There’s a certain kind of frustration which comes from losing your prey to another predator. 17-BIT has a bit too much fun with scaring players in a game that isn’t marketed as horror.

“Thankfully, the game gives plenty of ways to spend resources in order to gain more.”

Dinosaurs like the triceratops are fun to see, until they come charging at you. Worse yet, when you’re headbutted by a raptor stalking you for the past five minutes. It’s impressive to see how territorial Song in the Smoke’s animals and dinos are. On successful encounters, players can harvest meat and resources from predators.

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Song in the Smoke suffers from uneven gameplay. Its flow of survival is constantly interrupted by forced combat. In other words, players deep into the second act of the game might find crafting, sightseeing, or resting harder than being worse off when another enemy shows up to no end. Players might want to watch out for panthers and lions, who come with heavy damage. But the game’s only form of melee combat is boiled down to blocking their paws and countering with mindless swinging. As Song in the Smoke tries to be intelligent with its combat, there’s no escaping the baser instincts of being a VR caveperson.

But what’s a survival game without the right tools? Song in the Smoke falls into a few clichés with prehistoric tools. Players can use animal guts to make a bowstring with wood. Logs can be combined with rocks for heavy-hitting clubs. Two rocks can be used to spark a fire or form arrowheads. VR uses its own physics to mimic these tools with satisfying precision. Only players who snipe a deer from bushes can appreciate Song in the Smoke’s unity of VR and level design.

“Players might want to watch out for panthers and lions, who come with heavy damage. But the game’s only form of melee combat is boiled down to blocking their paws and countering with mindless swinging.”

But it’s the constant urge to push on that makes Song in the Smoke feel less grindy. Instead, 17-BIT structures the game into beatable segments. While players have to recover three singing stones to unlock the next part, it’s a great way to show progress as players roam around the wilderness. Song in the Smoke’s objectives also tie to a vague, but enchanting story about family and longing. I was surprised at the amount of depth Song in the Smoke had to offer until a few scripted moments threw me off. But it was welcome to learn more about my VR character by their relationship with nature.

Song In The Smoke (Vr) Review

Here’s where Song in the Smoke starts to wobble between an endless survival game and needing to push things along. Beating the objectives can span up to a healthy 10 to 13 hours, while players looking for story payoffs might be disappointed. 17-BIT glosses over the use of characters, flashbacks, or world building in favour of gameplay. For all the trouble players are going through in Song in the Smoke, there was barely anything worth fighting for without a deep story or twist.

Song in the Smoke is an absolutely beautiful game. The visuals help make up for uneven gameplay. At an astonishingly low file size, 17-BIT somehow crafts a beautiful cell-shaded open world. Across some snowy terrain, sunny cliffs and looming waterfall caves, players can find comfort when connecting with nature. It doesn’t go without saying that Song in the Smoke runs without a hitch over PC VR and the Meta Quest 2. The visuals also give performance more breathing room—something which isn’t a problem across hours. 17-BIT shows off its animation, through hallucinations and other spectral sights which are beautiful.

Song in the Smoke is an entry which gives survival horror a new life in VR. Veterans of the genre might find it too formulaic. But the platform throws players into a fight for their lives. The physicality of Song in the Smoke pulls players deeper into every activity, even if 17-BIT spoils the fun without much of a story and too many inconvenient enemies. Song in the Smoke shakes up its setting with some bizarre fantasy elements. But players looking for a VR survival simulator have another viable choice.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can read more about CGMagazine reivew policies here.
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