From the masters of simplistic beauty comes the next adventure from Bithell Games, Arcsmith for the Oculus Quest. This VR puzzle experience immerses the player into the space age industry of manufacturing. Sitting behind your desk, you experience the life of an arcsmith, which is a futuristic cross between an engineering and mechanical assembly expert. As an apprentice, you have a lot to learn, and you better learn quickly, because the jobs come in fast and the complexity ramps up soon after the tutorial.
If you love solving puzzles and… solving more puzzles, then this is the game for you. Bithell Games applied their signature simplicity we saw in their debut title, Thomas Was Alone, where you play as a series of rectangles to solve puzzles and move through your environment, to offer a unique brain teasing experience.
Arcsmith is available now on the Oculus store for $24.99.
Story – Two Wars
You’ve embarked on a new endeavor: an apprenticeship in arcsmithing with an unwilling teacher with a sketchy past. The master arcsmith, Korith Dinn, is reluctantly pulled back into the life he was trying to leave behind when a war between the ominous Order and a band of rebels called Independents breaks out. Sounds a little familiar doesn’t it?
Considering this is really just a puzzle game, the story only progresses between jobs when the master arcsmith gives long speeches about his conflicted past. It’s hard to get invested in the war going on in the galaxy around you when you’re just stuck behind a desk putting pieces together in ever more intricate patterns. That’s why the emotional story of the master arcsmith takes the main stage. He becomes an endearing character with a complicated past. After each mission he reveals a little more about why he became an arcsmith and why he chose to give it up before you came along.
As the war between the Order and the Independents ramps up, Korith decides to take a more active role. However, you don’t get to do much other than continue to take on odd jobs to give Korith the resources to build the things he needs. In that way, it feels as though you take on a secondary role without much agency in the grand scheme of things.
The story really focuses on Korith and his redemption instead of the player who isn’t really a character at all. All you are is a pair of hands that puts pieces together. I won’t let this aspect weigh too heavy on how I rate the game as a whole because at the end of the day this is a game entirely focused on solving puzzles.
Gameplay – Better Learn Fast
As an apprentice arcsmith, it’s your job to design and assemble various machines by adding different available parts. Every job will supply you with a base part that you have to find a way to power without overheating or loosing stability. The tutorial isn’t quite as descriptive as I would have liked which made for some real struggles as the puzzles increased in complexity. You have to learn fast because the difficulty quickly ramps up.
As far as the controls and maneuverability go, it’s pretty straightforward. A simple grip function is almost all you need to complete the puzzles. Each modular part has a different function and different pattern of attaching sections. The player simply picks up each module and attaches it to the rest of the machine by touching it to an acceptable position. This is usually smooth and responsive, but once your machines get complex, the modules can become difficult to snap into the right position as they automatically attach to whatever is close by.
This can cause frustration when you know where a piece needs to go, but it keeps attaching at the wrong place. There could definitely be some refinement and tuning done to how and when parts attach and detach.
While the concept of maneuvering the pieces through the 3D VR space was straightforward, it didn’t always perform as smoothly as it could have. Once you have a complex enough machine, the pieces are all weaved together in intricate patterns. If you find yourself needing to remove a single module in a chaotic jumble of parts, you might end up tearing the whole machine in half. I found myself resetting the entire project occasionally because I couldn’t get a grip on a single part that needed removing. Only having one clunky tool to put things together and take them apart didn’t feel like enough. A variety of ways to maneuver the modules would have made for a much smoother gaming experience.
The key to completing a functioning machine is to supply the right amount of power to each essential component without causing overheating. Achieving that is totally up to the player. There is no blueprint or required number of modules to do it. Occasionally there are other parameters, such as size restraints or positioning requirements. While this gives a sense of freedom and creativity with how you solve each individual puzzle, I found myself building ever more monstrous contraptions, covered in randomly placed modules, just trying to find a workable design.
A lack of direction is a double edged sword in this game. There seems to be an infinite number of patterns to succeed, but also an infinite number of ways to fail. It might have actually been beneficial to add more parameters in order to focus the player closer to the correct form and function of each machine. I even would have appreciated a hint function which was completely missing. A good puzzle game should be challenging, but this game seemed to leave the player out to dry.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable experience that can be as relaxing or frustrating as you want it to be. There are no time limits and few constraints, so you can take as much time as you need to create working machines. If you are looking for a mental workout in spatial awareness and problem solving, this is a decently balanced challenge.
Graphics and Audio – Cartoonish Simplicity
Like most Oculus Quest games offered so far, the style of Arcsmith is cartoonish and simple. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. All the Quest games have to work within the constraints of the internal components. If you are expecting your VR games to have realistic graphics, the Quest is not the platform for you.
Korith and his sidekick robot toolbox, Toolie, are the only characters in the game besides the mute player character. Korith’s design is unique, but simple with smooth textures and very few accessories or moving parts. This goes for the whole game, which takes place entirely in one room where the player sits behind their desk and builds machines. The focus of this experience is the puzzles, and the graphics were left simple and mostly lacking texture. There are a few windows in the room, but outside is a single blue planet and spaceships shown as plain black silhouettes that move in straight lines across space.
The sound design in Arcsmith is as simple as the graphics. Since you are sitting in an orbiting space station, you can occasionally hear the engines and movements, but mostly in the cutscenes. As ships arrive around the station a light rumble comes through, adding the futuristic space atmosphere the game builds. Mostly what you hear is relaxing electronic music playing in the background. I found the choice of music added to the experience by encouraging a calm mind. Allowing frustration to take hold is the key to never completing a puzzle and the music kept reminding me to stay calm.
Arcsmith was provided to KeenGamer for review by NEONHIVE.
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