Master Reboot looks like the coolest game ever made. A dark, moody cyberpunk game with a really cool concept – after death people can be stored in a “soul cloud”, and their relatives and friends can interact with these AI ghosts. You start plugged into the soul cloud, and it’s obvious that something has gone terribly wrong. Parts of the world are missing, or broken, and you’re being stalked by a roving anti-virus program called Serra.exe, who just so happens to materialise as Sadako from Ring
during her raver years.
From a gameplay angle, Master Reboot is more Gone Home than System Shock 2. If you enjoy these “walking simulators” – storytelling through exploration of environment – you’ll probably find a lot to like about Master Reboot. The puzzles gating off one area to the next could charitably be described as “rudimentary” – most of them are variations of “find yellow, green and red keys and deliver them to the corresponding lock”. While they facilitate environmental exploration, as a gameplay mechanic I found them very tedious. Even the few genuine puzzles tend to be pretty braindead, usually solved in seconds (sometimes by accident).
The game does briefly flirt with other game styles, including stealth, shooting and platforming, but the game was obviously not designed to accommodate these shifts – the single level utilising stealth is laughably easy, with Serra patrolling up the middle of a plane while you push buttons when her back is turned. Unless you walk into her limited field of view, you’re safe – as long as you do not touch her you can jump around inches from her back. Evasion consists of nothing more than crouching by a seat until she’s passed.
The last level suddenly becomes a timed precision first person platformer – something which I believe is now considered a war crime in most civilised countries. The controls are clumsy, and the timing is so tight that any kind of mistake will essentially force you to restart. Completing the game at that point was frankly a relief, and almost managed to sour the goodwill the game had built up.
In spite of these issues the story and atmosphere does just about manage to carry the game – the cold, minimalist cyberpunk environments and creepy sound design are often brilliant with particular mention going to the excellent lighting, though there are a couple of amateurish stages that let the side down. The scares do sort of work, especially early on, but they’re very scripted and it soon becomes clear that there are only a small number of circumstances where Serra can actually harm you. There are also bizarre, cartoonish flash style interludes that are not only poorly drawn and animated, but jar with the aesthetics of the game as a whole. The game would have been stronger as a whole with those story elements woven into the game in a less incongruous manner.
Master Reboot often feels like a student project, scrappy and unfinished but built with obvious enthusiasm and love for the craft. As a result it is a game that is impossible to hate – but 12 quid is proper game money, and that means it must be held up against the standards of its peers. In that cold, harsh light the game just does not stack up. If you can find it in a sale, I might tentatively recommend it, particularly if you are forgiving of clunky mechanics.