Master Reboot comes to us from the offices of Wales Interactive, a studio whose previous offerings of fairly cute titles give no indication of the psychological and technological horror present within this mixture of F.E.A.R and Psychonauts. Cast as an initially unknown character, your goal is to explore a variety of self-contained scenarios that represent the digitised memories of a single person. These have been uploaded to a 'Soul Cloud', and they are all accessible through a digital location known as their 'Soul Village'. This hub-based approach means you can tackle sets of levels in any order you choose, although later memories remain locked until a set group have been cleared.
The upshot of this is that if a puzzle in one memory has you stumped for the time being, you can travel back to the Soul Village through a green portal located near the beginning of each memory and attempt to tackle another in the meantime. The memories themselves are fairly small and self-contained with the puzzles rarely being too obtuse, so it's unlikely that you'd need this feature but it's always nice to know it's there. The only times you can't access this feature are during the challenges at the end of each memory, although these tend to be more action-based than puzzle-solving, with a quick automatic restart if you fail.
Throughout each memory location you will accrue a collection of specific memories, such as photographs, pages from textbooks and other assorted paraphernalia. These assorted tidbits expand on the background of the player-character and the memories which they're traversing through. All of these are obtained by grabbing the small blue rubber ducks that are hidden throughout the locations you travel through. Some are fairly easy to spot, maybe tucked away under a bench, whilst others will keep you scratching your head. Once you've completed a memory, a portfolio of the items you've collected appears by the entrance, allowing you to tell whether there are any left to go back in and search for.
So far, so first-person adventure game. What makes Master Reboot stand out are its horror elements. The environments in and of themselves are creepy; deformed caricatures of locations such as schools, children's bedrooms and hospitals. The slightly cartoon-like visuals, accentuated in places with Tron-esque neon imagery belie the fright factor of wandering through them alone. At the same time you are the target of the game's primary antagonist, a silent young woman with blue glowing eyes who acts as the personification of the Soul Cloud's anti-virus program; Seren.exe.
The program is ever-present in every memory you enter, sometimes simply watching you from afar, other times popping up when you least expect it to try and terminate you. In the most fear-inducing couple of scenarios in the game she actively hunts you down. Even when you can't directly see her on screen, her distinctive digital crackling sound will be heard at random moments whilst playing, or you'll hear rapidly approaching footsteps only to turn around and find nothing there.
However, one fault of the game is that some of these scare tactics are repeated between different memories. Thankfully, these aren't too common, although by the end of the game you end up falling into a routine of second-guessing where she's likely to pop up from next. Despite this, the game still manages to keep you on edge throughout, as inevitably you'll guess wrong and end up jumping out of your chair.
Alas, one way the game will keep you edge is with a not-infrequent-enough tendency to crash to the desktop during loading screens. As the game only has an autosave function, this resulted twice in losing the progress I'd made in a memory because the game crasheding before the next autosave could be created. It's an issue that's been raised by other players online, and hopefully one that can be fixed in the near future.
Other technical issues included some graphical slowdown in a couple of areas, even on the high-end system I was playing on. The game supports gamepads in anticipation of a console release and a typical mouse and keyboard setup, although there's no ability to customise the controls outside of manually editing the game's .ini files, which is something many people will find inexcusable in 2013.
To get the last of the slights out of the way, the game's climax features an abundance of another unacceptable trait best left to the 90s; first-person platform-jumping. After traversing a fairly lengthy path over moving platforms, you reach the main challenge, for which you are then given a three-minute time limit. Attempting to complete multiple platforming tasks within the time-limit is a frustrating experience, and if you fail one of them more than twice, you may as well restart the level as you won't have enough time remaining. Restarting or failing the tasks means having to navigate the platform-jumping path leading back to the final area all over again.
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These issues shouldn't dissuade you from playing the game however. The crashes are being looked at by Wales Interactive, and the final area isn't impossible, you'll just find yourself with a little less hair on your head because you've pulled out in frustration.
In conclusion, Master Reboot is a great game that's made it on to my personal Best of The Year list, delivering on both the exploration and scare quota but marred by a few technical and gameplay issues that just stop it achieving full marks.