Arcsmith is the new VR title from Bithell Games, the people behind Thomas Was Alone and Subsurface Circular. This was a difficult game to review. Mid heat wave VR is never particularly enjoyable and when you add some complex puzzles and my low IQ it’s a recipe for disaster. Whilst I can’t blame the game for 2 of those reasons it definitely impacted my opinion on it. So what is Arcsmith? Let me be lazy and have the announcement blurb tell you:
When war threatens, you’re tapped as an ad hoc apprentice to master arcsmith Korith Dinn. Balance heat, power, and more as you construct dozens of ever-more-complex interstellar machines, including space drones and the aforementioned antimatter generator. A library of modular parts and simple diagnostic tools are yours to play with in this freeform puzzle game.
A gripping sci-fi story unfolds in the background as you work. Discover why Korith Dinn retired to this quiet corner of the galaxy, and help your reluctant mentor make peace with his past. The radio also pipes in intergalactic tunes and important news reports—once you fix it, of course. – Bithell Games
So this is a story driven puzzler, and if you like those you’ll like this but It’s very much a puzzle game first and story adventure second. You use different modules to build the devices needed to advance the plot. You use your diagnostic tools to see which components need electricity and how much and where it needs cooling then build from there. This starts pretty simple and gets more complex from there, it doesn’t hold your hand too tightly either and you have quite a bit of freedom in how you place the modules, some layouts will be more efficient than others. I built a radio during the tutorial with a bit of trial and error but it did not look like a radio. None of the things I built look particularly like anything recognisable, which was a bit disappointing at first but it’s the only way this game would work. I liked the trial and error nature of it, that’s how I played it. I Put things where I thought they needed to be and ran the simulation, usually it would blow up and I’d try again. Then I’d Scan it, put things where I thought they needed to be and it would blow up and I’d try again. It would get frustrating but I think this kind of game is always going to have an element of frustration and that’s ok.
But you don’t have hands! And that was a shame. I’ve been playing VR for 3 years now and I am not yet bored of the thrill of seeing hands in VR. In Arcsmith you have arcs, you can extend the arcs to pick things up from a distance and do pretty much everything you’d want to do… That you could do with hands? There’s a story reason and the game is called Arcsmith but I dunno, I would take a set of fingers Every Time.
The sound design is decent although I do have a confession. I muted the game for a large portion of my playthrough. The music would not feel out of place as the background music to a sci-fi nightclub, I really liked it. Whilst playing there’s this music, then there’s some lifts (or elevators) that are swishing up and down periodically, then there’s a robot sliding around the room on tracks. It all sounds well done. However, all that mixed with the aforementioned heat wave and complex puzzles really started to get to me and it was all a bit too much. But that’s on me not the game, It was overwhelming and it made it hard for me to focus on the puzzles. Some people may like that and it does add to the story and atmosphere of the game. For me it was a bit too distracting and I’m a bit too thick for that amount of input.
Overall Arcsmith is a good game, and for their first VR outing it’s a great effort. It just never got to the point for me that I was desperate to get back to it. The story elevated it above just being another puzzler but didn’t grip me like the blurb promised it would and I found I wasn’t as invested in what was happening as much as I could be. There’s a lot of different aspects of this game that work and drip quality but in the end it just wasn’t for me and with them hoping to put more content out in future I don’t know if I’d return to it.
If you like sci-fi puzzle building whilst on a spaceship in the centre of a galactic war then this is for you! If not, with the slightly too steep price, it may be worth holding out for a sale before giving it a try.
Should you play it? Maybe
Why… It is a well contructed and quality game
But… the price is slightly too high
Reviewed on Oculus Quest 2
Developer/Publisher: Bithell Games
Playable on: Oculus Quest 1 & 2
Released: 29th July, 2021
Review code provided from Bithell Games