Song in the Smoke Review – Sends a Clear Signal

Song in the Smoke PSVR Review

Survive or die. That, in a nutshell, is what Song in the Smoke (or SITS for short) is all about. What makes it so good is how much 17-Bit crammed inside that shell. You wake up in a primitive and deadly jungle world. You start with no clothes, food, weapons, water, or shelter. To survive, you must find the raw materials to craft the necessities of life. Otherwise death awaits. But your tribulations don’t just stop there. There are many dangers in this virtual world – be it predators or poisons or the cold of night.

Song in the Smoke is the latest game from developer 17-Bit and it’s a winner. Everything about this VR game is top-notch. The controls are tight and the interface is straightforward and intuitive. The crafting system is deep and immersive. You must take the raw materials and combine them together in ways only VR allows. For instance, to fashion a knife requires you to find a stick in one VR hand and a sharp rock in the other and rub them together to whittle the branch into a handle. Then you must take the handle and lash a piece of flint to complete your knife. Another great example of VR immersion is the creation of antidotes or health potions. For that, you take the plant, drop in your mortar, and then grind it down with your pestle. Once done, you raise the mortar to your mouth to drink.

Tactile VR Inventory Management

17-Bit incorporates inventory management seamlessly by leveraging off the advantages of VR. You store items in skins that roll out and contain pouches. Many of the pouches will hold multiple quantities to reduce screen clutter. Everything stored requires you to pick it up, lending a real tactile sensation. You can also combine items in different ways to yield different results. The game also excels in crafting a living world that not only moves through day/night cycles but weather as well. The lighting in the game is superb. The daylight waxes and wane, and objects throw realistic shadows. The stylized visuals in the game are not photorealistic, so the textures are just as detailed as they need to be. The net effect is a stylized, cohesive world that feels immersive.

You must also keep track of your health and energy. A quick glance at your wrists gets you the stone age equivalent of PDAs. All your vital stats are depicted on stone bracelets that use caveman drawing like pictograms. You can quickly check your health, hunger, time of day, etc. from them. For more detailed information you open up the inventory skin. Here you can get exact percentages of your health and energy plus your body temperature. Don’t worry, if you become so engrossed in the game that it slips your mind to periodically check your stats, the game sends you the appropriate visual cues.

I want to dive a little deeper here on how well SITS creates an immersive world. Take the day/night cycle, for example. Never have I experienced the impact of the sun passing across the sky and dreading the falling of night so deeply in a game. Night time is dangerous. The dark hides scary things and all you have is your torch or campsite fires to hold it at bay. As daylight fails, it is imperative to find a safe place to camp for the night. If you have ever gone camping, you know these feelings well. Now imagine them taking place in an unknown, hostile place. It’s these small and emotionally effective moments SITS creates so wonderfully.

There is a variety of flora, some of which serves as food, like berries or mushrooms to eat or herbs you use to heal or provide energy. The flora is also used to make the world feel alive. Fern leaves and tree branches move and dip with the wind or part as you move through them. The denser foliage can also be used as camouflage while hunting or as refuge to hide from larger predators. It really adds a lot to the game when the environment is interactive instead of just set dressings.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My

SITS doesn’t stop with the flora, though. There is much fauna too, aka creatures great and small. Some you hunt and some hunt you. There is a veritable Noah’s arc of life in the game that ranges from small creatures like fish or ground hogs to boars to lions and jaguars. Each of them moves with the proper weight and mass. There are also predatory birds. They all behave as you would expect and are animated in manners consistent with the animal type. The various species provide different means for you to hunt or protect yourself. You can throw rocks, or even sticks, at them or use a bow and arrow or a spear. If all that isn’t enough, there are also creatures not of this world. Some of them may even be supernatural.

You move through the eight worlds with a variety of VR options. Those with VR legs will opt for no vignettes paired with smooth turning. The PSVR version of the game requires the PlayStation Move Controllers and they work great. The only concession comes for climbing – which uses a form of teleportation. The worlds vary from jungle to desert to ice mountains and each brings it’s own set of challenges. Along with the graphics, the 3D audio also does a great job in presenting a 360 degree outdoor soundscape.

The survival aspects of SITS include an overarching mystery. This mystery gives purpose to your struggles and keeps the game from getting stale. At the beginning of the game, a creepy and surreal three-headed raven leads you on. Three heads are strange enough, but the weirdness extends further. There is a human face behind the three heads. What does it want from you? Where is it leading you to? And why? You’ll have to play the game to find out.

It’s always a struggle to describe in words, or even show in videos, how immersive and enveloping a VR experience is when done right. SITS will suck you in and bring out your inner caveman. 17-Bit has nailed it with this game. It’s truly an excellent VR experience.

*** PSVR Code provided by the publisher ***

The Good

• Fantastic and dangerous VR world
• Tight controls and physics
• Deep crafting system


The Bad

• Occasional overuse of fog
• Climbing uses teleportation