Behind Horizon Call of the Mountain, 17-Bit Studios’ Song in the Smoke is my second favourite VR experience on PlayStation VR2. For starters, it’s a survival game set in a place where everything is out to kill you. Then there’s the fact we’re experiencing a prehistoric time where the unknown is filled with mystical wonderment.
For anyone familiar with ARK or Green Hell, you’ll find some similarities as you’re dropped into this world devoid of people. The biggest challenge is dealing with the isolation, especially since there isn’t anyone else to turn to. This anxiety is exacerbated by the fact you’re experiencing this sensation in VR, adding to the dulling sensation of being alone.
Song in the Smoke excels at making you feel alone
Initially, you wake up alone without knowing where you are, greeted by a strange three-headed crow who serves as your guide. Song in the Smoke begins with a brief tutorial that introduces and teaches the basics beginning with your first objective will be to collect song stones. There are three of them on each level and they are scattered in different parts of the map. You can discover them by coming across them or by listening to them. After you find them, it’ll lead to a boss fights against some of the toughest enemies.
You will have to cross each environment blindly equipped with a map, a bow, and a club while scavenging for the other items scattered around to create fire and shelter to be able to survive the night. Because the day-night cycle is important, it is also rather short, especially when you will need to accomplish several tasks which also consume time. Time management is easily one of the most important factors, with each day and night cycle lasting no more than 20 minutes.
Collecting sticks to build a fire and ensuring the warm flames last well into the morning so you’re safe is a weird feeling given this is a game. I know it’s not real but the implementation of feeling alone is so well done that you end up being on high alert at all times. Of course, you’ll also get hungry so finding food
The number one concern is hunger, which you will have to satisfy as regularly by eating berries, mushrooms, or meat. If you thought you’d simply find meat around the map, I have some news for you as you’ll be hunting for your meal. Once the animals have been taken down, several choices will be possible by cutting the animal into 4 parts, the meat, the intestines, the skin and bones and later the fangs but also the feathers. The meat can be eaten raw but cooked is ideal because raw meat can be dangerous, and you risk being poisoned. The skin will be used to make your clothes to protect you. Their essential role will be to keep you warm. And finally, the intestines will be, after a proper drying (because you’ll be curing and drying items), the essential raw materials for the creation or restoration of your bow by acting as the string.
Learning to master fire is essential to survival in Smoke in the Song. To create a fire, you’ll need wood, of course, but you’ll also need to gather stones and choose the right location for your campfire. Given that fire is so important, it might be good to recommend that you’ll need kindling for your fire and the wood needed to keep the lights on. This can be obtained fairly simply, since each time you cut a small branch to create an arrow or a larger branch to create a club, bark is given. Just as small stones will turn into arrowheads with carved bone or herbs into potions after being ground into a paste. You’ll be going through a lot of items, so inventory management is crucial.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag and won’t appease everyone. I personally felt like it lacked nuance as your primary recourse when engaging with wildlife is to block any incoming attacks before finding the mark to use your weapon on. Fights are clearly not meant to be the star of the show here and it certainly feels like a lesser mechanic, which I feel a bit let down by. I also never noticed a way to tell how much damage I was doing to an enemy because there is no way to tell if your opponent is near death.
Being ported to the PSVR2 means there are several new features players can expect next week. For starters, eye-tracking is something to look forward to as it adds a new layer to the mechanics. With eye-tracking, you can look at objects now and even climb ledges by looking at them. This works wonderfully in tandem with foveated rendering, a technique that provides a crisp image depending on what you’re looking at.
Song in the Smoke also uses haptics with great success. A lot of the rumbles are subtle, but you can notice them when you’re moving around. If you move into the water, you can feel it in the headset as it rumbles gently. Similarly, if you take a hit from an enemy, you’ll feel it in the headset itself. The overall detail is improved thanks to the PlayStation 5’s output and the image quality is a step above previous ports.
Song in the Smoke has been retooled and upgraded for the PSVR2 with some exciting new additions. Much of the focus is on surviving these ancient lands by crafting and learning the necessary recipes to live another day. Even if combat is lacklustre, the rest of the offerings more than makeup for it.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PSVR2