In the film The Martian, it was clear from the beginning that Matt Damon, suddenly stranded on Mars, wasn’t about to be having an easy time of it. It wasn’t a nice little vacation away from the family, but clearly an exercise in trying to stay alive for every minute of the day. Symmetry is a game that plays on the same principle of that film – being stranded on a planet, having to survive and eventually trying to escape. Except there is more than one astronaut and if one of them dies you have some big questions. Do you give your colleague a decent burial, or eat them for valuable calories? The choice is yours.
I’m putting my cards on the table to start with, I find survival sim games very hard to play and extremely stressful. Symmetry is hard and keeping your space people alive is a herculean task within itself. You see, the astronauts are stuck on a planet that is freezing, and they have bits of their spaceship strewn around that need maintenance, repair, and careful observation. There are also some trees for much needed wood which can in turn provide warmth. The main criteria for this game is to keep warm, eat food and build up your tech so you can repair the ship and leave the planet. Simple eh? NO!
Symmetry is all about balance and making sure everything is just about okayish to keep persevering. You need to go outside to get lumber for heat and grab some tech from the crash site, but working causes hunger which means more food needs producing and tiredness kicks in, which sees less productive working. There is also the nightmare of hypothermia, and that means you’ll see the death of your workers happening at any time. And like I mentioned earlier, when they do die, you can bury them, eat them whilst still warm, or store them in the freezer for consumption later. I have quite an appetite now for dead astronauts and that’s a bit worrying, because they’ve fast become like the good old chicken nugget.
There will be a lot of death too, especially as you’re starting out. But as the game autosaves as you go, when you’re gone, you’re gone and will need to start again from scratch. This can put you off because it’s a steep learning curve and does see Symmetry get quite repetitive, but on the other hand, when something goes right it feels like you solved the meaning of the universe. One bad decision can doom the whole mission though, so think very carefully indeed.
You can build or level up the characters’ knowledge by reading and studying certain subjects, like food production. Or you can fix and upgrade bits of machinery and equipment to make everything run better, increasing your chances of escape. Tasks take time and effort though so you need to keep an eye on everyone and everything as the game progresses. You can forward time a little should you need to, but when I did this I lost track of progression and needs, resulting in an unnecessary death. Every piece of time is valuable, especially as the resources you gather rise. Without coming across as too harsh, Symmetry is utterly unforgiving at times, but the rewards are worth it – if you can not give up at the first hurdle. Control wise it’s all fine for the console, but I did find myself hankering for a mouse that would maybe make things a bit easier in the long run.
Things look good though and Symmetry is very atmospheric with a beautifully drawn visual style. The game is a 2D side-scroller that gives a sliced view of the survival centre, crash site, and planet. I love these visuals, whilst the character animation is sweet, precise and full of unusual details. The sound score is very haunting and melancholic, working very well with the fight and survive theme.
To conclude, if you are a fan of survival sims or enjoy experiences like Don’t Starve or This War of Mine then this should be a must buy for your collection. For the rest of us, there are some lovely visuals, a sparse but interesting narrative, and a great soundtrack, but it might be too hardcore for the casual gamer. The controls are fine but would feel better on a PC setup and it has to be said that the price could be more appealing.
But please excuse me for I have to finish eating my mate’s leg. What do you mean that’s disgusting? It’s all about surviving.