From the bushes you can see it, you’ve only had berries today and you’re now getting worried the sound of your stomach will alert the only good meal in sight. Raising your hands you draw back an arrow on your trusty bow and let fly. Land the shot and survive another day but miss and its likely starvation will cut your adventure short. Hunt, forage and survive in VR survival adventure, The Song in the Smoke.
Waking in a mysterious land, confronted with a three headed bird, the adventure begins with very little signposting or guidance other than a wisp that guides you through the first area whilst The Song in the Smoke explains some of it’s crafting and survival mechanics. You know you need to survive but to what end ?
The Song in the Smoke has an interesting art style that, at times, almost feels like a living canvas with thick oil paint used to bring to life the surroundings and inhabitants. Even your hands portray thick strokes of paint with the light from the sun or your torch showing every crevice or minor groove in the brush strokes. It’s unique and beautiful at the same time.
Although the draw on the Quest 2 is the freedom that it offers from the cable, those who do decide to try it connected or using AirLink will be rewarded with an uplift in graphical fidelity if your network can handle it. Sharper visuals and lighting are the only real upgrade though and gameplay remains consistent between the versions on offer.
Hunting and gathering form the basis of your ability to survive not only from hunger but from a number of predators as well. As expected, our avatar has no imaginary cross-hair to assist with aiming so everything must be eyeballed and getting proficient with tools like the bow is a must. Patience is key and rushing shots generally wastes your arrows and precious resources. You can always craft more but it’s time consuming in battle and will likely lead to a swift demise.
Any normal game would provide a HUD to show players the current situation with regard to stats such as thirst or hunger but in VR that ruins the immersive experience, The Song in the Smoke instead attaches these to your hands as an almost watch-like mechanic for prehistoric man. The current day phase is even scratched onto a rock !
Instead of a classic inventory, you carry everything with you. It’s all neatly stowed in a large sheet you can fold out and back in when you need to store it again during your adventures.
Most prey (and predators for that matter) are, as expected, pretty alert so getting the drop on them with a first attack can be the difference between a useless chase that expends precious energy or a quicker kill. Thankfully some stealth mechanics are available utilising local foliage to give you an edge, crouching and moving slowly in bushes creates a camouflage effect which allows you to get much closer to your target before it notices you and either attacks or bots
Hunting and combat in The Song and the Smoke feels quite visceral since everything is very tangible. Swings of a club feel hefty and heavy and impacts result in a nice crunch with some added blood effects. Arrows leave the bow with a nice zing and whistle as the fly toward a target and the resulting sound effects employed add to the experience
Crafting is extremely manual but really satisfying at the same time. Most wooden objects need to be carved with a knife whilst stone based items need a billet to be crafted. This requires holding the tool with one hand, the item in the other and either scraping or hitting (depending on the tool) for the desired outcome. Usually four or five repeat hits will work and you have your completed piece. Different base items are transformed into different pieces so a long thick branch carved will result in a bow whilst a stick will end up as an arrow.
Items can then be combined in various fashions to create more complex and useful objects such as spears and axes. Campfires, which are also used for saving progress and healing, need you to place fibers and twigs but, delightfully, also require you to strike flint together over the materials to light them. Medicine requires crushing in your pestle and mortar into a liquid you can drink also in another great example of how interactive this is.
The first real survival adventure in VR that’s also completely untethered, The Song in the Smoke is a welcome change from a sea of first person shooters and escape room puzzles. Well presented, great use of the controls and some interesting, involved mechanics add to the immersion making The Song in the Smoke a standout addition if you like survival games.