Song in the Smoke Review - Incredibly Original and Harshly Unforgiving

Updated: Jun 24

Song in the Smoke is one of the best VR games I've played yet, but it comes with a frustrating and punishing difficulty curve.



I should preface this review by saying that I am not, by any means, a survival game player. I’ve briefly dabbled in games like No Man’s Sky and Subnautica, but popular survival games like Valheim and Rust have completely passed me by. I love the feeling of exploration and discovery, but survival game mechanics often feel either too overwhelming or too tedious. When Song in the Smoke was announced, I was really hoping the survival mechanics would be toned down in comparison to other survival games, with an emphasis on the spiritual element shown off in the trailer.


My wish was not granted. Song in the Smoke is, for better or worse, wholly a survival game. Crafting, hunting, hunger and exhaustion meters, it’s all there. Surprisingly, though, I found that to be a mostly good decision. Song in the Smoke’s implementation of survival mechanics helps it craft a unique and genuinely compelling identity, where you truly feel like a lone man attempting to survive everything the harsh and unforgiving wilderness throws at you.



Overview


Song in the Smoke is a VR survival game from indie veterans 17-Bit, known for both Galak-Z and Skulls of the Shogun. It is unique from other survival games in that it strongly emphasizes the spiritual and tribal aspects of early man. The tribe displayed in the game is fictional, but is heavily influenced by Inuit and Native American tribes. The spiritual aspects of the game play heavily into this fictional tribe, and the end result is an experience which is simultaneously creepy and jaw-droppingly beautiful.



Story


The story, as far as I have gotten, is pretty much non-existent. There is no dialogue or narration in the game, save for the title of each level, which pops up in the environment upon entering the level. There are characters, such as the three-headed crow with a face on its chest that guides you through the journey, and tribe members who appear to you in a dream. None of these characters add any real story to speak of. Instead, the dream cutscenes with the tribe members reveal to you how to tackle the boss of each area. It’s a subtle and very cool way to show you how things are done without any explicit dialogue telling you so.



Gameplay


Unfortunately, Song in the Smoke’s insistence on “show, don’t tell” is one of the many things that hampers it from becoming a must-play title. There are many, many things in this game that the developers expect you to learn on your own, from building campfires to healing your own wounds. Patient and creative gamers will probably love this, but a lot of the time, so