SYMMETRY Review

By Lucy Wood, 1 year ago
Gaming can and often is fun, but it’s also a way to experience the intense pain and pleasure of pushing beyond our limits to succeed. Enter SYMMETRY, a tough survival management game that could be the demonic offspring of Dark Souls and Fallout Shelter. On PC it was patched shortly after release to add a lower difficulty in response to user feedback that it was too hard. A similar update is in the works for Xbox, but a release date has not yet been confirmed. In its current state the game definitely hurts somewhat to play, but is it worth the pain?

Repair the ship and escape. How hard can it be?Repair the ship and escape. How hard can it be?

The premise of SYMMETRY is that a spaceship investigating a signal from a mysterious planet crashes there, leaving the crew scrambling to survive long enough to repair their craft and escape. The hand-drawn vector graphics and pastel hues of the game may suggest a pleasant winter wonderland, but this is a world where bad weather kills and essential equipment will probably fail when you need it most. The player manages the actions of the crew and makes decisions about what to repair or upgrade and when to do it, while a mixture of scripted and random events helps or hinders them along the way. The story is told in text through comments from characters as the game progresses, giving insight into their mission, personalities and relationships with one another. Randomisation of three of the five crew means that a different version of the story is told on each playthrough, giving extra replay value to story fans. SYMMETRY tells an intriguing tale with a surprising twist, but the intense concentration required to handle the relentless challenge can get in the way of appreciating the story. After escaping the planet players can go on to Survival mode and attempt to keep a crew of three alive in conditions that make the story look like a relaxing beach holiday.

This could be the most unreliable power plant in the universe.This could be the most unreliable power plant in the universe.

SYMMETRY starts with a random selection of three characters, who between them have three out of the four crew skills in the game. They can all learn new skills or study to upgrade those with which they spawn, but this slows down resource gathering because they cannot work while studying. The initial skills and skill levels of the crew can get a playthrough off to a good or bad start and affect the player's chances of getting to the end of the story. Another skill becomes available when the fourth character spawns and joins the crew, allowing players to reactivate the power plant without spending resources and charge a backup battery to keep essential systems running when the main power is down. This gives players more freedom to experiment with strategies for managing their crew and resources. A weather station showing the current temperature helps the player judge whether it is safe to send out the crew, and this can be upgraded to add forecasts for the days ahead.

While forecasts sound like an easy way to avoid weather-related dangers, they have a built-in possibility of error that makes it risky to rely on them without also looking at conditions outside. The crew can be directed to work, eat, rest, or improve their skills by studying and will return to their last work assignment on completing any of the other three tasks. This drive to keep busy fits the survival scenario of SYMMETRY, but their willingness to wander off into a killer blizzard or eat half a meal then die of exhaustion while waiting for more food to appear does not. On the face of it, players are challenged to save the crew from the dangers of the planet, but it can take just as much work to save the crew from themselves.

At least it's indoor work with no heavy lifting.At least it's indoor work with no heavy lifting.

Crew and objects have simple, intuitive management interfaces which are accessed by zooming in on them. However there is no crew management overview, so players must keep interacting with crew members in turn to monitor their status and issue directions. The HUD gives general information such as time, temperature and resource levels, but players at any distance from their TV are likely to find the text size uncomfortably small and could easily miss critical warning messages. The game is set up to allow players to zoom in on one character or object then skip sideways to the next without having to zoom out first, but this mechanism can be a little hit or miss. However, the control scheme is pretty good overall and includes a D-pad navigation option for players more comfortable with old-school controls. The default normal speed is ideal when starting out with SYMMETRY, but quickly starts to drag once accustomed to the gameplay. A 4x speed option combined with frequent pauses to check on the crew gives a much better play experience. However, the downside of choosing high-speed gameplay is the addition of a constant rapid ticking to an otherwise sparse and eery soundtrack mostly made up of ambient sounds.

A quiet day at the officeA quiet day at the office

Gameplay is simple and addictive, a delicate balancing act weighing risk against potential rewards with the certainty of failure if your attention slips. SYMMETRY is gentle for the first few in-game days, but the difficulty increases as the game progresses until eventually it’s hard to gather enough resources to keep the crew alive let alone repair the ship and escape. Equipment breaks down at random, so upgrades and repairs must be carefully prioritised and timed to prevent problems snowballing into disasters. As they get deeper into the game players can expect to encounter harsher weather, more frequent breakdowns and increased journey times to gather resources. Shrinking margins of error and increasing vulnerability to unlucky events create a constant sense of being on the brink of disaster, while at the same time making each day survived feel like more of an achievement. SYMMETRY is a tough game when everything works as it should, but can be rage-inducing when bugs occur. Occasionally a character will become stuck next to the rest pods, appearing to queue for rest until they die of exhaustion or are freed by the player. If spotted in time this bug can usually be overcome by giving the affected character alternate directions until they move. A more serious bug occurred in around 25% of the playthroughs for this review, causing the clock to reset to a nonsensical time and crew members to either die instantly for no reason or vanish from the screen. With no way to make a manual save or reload a previous autosave this bug sadly makes it necessary to abandon the playthrough and start again.

I am just going outside and may be some time.I am just going outside and may be some time.

SYMMETRY has 17 achievements, requiring completion of the story twice in addition to partial playthroughs or playing Survival to mop up anything remaining. Five achievements can be obtained within the first few minutes of playing, and five are tied to story progression. Six are awarded for upgrading equipment and skills, and the last one is for surviving for 30 days. Only one issue with achievements unlocking occurred while working on this review, which could be caused either by a bug or the way the unlock conditions are coded. Neither of the two ending achievements unlocked on first completing the story on a playthrough in which two crew members had died. However, the ending achievements unlocked as they should on subsequent runs in which the full crew survived.

Summary

SYMMETRY is a tough survival management game telling an intriguing story about a crew stranded on a mysterious and inhospitable planet. The gameplay is addictive and rewarding, with enough randomised elements to make each story replay different and an alternate Survival mode for players wanting an extra challenge. When the Xbox version of SYMMETRY is updated to add a lower difficulty level it has the potential to be a great introduction to the management genre and satisfying for casual and experienced players alike. However, at time of writing, the steep learning curve, high difficulty level, and occasional game-breaking bugs make it more fitting for hardcore fans of the genre and people whose love of challenges is matched by their patience.
3 / 5
SYMMETRY
Positives
  • Each replay is different
  • Addictive gameplay
  • Simple, intuitive interface
  • Success is highly rewarding
Negatives
  • Steep learning curve
  • Prone to bugs
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent around twenty hours playing SYMMETRY in both Story and Survival mode, completing the story three times and unlocking all 17 achievements. An Xbox code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Lucy Wood
Written by Lucy Wood
Lucy wasted her youth in the pursuit of music, art and stories. Eventually she discovered that video games combine all three with shooting and exploding stuff and a gamer was born.