There’s an almost overwhelming amount of information to grapple with when first sitting down with the opening moments of Soul Covenant, Thirdverse’s new sci-fi action VR title.
Showcased for the very first time at Tokyo Game Show earlier this month, Soul Covenant is a world of angelic, grotesque yet somehow beautiful machines known as Deus ex Machina, crafted in the Zero-Verse Layer by the AI Adam that seeks to destroy humanity and become God. By the time our adventure begins, these creatures have already devoured much of Earth’s population.
Hope resides in Eve, another AI looking to fight back against such tyranny for humans, and AVATARs a unit of enhanced humans fighting to protect Tokyo Arc as one of the last bastions for life on the planet. AVATARs have the ability to themselves connect to the Zero-Verse Layer and communicate with Gods, using it to summon formidable powers needed to fight back against these destructive forces.
It’s a lot to take in, but to cut a long story short: humanity isn’t doing so good and you’re playing a new model with the potential to turn the tide of the war. After all, if these machines make it into the core of Tokyo Arc, the Remastering will bring about the end of humanity and human history.
It’s a fascinating sci-fi action world that Soul Covenant immerses you in from the moment you put the headset on and reach the game’s title screen. Waking inside a labaratory cultivation pod, you’re encouraged to wave your arms as bubbles of the liquid float around your newly-incarnated body. Before long you’re introduced to Eve and get the rundown of the game’s controls and movement, before being sent to slaughter (and be slaughtered) by Adam’s angelic machines.
The combat has a lot of mechanics to get used to in order to masterfully dispatch the waves of enemies. While the game’s trailers promised additional weapon choices – including chainsaws and more – this demo introduced us to the main weapon, Scapegoat, created from the bodies of their fallen enhanced comrades. It’s a slightly morbid idea to think about, but the enhancements of the people used in these weapon’s creations gives them individual enhancements and abilities to take advantage of in battle.
At its most basic, you swing your right arm to attack with this blade, while holding your left trigger brings up a shield that can deflect attacks. It’s rather weak in this form against the sheer strength of the creatures you face, but luckily there’s more to it. Holding the grip button while near the base of the handle transforms your sword into a reaper. This gives it both greater range and attack strength, but at the cost of being defenseless against upcoming attacks.
Defeating enemies leaves behind blue crystals, which you can pick up by hovering your left hand over them. Earning enough crystals will allow you to unleash a Demonic Burst, which sends a charged beam towards your enemies. It’s this moment that really makes you feel like an enhanced being more than any other. Almost like Astro Boy, you flex your body into an attack position and truly feel like you’re inflicting real damage and doing all you can to keep this unstoppable force under control.
As an Avatar, are you human, machine, or something else entirely? The move, beyond being fun to use, leaves you questioning this idea most. It feels mechanical, all-powerful and necessary.
In a world where death is a mere step on an evolutionary process (since consciousness can be passed through generations), the end of the demo left me with the greatest existential fear. The machine boss that I fight – and assumed to have defeated – contorts itself and, in one joyous call thanking us for the meal, eats me whole.
So you’re left there, staring into darkness. What now?
Soul Covenant leaves a lot of mystery on the table – what direction will things take from here? It’s hard not to be excited for everything to come. This world promises a lot, but has the talent needed to deliver on it with director Teruhiro Shimogawa and composer Yasunori Mitsuda in charge of bringing it to life. Set for an early 2024 release on Steam, Playstation VR 2 and Quest, we won’t have to wait long to see if Soul Covenant can live up to its potential.