In Spirit of the North you play as a fox, exploring vast open areas, solving puzzles and chasing the guardian of the Northern Lights. There’s no dialogue, no real story to speak of and no real consequence for your actions. You’re left to your own devices to run and jump around each location, collecting ‘spirits’ and reawakening ruins which will open up new areas for you to explore or produce a previously hidden pathway which will allow you to find ruins. You have to find them all in order to progress, and uncovering new abilities is a nice reward for your exploration, of which you have no real navigation point.You’re free to roam and discover the secrets on your own.
The PS5 certainly gives owners of the PS4 release a reason to double dip. It always looked pretty on PS4, but it’s hard to argue with this truly beautiful 4K reskin, allowing the Nordic environments to look crisper and more detailed than ever, all running at a perfectly smooth 60 frames per second. On the surface, it’s a worthy upgrade and certainly shows off the ability of your shiny new PS5.
It’s a shame then that it wasn’t taken a little further. Upon exploring these idyllic Icelandic landscapes, I felt genuine disappointment that I couldn’t feel the ground beneath my feet through the DualSense. After jumping off Astro’s Playroom and how it brilliantly showcased the power of the PS5’s flagship feature, I went into Spirit of the North almost expecting it to be there. Alas, there’s no real haptic feedback to speak of, a strange omission considering the variety of locations discovered throughout the game. Whether it be sliding down ice or running and jumping over stone and grass, the lack of DualSense integration seems a wasted opportunity and took me out of the experience. A bizarre thing to be writing, but it’s the first PS5 experience I’ve noticed not to utilise the controllers superb functionality. In a game that’s all about connection, it seemed a little strange there was no effort put into ‘feeling’ the game.
So the ‘enhanced’ aspects of the game are purely in the visuals, as the much lamented controls of the PS4 game are still present and correct. Controlling your fox is nice enough when traversing and moving forward, holding down L1 offers a welcome push of speed, but there’s a heavy platforming element to Spirit of the North and it just doesn’t feel cohesive. Particularly the jumping, which after a week of Sackboy, Astro and Crash 4 feels positively ‘last-gen’. The intricate segments that require precision become a frustrating slog as the jumping is just a little off. The animation in these moments is also at odds with how the rest of the game looks. In almost every chapter of the game you’re exploring areas with beautiful vistas and glorious art design, and your fox jumping stands out even more-so. It feels stiff and unintuitive, sadly something that’s carried over from the PS4 version that developers Infuse Studios felt didn’t need to be addressed. Boy does it stand out.
The slow pace of the game is also hard to ignore, and the PS5 version, whilst running at a far smoother framerate, still gives you that nagging feeling you should be progressing a little quicker than you are. It’s not necessarily a problem, some of my favourite games of the last generation are all about that slow burn, the paced rollout (What Remains of Edith Finch, Firewatch, Across the Grooves) but in them you have something to cling onto, namely a story and a destination. It balances out the slow tempo of the gameplay because there’s a story being told and as the player you understand that the pacing is moving by the speed that the narrative allows tt. In Spirit of the North, there’s no real story or dialogue to cling onto. You’re not searching for remnants that tell a story you need to piece together. Perhaps it’s a weird thing to say but nothing motivates you to move slowly in the game.
You want the pace to be kept up but the somewhat awkward layout of the puzzles and the lack of anything to really discover or collectibles to find (bar the spirits of human remains that you discover through every level) and as such, the slow pace comes from backtracking. A lot. It comes from ‘well, I’m sure I’ve checked everywhere’. It comes from failing to traverse broken bridges because the jumping mechanics don’t work in your favour. The argument that the environments are so beautiful you want to stay in them falls apart when there’s so little to keep your focus engaged.
And there were only really a few times I found myself scratching my head. The more you explore, the easier you’ll find your playthrough as if you’re loaded with spirits and come across a ruin that needs to be awakened, that’s about it. Rinse and repeat. I hate to use the phrase ‘style over substance’ but Spirit of the North is a stone-cold definition.
It’s easy to get drawn into the visuals and the music (which is wonderful), but when you look at the whole package, it just didn’t gel for me and whilst the game doesn’t outstay its welcome by any means (you can beat it in an afternoon if you’re so inclined), it does begin to feel monotonous. The PS5 visual upgrade ensures it’s certainly worth a look if you want to demonstrate what the system can do, and there are moments you want to hang your TV on the wall and just stare longingly at the world your spirit animal gets to run around in with reckless abandon.
It’s just unfortunate the only enhancement of this ‘enhanced edition’ was the visuals, because there’s still a fair amount Spirit of the North needs to work on.
It’s a shame because it’s clearly made with appreciation of Nordic folklore and you do fall for your four legged furry friend, I found early segments particularly harrowing to say the least, but by the end you realise you’re just a fox barking at stones in a beautiful museum.
Spirit of the North remains a beautiful but hollow experience on PS5. The 4K 60 frames upgrade is glorious to behold, but the lack of DualSense integration in a game that’s crying out for it and hangups from the last-gen version makes it difficult to recommend.
Spirit of the North Enhanced Edition is out now on PS5 (reviewed)
Developer: Infuse Studios
Publisher: Infuse Studio / Merge Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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