Platforms: PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Solar Sail Games
Publisher: Curve Digital
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
There are a lot of survival games centred around crafting out there, so Smoke and Sacrifice has its work cut out when it comes to standing out from the crowd. Initially released back in 2018 for PC and Switch, Smoke and Sacrifice has made its way to Xbox One and Playstation 4 for 2019. Has it been worth the wait?
The game opens in a beautiful village bathed in sunlight. As single mom Sachi you finish up your day of toil and then head towards home to collect your son, Lio. AN important ceremony involving the child is mentioned so you head off toward that, but it turns out to be a more nefarious affair. Reaching the temple you place the child on an altar and watch as it is seemingly sacrificed in a puff of smoke. This ritual sacrificing of firstborn children is at the behest of the local priests and is cited as the only thing that keeps the World Tree thriving. But then a mysterious stranger tells Sachi that her son is alive, thus starts your journey into a mysterious underverse inhabited by the Drear.
It’s a hell of a setup for a story. I just wish the lead character was more interesting. Sachi comes across as a generic “strong woman” stereotype but has nothing in terms of personality outside of that. I suppose part of the problem may be that there’s no voice acting thus it can be a little harder to get across the nuances of a personality. But I can’t single her out as no one character gets fleshed out.
As for the rest of the story, it ranges from quite strong to largely non-existent. Much of this stems from the nature of the game itself which has lots of long stretches between meaningful plot progression. Most of the game simply involves characters telling you to go and grab certain items, and so the story kind of vanishes until nearly the end where it finally resurfaces. It’s good stuff, I just wish it was better paced throughout the game.
Still, where Smoke and Sacrifice does succeed is in creating a unique world through its beautiful painterly art style. It’s a bit of a shame that the gorgeous art style gets wasted on the dreary underworld where the colour palette is subdued and several of the environmental types are lifeless and uninteresting.
Although it bills itself as a “survival RPG” the survival elements don’t resemble those that you might be familiar with. For example, you carry around food but its purely for restoring health. There are no hunger or thirst meters to worry about, nor stamina to deal with. You don’t have to occasionally sleep, either. Where the survival elements come into play is the constant degradation of your weapons and armor, as well as food stuffs and other items in your inventory. Dying doesn’t mean losing everything, but it does mean losing everything since you last used a save terminal.
A constantly ticking clock on the right of the screen keeps track of time. This is important because half-way through each cycle a thick smog will descend on the world. To survive you’ll need a source of light like a lantern or you’ll take constant damage. You’ll also have to deal with some new ghost enemies that float around who are at first a scary prospect but quickly become something you just ignore. In fact, the smog in general becomes easy to ignore, its existence at first being an interesting twist but quickly becoming nothing more than an inconvenience.
There’s a fair amount lurking in the world that wants to eat you or smack you in the face, so combat plays a big part in proceedings. With that said, you can run past almost all of it. Fighting is handled using a dodge and a single attack button, and is about as exciting as it sounds. You stab the enemy a couple of times, dodge backwards while it does its thing and then repeat the process. Some problems stem from character’s being 2D models in a 3D world, so it can sometimes be difficulty to judge attacks properly.
But mostly what you’re going to be doing is running from place to place in a never-ending quest to gather crafting materials. Every mission your given revolves around needing to craft something that lets you reach the next area or perform a certain task. Need to get the mechanical zone? Here’s the recipe for rubber boots so you can survive the electric floors! And then once you’ve done that you’ll need to craft this other thing, and then this thing. All the while you need to gather up materials to fix your weapons, stay healed up and other things. It’s one massive fetch-quest, and boy does it get dull.
Bonus recipes can be discovered through exploration, giving you even more things to craft. Sadly, most of the recipes are pretty useless, so I rarely felt like discovering them was worthwhile. Only occasionally did I run across something that felt like it would be worth spending the time making.
Ultimately the crafting system just doesn’t offer anything new or exciting to support an entire game the way it does in Smoke and Sacrifice.
If you do happen to accidentally let a major piece of gear break then replacing it means yet more trudging through the world in search of specific materials. The fast travel system can help you save a lot of time, but even then so much of your time in Smoke and Sacrifice is spent walking around, gathering up stuff and dodging pass all the dangers.
There is no denying that Smoke and Sacrifice is a visually sumptuous game at times with a unique world and lore. But as a game it never really clicked with me. The story largely disappears for the majority of the game in favour of a never-ending parade of quests that send you scurrying from spot to spot so that you can craft more tat. With a more unique crafting system or stronger combat or more emphasis on the story Smoke and Sacrifice could have really been something special. As it stands, though, it’s a fun little adventure.