Yes, it’s another survival game. Short of zombies, RPG Maker clones or Rust-style competitive base building, these have come to dominate most release schedules and Early Access lists. However, as with all things there are a few gems amid the generic and unfinished games, with Smoke and Sacrifice being one of the most notable of late.
The story follows Sachi, a woman journeying ever deeper into a dark underworld and hunting for the hidden truth of why she was forced to give up her son.
The greater narrative depth and visual style alone immediately bring the likes of Don’t Starve to mind, but Smoke and Sacrifice quickly distances itself from such games. Besides a very different take on the dark surrealist themes, the story has far more substance to it. You uncover more concrete details behind Sachi’s situation rather than vague guesses, and the worldbuilding is one of its strongest benefits. Both the artistic and audio design was exactly on point, making the world remarkably engaging to explore even as you survive it. There are plenty of visual cues, suggestions and subtle hints to help indicate what certain items might be viable for, even prior to collecting them; something which substantially shortens the usual hunt for the one ingredient you’re missing for an item.
The potential to craft a multitude of varied items is immense, and much of your time in the game will be spent adjusting to just what tool does what. It manages to accomplish this with a surprising lack of busywork, and an easy system to navigate through your various options. However, what unfortunately offsets this is the item durability system of the game. This applies to everything, and if you thought that Breath of the Wild was bad, this will drive you up the wall. Tools, automated systems and even static emplacements will break down over time. This will leave you frequently scrounging to replace just what you have on hand, adding to the already considerable backtracking required of the story.
Worse still, the lengthy tutorials rarely repeat information which can turn a difficulty curve into a sheer cliff face as you try to find out what to do. It’s one of a few basic survival requirements the game skipped, along with the lack of a true hotkey system.
Smoke and Sacrifice is a nice contrast to the typical survival games of its ilk, even the more story driven ones such as Subnautica and Don’t Starve. What it executes well it does brilliantly, but there’s no denying that a multitude of design and UI born shortcomings hold it back from a higher score. If you’re starved of a more visually and narratively engaging survival experience, definitely give this one a look.
SMOKE AND SACRIFICE / DEVELOPER: SOLAR SAIL GAMES LTD / PUBLISHER: CURVE DIGITAL / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW