It never bodes well for a game when my physical reaction to booting it up is one of revulsion: Smoke and Sacrifice is one such game.
Although I never got around to playing Don’t Starve, according to the Steam page the premise of this game is essentially the same. You play Sachi, a woman transported to a weird and hostile land with nothing but the goal of finding your son and surviving the wastelands to keep you moving. To be completely fair, I think the narrative and the world hat’s been built up by the developers are the strongest components that make up this one. The fauna, flora and even the rules by which NPCs live in this world are incredibly unique, and it’s easy to tell that a lot of thought went into creating this sandbox.
That’s where my praise ends I’m afraid, and although I hate tearing apart other people’s work, that’s all I can do here. Being a survival game, resource management is the player’s number one priority. Although lacking a hunger system, hunting and cooking are vital for health regeneration following and perhaps during combat encounters, and you are definitely going to need that health back (I’ll get to the combat system, don’t you worry). This food that you make also seemingly has a sell-by date: I started eating some cheese I had kept from early on in the game only to find that it now reduced my health rather than giving it back. What this essentially leaves us is this strange dynamic where the player can spend a hell of a lot of time cooking food and not needing it, but later on finding one mammoth of a boss fight and realising that all of their supplies need to be replenished if they want a fighting chance. Food can be stored in chests that are dotted around the world where rot supposedly cannot touch it, but unless you’re obsessively organised I think it’s probably safe to say it’s either going to be left in there indefinitely or forgotten about in your inventory.
What I found particularly odd was that in the earlier section I very rarely took any damage from enemies because their attacks were so well telegraphed. Literally half an hour later I had teleporting ghosts that were killing me from half a screen away and no usable food to keep me alive because I hadn’t felt the need to cook any up. Yeah, that’s probably just poor management on my part, but the game had gotten me into the routine of thinking that I didn’t need healing as long as I approached combat carefully, only to take all that back not long after.
Combat is frustrating. I think most of my grievance with it comes from the fact that enemies take a lot of damage before they go down, and when animations and attacks don’t change at all from the start of the skirmish to the end, all we’re doing is going through the same motions over and over again with nothing particularly standing out. No one likes a bullet-sponge, and when they’re thrown at you from the very beginning of an adventure, it makes me wonder how much of my time playing is actually going to consist of kiting the same monsters around for maybe one or two minutes each. This isn’t compelling gameplay, this is paperwork with the caveat that if I take too many stray shots from the land-jellyfish my boss tears it all up and says “start again”.
The point I was most annoyed at wasn’t even my fault; during my fight with the first boss, we came dangerously close to the edge of the map and the water that acts as an endpoint. My final blow landed just as it charged towards the edge, where it then decided to litter its loot in the drink where it was promptly swallowed up. I smiled, put the controller down, made some tea, and then reloaded my last save, because this thing had a quest item I needed. I wouldn’t have been nearly as livid if this behemoth didn’t have a health bar that stretched as long as my forearm. This really reminds me of one of the goals they had when developing Dark Souls: enemies, and especially bosses, do a lot of damage, but so does the player. There’s also the issue that attacking just feels clunky. We’re playing with 2D models here that can only face four directions - even if I do land an attack it isn’t going to feel natural.
In terms of actual presentation, it doesn’t really get me excited. Everything feels grimy, and although it isn’t pleasant to look at, it certainly suits what the developers are going for here. The papercraft style means that animations are always stiff and uncomfortable, a feeling that’s only exacerbated by the 3D worldspace. Thing is, there is an impressive amount of detail in everything, making it really difficult to criticise like this. There is definitely merit here, but not as a game in its current state. Opting for the survival format works in theory, but the mechanics implemented really hamper what could otherwise be a great narrative experience. A narrative experience, by the by, that I haven’t really explored due to the overwhelming feelings of negativity I’ve felt actually trying to play this thing. The game’s trailer mentions a 40-hour story, but I think if I spent any longer playing than I already have I’m just going to end up miserable. I mean, I’m miserable anyway, but Smoke and Sacrifice definitely isn’t helping.
Smoke and Sacrifice (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
There are good ideas here, but I wouldn’t say the game is worth playing. Even if you are a survival game nut or seriously invested in long, drawn out stories, I’d probably recommend against grabbing this one.