Thursday, May 31

Review: Smoke and Sacrifice [Nintendo Switch eShop]

While the survival genre has been picking up steam over the years the majority of the time the experience is more purist and may have components of a story but that’s typically secondary to the survival aspects. Turning the formula around a bit is Smoke and Sacrifice, a game that certainly has a serious survival element complete with crafting, resource scarcity, and some leaps of faith. However, here the experience is far more guided than what’s typical for the genre, with the narrative focus being on your character trying to find a child she’d assumed was lost 7 years ago.

As you start out you’ll have very little time to orient yourself with what’s going on before you find yourself participating in your town’s traditional ceremony that demands parents sacrifice their first child to the gods in exchange for its survival in what seems like a difficulty environment. What agriculture you have is obviously sustained by the machinery all around providing light and likely heat since all around you is a frozen waste. You reluctantly go along, giving up your baby only to watch it be put on a platform and to watch it disappear, taken by the gods… or so you thought. Years later chaos rips into your town with fires burning and creepy-looking, nasty pugbears about. With the help of a stranger you go to the altar you’d placed your baby on seven years before and find yourself transported to a hidden world beneath where you’d been living, the source of the energy that had sustained your village and apparently operated by the enslaved children who were supposedly sacrificed.

Driven by that strong story as a base, your mother in search of her child will need to work diligently to overcome some formidable obstacles. Once nightfall comes you’ll need to have a lantern to help protect you from the harmful cloud of smoke everywhere. Exploration and gathering of materials is essential but as you move into new zones you’ll find that you’ll need special equipment if you want to survive. While you begin with some crude weapons you’ll need to discover ways to create more formidable ones, and even how to enhance them further. As you get further in you’ll have to continue to attack increasingly aggressive and dangerous creatures in order to cultivate the materials from them and to complete quests that are crucial to your progress. What you end up with is a full-on survival game that continues to be challenging, but that is still ultimately driven by a sense of heart as you try to learn the fate of your child and discover the dark secrets the priests had been hiding for so many years.

Getting into the game’s issues definitely be aware that though the survival elements aren’t the primary focus they’re still a very active part of the game, and depending on your tastes it can get tedious at times. You’ll need to keep a pretty well constant eye on the condition of crucial items like your lantern, your net, your weapons, and even things like your shoes you’ll need to move through different environments. Expect to need to repair things often, need healing with some regularity, and to struggle as you get started to uncover some of the key recipes you’ll need to turn things around a bit. As this type of game goes I’d say the ongoing need to manage these more mundane details is pretty pronounced in the title, even if it mostly just requires keeping a stock of materials. The one way the game screws with you there is that many of those materials will degrade over time and if you don’t make use of them eventually disappear entirely. While it wasn’t a bit deal often there were a few times where this was grating as I would have to go back out and collect certain elements again. Finally, and possibly most critically, handheld play really isn’t ideal for the game. With your inventory levels and materials being so crucial the small-ish scale of these sorts of details on the Switch screen can make it tough for making out what you have or may be missing. What further exacerbates the issue is that in some zones the colors all blend together a bit too well and it can be hard not to do things like walk into swamps at times. The game otherwise playable but I’d definitely want to know roughly what I was doing before trying to play the game on the go because of these issues.

In the end I really appreciate what Smoke and Sacrifice set out to do and how well it generally executed that vision. While survival games typically have played out, for me, as being merely for their own sake the added purpose behind your character’s survival being for the sake of finding the truth about the fate of her child I found compelling. Each step I’d take to get closer there would be more demands and the drive to overcome those obstacles felt much more personal than it typically does. While there’s some tedium, which is somewhat common to the genre, and handheld mode isn’t ideal it is still a compelling game that plays quite well.

Score: 8.5

  • A pretty compelling narrative, an oddity for this genre
  • While the game is challenging it is also typically pretty fair and tries to help guide you through the learning curve
  • A substantial number of cool crafted items for your to put together to help you survive against some frightening enemies

  • Especially early on the maintenance of key tools like your lantern can get a bit tedious
  • In handheld mode the scaling and the lack of differentiation in color in some zones can be problematic