Game: "Smoke and Sacrifice"
System: PC
Genre: Adventure
Published by: Other

Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Posted: 6/16/2018

Review: If you've ever seen a game like Don't Starve, or any of the countless survival crafting games on Steam, you may have thought that it might be fun to try, only to be put off by the lack of a particular focus beyond building more and better stuff. Smoke and Sacrifice seeks to break that trend by adding a story to guide things along, one in which you must find your missing child after sacrificing him so that the machinery protecting your village will keep running.

That's the "sacrifice" part of the title. The "smoke" part comes after you journey to the underworld to find him and encounter a sort of day/night cycle where the nights are filled with a pervasive smoke cloud that obscures vision and slowly drains your life if you aren't carrying a light source with you. Thus the loop becomes hunting for supplies and quest items during the day and doing the same at night while also keeping your lanterns fed, or absorbing light for your magic pendant from other light sources or consumables that generate light energy.

The world is divided up into a handful of biomes, each with its own unique creatures to kill and stuff to salvage. The catch to these biomes, and the way the game holds a sort of linear progression, is that you can't enter these biomes unless you have the right footwear. If you try to walk into the winter biome you'll get stuck in snow, if you go into the industrial biome, you'll be electrocuted, and so on.

The problem with the shoes is that you need to change your shoes every single time you venture into a different area. Apart from the neutral swamp biome that you start in, each one requires that you wear the right shoes or else you'll be slowed down and eventually killed. A prompt appears when you move into a new area allowing you to quickly switch your shoes, but it's still strange that you have to plant your feet on an electrified floor and be shocked before you can change your shoes because otherwise you'll put on your rubber insulated shoes too early and wind up stuck in a snow drift.

And lest you think you can just find the materials and make those shoes yourself, oh no. Most recipes for crafted items have to be found in the wilderness, scrawled on signs, rocks, etc that you need to find and then reveal with the use of specific consumables. In general I'm just not a fan of crafting games that create these artificial barriers like having to find recipes, or needing to spend experience points to unlock them. This genre requires a certain amount of grinding, but that sort of thing should be limited to exploration and crafting rather than figuring out how to make something.

At the risk of seeming like I'm as fixated on shoes as this game, those essential shoes also call to mind the problem of item degradation in the game. Tools, armor, weapons, all of it degrades with use and breaks unless you repair it. Well, "break" isn't really the right word. When an item's durability runs out, it disintegrates. Bad when your weapon breaks mid-fight, worse when your shoes break and suddenly your feet are on fire. And things break down fast in this game. Fast enough that it would be a boon if broken items would become broken and in need of repair instead of disappearing completely.

Combat has issues of its own in addition to concern that you'll have to watch your weapons closely to avoid having to leave and craft them again from scratch. Enemies deal a surprising amount of damage even with armor equipped, and will often pursue you so doggedly that you'll have to stop and deal with every one of them or else be overwhelmed. Many of them especially bosses, have invincibility frames that draw out every fight. Worse yet, enemies can catch you with attacks from offscreen, particularly if you approach them from the north where the screen distance is shortest.

Late-game combat sees each of these problems reaching their logical conclusion. Enemies take significant hits to bring down, and they start having area attacks that leave large portions of the screen virtually inaccessible. On more than one occasion I ran across a small group of enemies and would have to stop to put each one down, only to find my freshly-repaired sword was once again on the verge of breaking.

On top of all that, the inventory system is in need of a serious revamp. There is no way to automatically sort items in your backpack. Stacking also doesn't work 100%, such that if you want to combine two stacks of items, you'll need to drop one stack on the ground and pick it back up. That's just inexcusable in a game where at any given point you've got a backpack full of stuff you just picked up, equipment you're using, equipment you're not using, stuff you picked up at the beginning of the game and never got rid of, consumables you're holding onto because you might need them for the next big fight, etc.

If you can get around all that, the game can be entertaining. The developers have done an excellent job with the visuals and the music conveys the melancholy nature of the story and world itself. To their credit, the developers at least appear to be listening to people's complaints online about durability, hitboxes, etc. It remains to be seen if they'll take those comments to heart and tweak them. Until then, it would be best to wait for a sale before you pick up Smoke and Sacrifice.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

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