I’m not the biggest fan of survival-based games if I’m being honest, I tend to become very frustrated with them and usually give up after an hour or two. However, there’s something about Smoke and Sacrifice which had me hooked from the start.
However, Smoke and Sacrifice isn’t an easy game, I could class it as the “Dark Souls of 2D Survival games” but that would just annoy people! Instead, I’ll just say that it’s not a walk in the park as you’ll die many times over along your journey into the dark, unknown void within the mists. I’ve played around 12 hours so far and I’m still a long way from the end, I’ve had to literally pull myself away from playing it in order to write this review.
So, just why have I become strangely addicted to a genre I’m not that interested in? Let’s find out…
Smoke and Sacrifice‘s story is a rather unusual and thrilling one, you play Sachi who’s a villager within a small protected community. Your village is surrounded by a mysterious icy wasteland in which nothing but terrible creatures reside. You’re all led to believe that the only reason why your village has access to green fields, crops that grow, an active lifestyle, and a safe environment, is because of the blazing Sun Tree, a mystical tree that replaces the lost light of the failed sun.
However, in order to keep the gods pleased, you must perform the unthinkable, sacrifice your firstborn child to the Sun Tree via a strange contraption within your place of worship. Upon doing so, Sachi begins to have doubts about the whole ceremony and an unknown figure also begins to question what really happens upon the offering taking place. Before you can investigate further, terrible creatures attack the village and begin to raze the place to the ground. Without any time to think, you grab your child’s soft toy and throw yourself into the sacrificial device in hope that you’ll be reunited with your child and bypass the pain and suffering like the other villagers, however…
You awaken within a secret underworld – could it be another dimension or simply another point on the map? Who knows?! However, with the help of random citizens who will help guide you in this new world, you must forge new weapons and armour as you search for your child and a way out of this nightmarish land…
Survival of the fittest
Smoke and Sacrifice is a pure survival game yet simplified so it doesn’t get too annoying or intense. What I mean by that is, expect very, very difficult bosses, standard creatures who will kill you in a few hits, having to collect a multitude of items in order to craft things, and initially having all of the map blacked out as one massive fog patch. Survival elements that thankfully aren’t included are things like getting hungry, requiring water, having to sleep for energy, and building something in order to save. Some people, like myself, will like the fact that it’s not as heavy on certain things, whereas others may find it a bit ‘lite’ if they are fans of the genre.
One game I have to compare Smoke and Sacrifice to is Don’t Starve, a game that looks very similar in terms of its aesthetics yet caters for those who want more intense survival aspects. Smoke and Sacrifice feels very similar in terms of it’s crafting and collecting mechanics. You venture out into the vast wilderness and proceed to pick up everything that lies on the ground, from a patch of moss to a pile of bones, as our protagonist knows they’ll probably have a use for it at some point. However, you can only craft a very small number of items at first, with more recipes being unlocked as you complete quests for NPCs or reveal hidden instructions on stone slabs and leather hides.
Before long, you’ll have a lantern to light the way at night, a knife or club to act as your defence, a milking tool so you can milk dizzy Porkupines (no joke), and other tools such as a net and a trowel. These will become your best friends as you aim to stay alive as literally everything, other than the few NPCs, want to see you dead within this world. One thing I will say, looking at the crafting menu, there’s a lot of things you can make in this game – I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the creations possible. Also, it’s very simple to make something, push left on the D-pad to craft items in the field (there are only a few you can do on the fly like this), use a cooking pot, or use a workbench to make weapons and armour. No faffing about with selecting the ingredients individually or browsing through lots of menus.
Other than gathering and exploration, combat is the main attraction of Smoke and Sacrifice, so how does it hold up? Personally, I thought it was okay. It took me a while to get used to the actual fighting mechanics as it was like the developers had taken Dark Souls and squished it into 2D and then threw it on my TV. Okay, I know games did this before Dark Souls, but everyone gets that reference so please don’t mention it in the comments! Regardless, You need to learn how to efficiently attack, dodge, block, and swap weapons without losing the flow of the battle. It may sound easy, but it does take a bit of getting used to.
When I initially started playing the game, I was getting beaten up by almost everything I came into contact with – this is because I was running in and slapping them with my hands (I had no weapon). Even with a weapon though, you can’t just run in as the enemies will jump at you, breath fire, shoot ice at you, or dart you with their spikes. You need to run in, attack a few times, assess the situation, attack more or dodge away, then dodge back in to attack once more. Once I’d got used to it, I really started to enjoy the game more. My last session was a solid 7 hours with no deaths and loads of progression with a few new suits, new weapons, bombs, and I’d also taken down a boss.
Speaking of which, the bosses are incredibly difficult. I would usually say that Smoke and Sacrifice is one of those games which bumps up the difficulty for the fun of it so that it challenges the player and offers a lot of unfair deaths as the developers laugh at you. Although… I personally think the game has a decent level of progression and never really throws any cheap deaths at you. As long as you’ve taken the time to become accustomed to the controls, you shouldn’t have any issues taking the enemies down. Well, unless the boss decides to freeze you and then send a barrage of ice spikes at your head resulting in you dying when you only needed one more hit on him to win. Yeah, I’m a little bitter about that one!
Surely this game can’t contain another genre? We already have aspects of Survival, Action, RPG, and Adventure… But yeah, I would also say this game has some Metroidvania aspects as well. You’ll find out early on that you can’t enter certain areas, first of all, it’s the frozen wastelands as the ground is too cold, then the industrial areas are full of rogue electrical outbursts, you may also come across a fire area which burns your toes to a crisp upon contact! The way you progress into each of these areas is simple – upgrade your footwear! Nice fluffy UGG Boots will allow you to walk on the ice, Rubber wellies are perfect for the electrical areas and I’ve not got my fire-proof clogs yet.
I really enjoyed this as it made the whole game that little bit more exciting and suspenseful as you could see over into the areas you can’t access yet, but you can’t actually go in there and explore until you pack the right pair of plimsolls. Why stop with just the boots though? Harvest the correct materials and you can create a full costume, including helmets, which will protect you from certain areas and the enemies elemental attacks. These all change the physical appearance of your character as well as offer her boosts in her defence against certain things – if you don’t bother with armour then you’re a dead woman walking!
One of the things I both praise and hate this game for is its difficulty boundaries. I’ve already said I feel the game is fair, and I’m sticking to that, but the game can be a bitch when it wants to be. For example, if you cross over into a place you technically shouldn’t be yet, because your out having a look around, trying to uncover more of the map, then don’t be surprised if you bump into a terrifying beast who’s just waiting to rip you to shreds. This annoyed me early on as I kept forgetting to save (as there are no autosaves and you can only save at stations on the map) so dying meant I would get put back at least 20-30 minutes. This was clearly my fault, but on some occasions, it only took two or three hits before I perished and it was game over – it all happened so fast!
Visually, Smoke and Sacrifice is beautiful. The artwork and design which has gone into all the characters and the environments are amazing – the game looks a lot like Don’t Starve yet with higher quality images and much more detailed environments. It reminded me of Artifex Mundi’s art style in games like My Brother Rabbit, with it’s bright and contrasting colours during the day and dark and creepy atmosphere at night. The fog effects which occur also really add to the whole experience as you never know what might jump out at you if you don’t have your lantern active. Also, the lighting is so vibrant and intense! The very bright and colourful explosions and light shields help make an already stunning looking game look even more magical.
Sound-wise, Smoke and Sacrifice is very minimalistic as the music is very subtle in the background with ambient noises taking the centre stage. You’ll mainly hear your footsteps as you jog around in this strange land, with the odd cry of something waiting to kill you from just off the screen. Oh, and our protagonist thinks she’s Link (from the Legend of Zelda) as every single press of Triangle (to dodge) results in a short “heh” noise. One noise you will want to listen out for though is the horn which blows when it’s night time. At night much stronger beings come out to play, so you want to try and either stock up on defensive items or find a safe place to hide until day time.
As the unspecified ‘Definitive edition’ of the game, The PS4 and Xbox One versions are based on the latest version of the game, with all of its updates, new 4k resolutions and updated textures to match, HDR (supposedly, I can’t check), a new story-line quest to obtain a weapon which lets you take control of any creature, and other quality of life updates. As such, the PC and Switch versions have also been updated to bring them in line with these new versions as well.
Smoke and Sacrifice is a beautifully drawn survival game with an emphasis on its interesting story. For me, it felt like a ‘survival-lite’ game, as it didn’t have any intense survival aspects other than finding components and crafting your way to victory, but that was great for me as I prefer them like this. At times, the game may feel like it’s ramped up the difficulty, especially if you go off the recommended path, but nothing felt unfair or impossible – You just have to master the controls and upgrade your gear.
It truly is a stunning game that will challenge you and have you coming back for more, regardless of how many times you perish to the horrific creatures within the smoke!
Smoke And Sacrifice£15.99
- - Stunning visuals with a great art design
- - Challenging yet never too unfair or overly difficult
- - Tonnes of things to craft in the massive map
- - Simplistic take on the survival genre
- - Very creepy and unsettling atmosphere
- - Avid fans of survival games may find it a bit too simplistic
- - The game can get a bit brutal if you're not prepared