Coming to PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (version tested) and PC on May 30, 2018.
Survival games have become a hugely popular genre in recent years. The act of collecting resources and ensuring you make it through another day in a harsh, unforgiving world is a rewarding act, so it’s no surprise many developers have put their own spin on the formula.
Solar Sail Games is doing just that with Smoke and Sacrifice, thrusting innovations upon the genre that are both pleasant and surprising. This is one of the strongest survival offerings I’ve played yet, largely thanks to its display of heart behind the mechanical innards.
You play as Sachi, a young mother forced to give up her son as part of a strange, occult ritual. She exists in a world where people worship an ancient object known as the Sun Tree. Its mythical presence provides the land with light, food and many of the things required to survive.
After giving up her child, and in a town overrun by murderous monsters, Sachi decides to venture into the underworld in search of her missing son and answers to the world in which she lives. Smoke and Sacrifice presents a gorgeous locale inspired by the likes of Shadow of the Colossus and Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, awash with influences that help its lovely art style spring to life.
I played an hour or so of Smoke and Sacrifice with two of its developers sat alongside me, guiding me through its myriad systems as I clumsily met my death a handful of times. Those familiar with the genre will find many familiar systems. Crafting, cooking, combat and exploration are all present and accounted for.
The narrative-driven campaign is what sets this game apart from the competition. What could have been another survival adventure in a pit full of copycats is bolstered by a unique lead with compelling motivations.
Smoke and Sacrifice introduces you to its world with relative ease. You’re taught how to craft a lantern and capture fireflies in the very first quest. This is key to surviving in and outside of the mist, a mysterious force capable of killing you in seconds. Having to juggle these two elements is fun, although equipping tools can be fiddly.
Following this the act of crafting weapons, tools and food are introduced alongside different environments in the world. You’ll need special boots to navigate the snow, and ranged weapons to spook enemies away from areas ripe with loot. The general loop of gameplay is really satisfying, so I hope the story maintains a similar momentum.
The world is awash with threats, whether it be poisonous mud puddles or ravenous creatures looking for their next meal. Dispatching enemies is pretty simple once you’ve crafted a few weapons. Attacks are performed with a single button and best juggled with dodging enemies, before moving in for another strike. You could argue it’s too simple, but I believe it works well with Smoke and Sacrifice’s neighbouring elements.
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I only had a chance to sample one boss battle, which involved a giant porcupine/warthog thing that left a trail of what I hope was milk wherever it went. While normal enemies only require a mixture of attacking and dodging, boss encounters are far more nuanced. This particular fight required me to lure the creature into nearby trees or rocks to stun it for a short time. After a death or two I emerged triumphant, rewarded for learning its movements and reacting accordingly.
Sachi can be customised to an impressive degree, capable of kitting herself out with a range of outfits and weapons crafted from materials scattered about the place. While I only made a random assortment of stuff, every new addition to my arsenal felt unique. I can definitely see myself setting personal goals to obtain rare gear in the full experience. I just hope there will be shelter and such to keep things safe.
NPCs are all about the place, too, capable of giving you quests and valuable tools you’ll need to survive. You never feel truly alone in the world of Smoke and Sacrifice, but the insecure feeling of being lost is something I couldn’t shake. Metallic artefacts hint at a past civilisation I hope the narrative expands upon, since there is so much potential here for a dark, post-apocalyptic mystery.
It’s worth noting I’ve only played the Nintendo Switch release, which, at the time of writing, suffers from a few performance problems in more intense areas. It seldom proved distracting, with the exception of a few battles where controls didn’t feel nearly as responsive as I’d hoped.
I’m excited to see how Smoke and Sacrifice evolves ahead of its release later this year. It adopts a template familiar to the survival genre and injects it with a sense of personality and heart to make things feel far more impactful.
By playing as a protagonist with clear goals and motivations, you’re no longer filling out a never-ending list of boxes to progress; you’re chasing an unfolding plot for your own personal gain.
How far its systems expand in the full experience remains to be seen, but the opening hour or so presents a foundation I’m incredibly excited to see built upon. Oh, and did I mention it’s gorgeous?