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Smoke And Sacrifice

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Solar Sail Games
Release Date: May 31, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Smoke and Sacrifice'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 22, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Smoke And Sacrifice is a hand-illustrated open-world, narrative-driven RPG, where exploiting living ecosystems is the key to your survival.

Buy Smoke and Sacrifice

Most survival games don't come with a compelling narrative. For the most part, you get a premise to set things up and are told to run with it while the rest of the narrative pops up occasionally when milestones are reached. The blueprint works, but there are only so many times this can be done before the novelty wears off. Smoke and Sacrifice feels different from other similar games mostly because it has a gripping story that is present throughout the experience. It also helps that this is less of a survival game and more of an adventure with some survival elements.

In Smoke and Sacrifice's bleak tale, you play the role of Sachi, a young mother in a small village whose survival is solely dependent on the Great Sun Tree. The mechanical contraption, treated as a god, happens to be the lifeblood of the village since it provides the only source of light and heat to the area, and it keeps the cold and dangerous creatures of the world at bay. To appease the machine, tradition mandates that the first-born from every woman in the village must be sacrificed at the tree's altar. The time has come for Sachi to sacrifice her child, and while she goes through with it with a heavy heart, a mysterious man from her past makes her question the ritual. Fast-forward seven years, and the Great Sun Tree is starting to fail, opening up the village to a monster attack. Seeking help, Sachi goes to the temple but finds the priests are missing. Placing herself on the altar, she is transported to a mysterious realm with the knowledge that the son she sacrificed all those years ago may very well still be alive. With that thought driving her, she explores the dangerous realm to learn the truth and hopefully go home.

The story doesn't spend too much time lingering on certain beats or adding situations that feel like filler but are mandatory to plot advancement. Major plot points come in at a measured pace, and although the game takes a while to finish, it's not due to spending hours getting a tidbit of information here and there. Instead, that time is spent collecting everything in the environment that isn't nailed down and crafting anything you can. Items include lanterns to fend off the life-sucking darkness, clubs for hitting enemies, and boots to survive the cold areas. Some items can be crafted at any point, while others need workbenches or need to be cooked in specific spots before they can be used in a recipe. You'll do plenty of traveling to collect items since they're restricted to certain environments, and you'll also doing plenty of crafting since everything has a durability meter. Clubs can break from use, lamps can burn out as the firefly within dies, and even the food you make and collect can spoil after a few in-game days.

Those things sound like the basis for a survival game, but they're dialed down in Smoke and Sacrifice, and some expected survival elements are even omitted. Hunger isn't a thing here, so the only reason to eat food is to replenish any health lost via natural damage, not the passage of time. You also don't have to worry about stopping what you're doing to get some rest. You don't have to worry about building campsites, either, or getting thirsty, and you can hold quite a large number of items in your backpack before you need to start managing the inventory.

With the survival elements pared back, the game has to rely on action to complement the crafting and exploration. In this regard, Smoke and Sacrifice does a decent job. The game is a bit generous when it comes to hitboxes, so even your lowly punches don't need be precise when you're trying to hit something. At the same time, you can have some close calls as far as attacks go before you get hit. While you don't have to worry about stamina when you're attacking, you'll still employ a stick-and-move strategy in battles, and the enemy tells are very apparent, so you'll only get hit if you aren't paying attention. The combat remains tough, though, due to the amount of health each creature possesses, and crowds of them most certainly mean you're getting hit even if you're adept at jumping and dodging. To that end, you have to condition yourself to remember the location of the save terminals since the game doesn't auto-save, and carelessness often means having to redo tasks until you get it right.

As mentioned earlier, the game length can be partially blamed on the need to scavenge the area for items, but even if you were to take that out of the equation, you'd still be left with a sizeable campaign. There's roughly an equal number of side-quests and main quests, and while it is very clear which quests involve the main storyline, the rewards gained from side-quests make them tough to ignore. The world is large, and even though pneumatic tubes can take you anywhere for a small fee, you still have to find them in the increasingly hostile environment. Interestingly, this is balanced well, so you'll rarely feel like crafting or exploration or combat takes up more of a focus than the other mechanics.

Whether or not you care for the blend of survival and action, you won't appreciate the hitches. Even after the recent patches, there are still times when the game briefly pauses before continuing on. It doesn't seem to happen during heavy combat scenes, but when compared to the other platforms, it's an annoyance. The quality of life improvements are present, so at least the act of sorting out items in your inventory is easier than it was at launch.

As far as the presentation goes, it's very good in Smoke and Sacrifice. The graphics show off a tremendous amount of detail, but the animations are impressive. The movement is similar to puppetry, but with paper dolls instead of actual puppets. Each individual limb looks like it animates separately from the rest of the body, but it doesn't look awkward. The look is relatively distinct but captivating on both larger and smaller creatures. The environments also sport this level of detail, and the appropriately drab colors are accompanied by a liberal use of fog, ice and smoke that give it some life. The game does lack voices, but the morose soundtrack does a good job of evoking the appropriate emotions for the given scenes.

Smoke and Sacrifice is a good game once you know what you're getting into. It is an adventure with clear objectives but a slower pace due to the amount of collecting and crafting involved. It's also a much easier survival game to digest, since you aren't monitoring too many meters at one time. Tying it together is a captivating presentation and a narrative that is as dour as it is fascinating. Although the Switch version suffers from some hitches in areas, the game should still be experienced by genre fans.

Score: 7.5/10

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