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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: Jan. 15, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Smoke and Sacrifice'

by Joseph Doyle on March 27, 2019 @ 1:30 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

Humanity has been pushing itself to its limits since the beginning, from simply existing on the planet to pushing our bodies, minds, and more. Game developer Solar Sail uses this universal human trait in its game, Smoke and Sacrifice. Hearkening back to humanity's our collective roots, players are expected to collect and combine things to survive in alien places while trying to uncover the mysteries of our religion, the cornerstone of our society. While the game effectively piques the player's curiosity and creates the landscapes and gameplay for exploration, the narrative comes off as not very well thought-out, and some of the visuals and animations are both derivative and unsettling.

The narrative presented in Smoke and Sacrifice feels rushed and stilted. The game goes through the credits, and after three sentences of dialogue, it throws you into the game as Sachi, a woman working the fields, and she's surrounded by fertile soil and bits of steampunk technology. You set off to search for your infant son for the vaguely described ceremony mentioned in one of the previous three sentences. You find him about five minutes into the game, and you go to the ritual where the village priests speak about the nobility of the Sun God. Your son is sacrificed to the deity, and your character is very sad about it. Having your child killed, even for your civilization's god, would be a harrowing experience. However, the presentation of this part is strange and unceremonious — especially since it's a ceremony — and since this was done so early on in the game, the player isn't emotionally invested in the characters yet. It depends on the experience being traumatizing enough to move the player rather than building up a narrative beforehand.

The rest of the story feels weird. Within two minutes in real time, Sachi meets an enigmatic and eccentric character, a fade in and out describes that seven years have passed, the character (apparently a transient) returns to their village while it's being attacked, and you learn that your son probably isn't dead but simply in a different realm. The player gets narrative whiplash from everything that occurs so quickly and not having enough time to process everything that happened. The rest of the game pans out in this respect, but it ends up feeling a little dry and banal, and the writing feels very generic. We all know that intros to narratives can be both quick and emotional, but Smoke and Sacrifice sucks the life out of its own story by not developing it fully from the outset and not giving the player the time and space to absorb it. For a game that's described as "narrative-driven" by the developers, this aspect of the experience is lackluster, to say the least.

As far as gameplay goes, Solar Sail has made Smoke and Sacrifice compelling in its mixture of open-world RPGs with a focus on collecting, crafting and exploration. After the intro sequence, you're thrown into a dank, dark world, a contrast to the one lit by the Sun God. From here, you're introduced to the basics of crafting: fighting enemies for parts and foraging for different plants to combine them into armor, food, weapons, and more. This part feels pretty fun, with you exploring and interacting with your new landscape as you learn which plant yields which resources. This effectively taps into the player's curiosity, giving them enough information to start off but also giving them the leeway to explore and experiment. While some may feel stifled by the railroading of the tutorial aspect of this part (especially those privy to the likes of Minecraft or Terraria, with almost too little in regards for boundaries and explanation), you can still explore the world and take in the story at your own pace.

While the crafting system is developed and feels fun, the combat is rather simplistic. You can craft and upgrade different weapons, which is really fun, but at the end of the day, you're using one button to hit and another to dodge. This definitely feels like enough, but likewise, it could be seen as a deterrent for someone who's looking for a more involved experience.

The game implements a night and day system, which you have to prepare for by making sure you have the appropriate resources to survive the night, when the land becomes hazy and dangerous. Otherwise, you lose health and become bogged down. Health in this game is tougher to keep than expected, with your enemies hitting you quite hard, even in the early game. This could be frustrating to some, but it makes the player take the game more seriously, plotting out how to best approach encounters and different enemies. There's even more to explore than I'm covering here. As far as gameplay goes in Smoke and Sacrifice, it's pretty engaging. It doesn't make up for the storytelling aspect of the game, but if that wasn't your cup of tea to start with, then this could easily push you along.

The visuals and animations in Smoke and Sacrifice are well developed and executed, but they're a little garish at first blush. The animation style, especially in the movement of the characters, how they're designed, and the whole perspective of the game is reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ, a free-to-play mobile game. This ends up making the game look a little cheap, but the artwork of the characters and the game world make up for this. The character design is similar to the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts game, but it's certainly more developed. The human characters look somewhat like Margaret Keane paintings but with smaller eyes. (I know that's her trademark aspect, but the rest of the features look very similar.) To be frank, it's a little off-putting, but it still shows attention to detail, which is much appreciated. The backgrounds follow suit but feel less uncanny. They are reminiscent of oil paintings with deep, rich colors (heavy greens and browns for the swamp, piercing blues and whites for tundra, etc.) that make the player feel like a part of the world.

On the other hand, the music in Smoke and Sacrifice is rather nebulous in scope. It has less musicality to it and more of a soundscape aspect, which makes it intriguing in its own right. This less rigid approach to creating a dynamic environment is interesting and almost understated. The bells and infrequent, somewhat formulaic flute melodies in the intro area plays to the piety of the people with overtones of Asian influence, seen in some of the characters and architecture. Likewise, the swamp area is given haunting choral lines with scattered bits of rhythm, insinuating both intrigue and fear. Overall, these are intriguing bits of audio, but they could do a little more to make themselves notable and heard. Perhaps that's not what they were created for, but I digress.

Smoke and Sacrifice presents itself as a game that knows exactly what it's going for. It doesn't push any boundaries in the gaming world but offers a fun, interesting, and somewhat different experience with the crafting and narrative. However, the narrative ends up feeling flat and hollow, and it detracts quite a bit from the experience. While the art style can be a little jarring at times, the rest of the visuals, the gameplay, and the audio all make the game enjoyable. Overall, Smoke and Sacrifice ends up feeling like a little bit less than what it was advertising, but it's still a fun experience.

Score: 7.0/10

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