Smoke and Sacrifice is the pioneering title by London based game developers, Solar Sail Games LTD. While it is a hard game to define--it doesn't quite feel like any other game--it's relatively safe to call it a survival-based action RPG. There is a lot of resource gathering and scavenging, as well as exploration and combat, which tends to be more strategic and centered on what items you have acquired and possess. You can never quite feel safe, and new areas are full of new surprises and dangers.
This isn't an easy game. It can be both cryptic and nail-bitingly difficult. It's certainly a title that seems targeted for a more hardcore audience who wants an immersive and challenging experience. Even though it could be a polarizing experience, it's a game that has a high level of polish and depth rarely seen in indie games, and the commitment to their universe, with its own lore and atmosphere, is never forsaken for any convenience.
Smoke and Sacrifice can currently be bought on the PSN Store for regional pricing. It can also be purchased on Steam, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.
The story in this game is subtle; it's certainly there, and it is interesting, but there isn't a lot of memorable or cinematic moments that color it in. The lore and finer tunings of the brooding underworld were far more piquing than Sachi's actual mission.
In short, Sachi (the protagonist) comes from a small village among a wasteland. The sun is no longer present, and there is something called a light tree, a manmade invention that replaces sunlight. Babies are sacrificed to this tree, and Sachi is forced to give up her infant to appease the light tree. She finds out afterward that there is an underworld where her baby, and many others, may still be alive.
The game takes place in this underworld and it's a beautiful hand-drawn post-apocalyptic space. There is a steampunk element to this universe; machines and broken down remnants of a functioning society still litter the ground, and the game has an industrial vibe.
Most interesting is the concept of light and dark in the game. There is a light time of day where navigation is a lot easier, but when it becomes dark, you better have a lantern ready because the smoke literally envelopes living things and sucks away their life. You can't let the light go out.
To summarize, I love the world and all the mythology, but the overarching plot feels forgettable. I was far more interested in exploring and tinkering with items than I was the plot, which had no real character progression or emotional grabs to speak of.
Items and Scavenging
Smoke and Sacrifice may be an action RPG, but you will spend most of your time gathering items and trying to locate others to finish a recipe. You need to create a plethora of stuff like armors, bombs, healing items, and lots of other useful contraptions. Much of the experience is running around and gathering the ingredients needed to craft an item you need to advance the plot forward.
The game does give you hints on how to get these items, but I would have been cooked without a guide. It can be cryptic, and since any given area in the world map is shrouded in smoke until you travel through it, it can be hard to tell where to go. I admittedly used the guide, and I skipped a lot of the sidequests, which mostly involved crafting or acquiring other items. There are tons of sidequests in this game, so the game's length could be anywhere from ten hours to forty hours depending on how much a player wants to put into the sidequests and optional parts of the game.
Items can be knocked off trees, collected on the ground, or acquired from slaying beats, among a host of other methods. It's definitely an interesting concept, but I found too much of the game based around scavenging. On top of that, certain items are perishable and disappear if they are not used in time, though they can be stored in chests found around the world.
Some items, like the lantern (which is very easy to make) keep running out, and you need to have another ready when it goes out. There is a constant need to replace and repair items. This is intensified since the smoke does damage to you. If you have no lantern, and your amulet (which holds light) runs out, your life starts to sap. You need to find a way to keep the light going at all times.
The combat is definitely a highlight in the game. Unlike a lot of action RPGs, there is no hack and slash going on. Enemies have patterns, and often periods of invulnerability. Instead, you need to evaluate what you have in your arsenal. No bombs? Better to avoid the hornet's nest than to attack it. No ice bombs? Don't even try to take out the overly aggressive cacti. That choice of fight or flight and sense of danger and dying is always present throughout the adventure. If you engage an enemy, you need to hit and run and discover that enemies attack pattern. Even the basic enemies still take a few blows to defeat.
I thought the more pensive combat system was great when utilized in tandem with the survival elements of the game. It's never cheap and fighting is costly. Your weapons get blunted, your armor damaged, and healing requires you to gather items to make recipes. There is a lot of combat in Smoke and Sacrifice, but sometimes it's better to just run away.
There are some other aspects of the game that stand out. You can save at terminals located around the world. Saving is a good idea since there is no auto-save. There are also frequent portals which can be opened to make fast travel possible. It's optional to open these, and they use a kind of currency that can be found in crates or by giving gatherers--a special race which gathers sustenance for the underworld--key ingredients they need to alleviate them from having to find extra food. Using too many coins can mean not getting to open a more vital portal later.
Some items can be crafted anywhere, while others, like tools and armor, require you to find a workbench. Still, others, like edibles, require a cooking pot. These can be found in various places around the world.
There is quite a bit of customization in how you play. There are various weapons, armor upgrades, and a ton of other tools you can use to help you out. These all take time and effort to acquire, but there is definitely a deep system of customization in how you wish to traverse this world. The player is given a lot of freedom in how much of this game, and how they go about it, they want to play.
Visuals and Sound
The visuals are probably the highlight in Smoke and Sacrifice. The game is hand-drawn, and it really stands out. The sprites are vivid, the animations bring the world to life, and the atmosphere is nothing short of incredible. I truly felt this world was alive when I was playing. Things explode, breathe, let off smoke etc. I can't think of a single aspect of the visuals that disappoints. Each item has a unique animation, and the environments are varied enough to keep things fresh.
The music in Smoke and Sacrifice is usually more atmospheric than anything. It didn't stand out to me as much as I wish it did, but it was always pleasant, and there were some symphonic moments that were definitely beautiful. I can't honestly say the soundtrack left a huge impression on me, but for players who enjoyed it a lot, there is a soundtrack being released by Solar Sail Games LTD.
The sound effects in the game were well done. I liked the tinkering sound of crafting items, the enemy grunts, and the light crackles and whistles of different gadgets around the underworld. Much like the graphics, a ton of polish was put into the sound effects and making this game feel as immersive as possible.
Smoke and Sacrifice is a unique game. As such, it already stands out from a lot of other games playing with familiar formulas. It's obvious that this game was well-loved and received a ton of polish. It has stunning visuals, and the universe and all its quirks and traits are awesome.
I found the gameplay to be both wonderful and frustrating. The combat is utilized well: I enjoyed that the choice of flight instead of fighting was often wise and that you needed to craft certain items to defeat specific foes. The battles never devolved into a basic hack and slash experience. However, crafting items could be tedious, and I thought too much of the game was centered around collecting items and resource management. This may just be me though. I don't generally love having to tinker with resources and running around to collect more. Others may absolutely love this aspect of the game and find it more tolerable.
The story could have been more engaging and falls a bit flat. Smoke and Sacrifice is definitely polarizing. This isn't for casual fans and people who aren't up for a challenge or tedium. I had to use a guide to get through the game myself. It's hard for me to recommend this or say not to get it. It all depends on whether or not you can handle a huge challenge and enjoy a lot of scavenging and resource management. It wasn't completely up my alley, but maybe it will be yours.
|+ Beautiful hand-drawn graphics||– Too much resource management|
|+ Combat is nuanced and exciting||– Can be very cryptic and difficult|
|+ Unique lore that's fun to explore||– Requires heavy commitment and patience|