21st Jun2018

‘Smoke and Sacrifice’ Review (PC)

by Britt Roberts

Smoke-and-Sacrifice-screen

Smoke and Sacrifice has a very intriguing premise that initially drew me in, the tale of a mother searching for her child is one that will strike a chord with many people. Whilst my journey started off with me fully invested in the narrative, after a couple of hours my will was bending, not because of any change in the story but due to some design choices that will probably be welcomed by ravenous players of survival / crafting games but be a deal-wobbler for the rest of us.

Smoke and Sacrifice starts off with the titular sacrifice, young mother Sachi has been told (as are all first-time mothers in her village) that her son is to be sacrificed to the Gods so that energy and sunlight won’t leave their village. Fast-forward seven years* and, as her village is attacked by the local (MASSIVE) wildlife, she makes her way to the sacrificial machine and teleports away in order to find her son.

The game is played out in an isometric perspective with a wonderfully muted colour palette and hand-drawn graphics. The characters in the game are well-realised and interesting, from the various denizens of the underground wilds to the gas-mask sporting scarecrow-esque wanderers that live in fear of the titular sentient smoke. Sounds are quite subtle, with a sort of audio minimalism in effect, possibly to reflect Sachi’s sense of loneliness and isolation.

Sachi’s world is set in a steampunk setting, clanging, wheezing machines litter the landscape and provide an interesting backdrop to the rural exploratory action. The issue I had with the game most of all was its main feature. Sachi is on a singular quest to find her son and this boils down to her finding a clue from someone / thing and then following it along to the next clue. This would be fine, but in order to proceed, Sachi has to come along various items and recipes to craft things needed to overcome obstacles and these things constantly degrade in your inventory, making back-tracking and repetition a focus. Say, for example, you need to make boots in order to traverse the snow that blocks your way, you’ll need to craft a pair that will wear down over time, as does everything in the game and I mean EVERYTHING. I’m sure that dedicated players of this genre will appreciate the realism of this but for regular gamers; I can imagine it will just lead to frustration. the different areas of the underground world that makes up the bulk of game play are varied and have their own characteristics, but the amount of times that I opened up my inventory to see items that I’d never used flashing red as they were about to disintegrate resulted in some serious jaw-clenching.

Combat in the game is pretty straightforward but due to the isometric angle can feel cumbersome in lining up the hits so that they connect. It’s not too onerous but it does feel finicky enough to not make battles feel flowing and natural. The game is quite text heavy with no voice acting and this combined with the relatively sparse sound in the game and amount of time spent in menus and running around knocking items from trees, digging them up or catching them ended up taking their toll on my interest. I started Smoke and Sacrifice completely involved in the setup but after a few hours I just wanted to find out how the story ended and wanting to miss out the most important part, the game play itself, is not a good thing.

If you are a lover of crafting games and enjoy the aesthetics of this game, then you will have dozens of hours of fun, but for those wanting a more stream-lined approach to the adventure, the constant re-work may try your patience a little too much.

Right, I’m off to help Sachi fill in the adoption forms.
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Smoke and Sacrifice is available on PC and Nintendo Switch now.

*Considering that Sachi is portrayed as a dedicated mother, maternal instincts torn apart by the rituals of her society, when she overhears one of the priests say, STRAIGHT after the sacrifice: “I wonder how her son will cope down there, he seems too feeble.” I was surprised, to say the least when the narrative jumped forward seven years before she thought, “…I think my son may still be alive…thinking about it, I’d better have a goosey”
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