The Survival RPG is a genre that’s gained much momentum the past few years, largely inspired (in this writer’s opinion) by Minecraft. As the initial generation of Minecraft players started to yearn for something more grown-up, this previously-very-niche genre began to get more developer attention.
Smoke and Sacrifice is an impressive freshman outing overall for Solar Sail Games, but it falls short in several key ways, while still showing promise. I’ve put a fair amount of time into games like Minecraft, Subnautica, and Terraria, and it’s a difficult genre to crack, with a lot of variables to consider and balance.
The gameplay in Smoke and Sacrifice revolves primarily around crafting. Recipes are found throughout the world in addition to being earned as quest rewards. The items and gear you can create are varied and interesting, but most offer little in the way of elevating or morphing the gameplay.
There is a main quest, with an interesting, if slightly well-worn, arc, and a multitude of side quests, but despite the visual implication, there’s very little room to explore. Each zone has several key items you need to create to progress, but beyond that, there’s very little to do that actually affects anything. I’m a big fan of open world games, but Smoke and Sacrifice keeps you on a very linear path despite the feeling that more should be possible.
This also affects the pacing. The story is a pretty simple adventure, but it corrals you into executing many grindy and backtracking tasks (which, sure, it’s an RPG), but offers no alternative. I’d love to be able to follow the story path at a brisker pace, making only the needed items to progress, or wander off the path of the tale and live in the world. Unfortunately the game tries to straddle both at once, and as a result, neither facet is available in a pleasing way to the player. I will give Solar Sail a lot of credit for providing a story about being a mother, with a female protagonist, especially in this genre, but they could have gone further with that exploration.
Additionally, while the main thrust of the game is to survive, there are no tasks in the gameplay mechanics that are required for survival, beyond keeping your health meter topped off. If you don’t take damage, you don’t have any physical needs. That’s contrary to a key tenet of a survival game.
The visuals of Smoke and Sacrifice are quite the mixed bag. I love papercraft-styled art (a la Paper Mario), but while I feel that Solar Sail definitely went that direction, I would have loved to see them stick to the concept a little more purposefully, and keep the characters 2D, as opposed to the faux-cardinal direction 3D we see in the design.
The one area where the game shines visually is the lighting and particle/smoke effects. These look incredible and really add to the beauty of the environments. However, these effects are an odd visual juxtaposition to the flat, if detailed, objects in the environment. The two elements don’t mesh well, which, for me, took me out of the immersion the game is trying to provide.
MUSIC & SOUND DESIGN
This is the one primary area where Smoke and Sacrifice does undeniably well. The music is extremely well crafted and suited to the world of the game. The sound effects are vivid, varied, creative, and appropriate, and the score supports the atmosphere of each area in a very well done manner.
Smoke and Sacrifice is a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a Steampunk, papercraft Minecraft? Is it a post-apocalyptic Stardew Valley? Is it an indie Fallout? In trying to live in all those genres simultaneously, it ends up succeeding at none of them. The stunning lighting and well done audio do add to the appeal, but ultimately didn’t make up for the somewhat-futile crafting and uneven pacing of the main story. If you’re really into survival games, there may be something here for you, but for the average player, it’s all smoke.
Charlie’s first attempts at gaming did not go well. Repeated, failed run-ins with the first Goomba in Super Mario Brothers 1 plagued his maiden gaming voyage. Undaunted, he would go on to become an avid gamer of all platforms, with Nintendo always sitting atop the highest pedestal. Except for that Halo 3 incident in 2007. We don’t talk about it. It never happened.
Currently, Charlie enjoys playing games on as many platforms as he can get his hands on, with current favorites being the Switch, 3DS and Neo Geo. When he’s not playing games, Charlie is a live sound engineer and manager for his production company, Clear Harmonies, based in Washington, D.C.
Charlie enjoys talking about games nearly as much as playing them, and loves meeting new people, so hit him up!
Plays: All of them games. Seriously.