Being a spiritual successor to 1995’s Descent, Sublevel Zero has a high bar to aim for. This first-person roguelike six-degree-of-freedom shooter packs a punch and it’s a mean one at that. Upon playing I had flashbacks to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi when the Millennium Falcon darted through thin corridors followed by Tie Fighter’s on its mission to blow up the second Death Star, needless to say I may have enjoyed this game a little, based on that alone.
Narrative and story is shallow but still sets the premise of who you are and why you are playing. You’re a lone gunship pilot with the task of looting and crafting ancient technology, flying through the well-guarded underground facility, your goal in each level is to destroy the reactor and obtain the flux drive that will aid you in fulfilling your mission and getting back to your clan. You will face an onslaught of enemies that are designed to put an end to you at all costs, they come in all shapes and sizes, with various different attack styles and offensive weaponry.
The key mechanic that draws me to this experience is the six-degrees-of-freedom, being able to fly and rotate in every direction freely allows you to mix up your tactics and go into each fight with a strategy thought up by your own experience and creativity. One size does not fit all, you are able to mount an offense anyway you see fit, but that works both ways so be prepared for enemies that don’t quite fit a standard attack pattern, if there’s an opening they will take it. I had some fun dodging, ducking, dipping, diving and dodging my way around and sometimes through my enemies.
‘Procedural, perma-death’ its being called by the developers, now imagine this, you have no save-point and no lives, if you die it’s back to the start of the game. I bet your thinking ‘well that’s fine I can learn the map and rush through easily’, WRONG! Each time you restart your faced with a different procedurally generated environment. This forces you to adapt, failure to do so and you will perish. One can only hope you learn every environment and enemy if you want to succeed or you may do what I did for my first hour of playing, I swore a lot, but then it got addictive. I just had to beat the level, this happened for every level. Even on easy mode, it’s like forgiveness wasn’t programmed into the game, with limited repair kits and resources, you have to rely on your movement and precision, savouring every blaster shot or bullet and keeping an ever-vigilant eye on your health.
Sublevel Zero allows players to upgrade their weaponry through a crafting system. Collect randomly-generated weapons, items and upgrades that can be crafted together and then equipped to one of four weapon slots, you can tailor the weapons to your style and can unlock more blueprints through playing the game with the best part being you keep whatever you unlock, even after death. There are two other equip-able slots on your ship the engine and hull, you can mess around with the different types of each to see what you prefer best and allows for experimentation.
Not the most visually pleasing games in terms of fine detail with its flat block-like textures, instead your treated to a pixel shaded art-style that still looks great, speeding through the caverns and hallways, bright lights galore firing blast after blast at your foes you appreciate it isn’t the level of detail but more-so the style that matters most. Matched with a fun, futuristic and yet nostalgic sound-track and effects library that hearkens back to the space games of old, it goes to show a lot of fun can be had by going to the past. The game feels refreshingly retro and yet surprisingly new all in one.
The menu’s feel a little clunky and disjointed which can break the fun when you’re desperately trying to sieve through the pages to equip a new weapon or craft something new. Even some of the text in the inventory menu is blurred which perhaps shows a lack of optimization, If intentional it is still not a good look.
Story – 5/10
Visuals – 7/10
Sound – 7/10
Gameplay – 8/10
Game Design / Innovation – 8/10
Sublevel Zero lacks a deep story and misses the mark with its user interface and visual fidelity, however I feel that’s totally combated with its genuinely fun gameplay and addictive nature produced by the game’s design. Procedural perma-death adds a certain replay value a lot of smaller titles seem to miss, with many challenges to get through you should be sure to pick this up, as long as you can handle dying and restarting a lot along the way.
OVERALL – 7/10 – GOOD
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin (Jester).
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Sublevel Zero Redux on Xbox One however this does not in anyway affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)