Sublevel Zero Review
There's a very easy test to see if you'd like Sublevel Zero, the new PC game from Sigtrap Games. I'll even link it here. Go on. I'll wait. All right, did you like what you saw there? Then congratulations, this is the game for you.
Joking aside, Sublevel Zero is actually a pretty good game. It's not something I would gladly rush out and buy, but is a good solid game with a decent control scheme and enough depth to be worth the replay value. It also has an aggressive dislike of people who get motion-sick, but then again, considering it's a game with about three hundred sixty degrees of movement range and expects you to dogfight, then you kind of know what you're getting into.
The plot is pretty bare, and advanced through that time-honored plot device: Text logs left around for you to find (as a side note, remember when this was actually used as a narrative device instead of something people could do to just fling around the bare bones of exposition?). Humans have spread all over the galaxy, and have become so tribalized and separated that they have formed "clans" around "warlords" and finding ancient technology. You're a pilot from one of these clans, having found an odd station filled with automated defenses that seems to be responsible for warping the space around it. You head inside, hoping to figure out what's going on, and thus the game begins.
The rest of the game is fairly simple. Fly around neon hallways shooting enemies for parts and currency, find big thing, shoot big thing, collect macguffin, move on to next level for a more difficult course. Sublevel Zero is of course a roguelike (because procedural generation is really buzzy right now), and so each time you die, it will generate a new maze for you to explore at your leisure. It's actually kind of meditative at times, flying through tunnels and performing aerial maneuvers while a soundtrack reminiscient of Artificial Intelligence is pumped through your speakers.
And then, of course, you hit a dogfight with a bunch of hyper-aggressive turrets and suddenly the game turns into the most dissonant example of a kinetic bullet ballet I've ever seen, with the soundtrack pumping music with a definite chill-out bent while the scores of enemy robots and automated turrets do their level best to make you careen around rooms. With the game's pace, this doesn't seem as jarring as other games with similar themes, but it's still odd to have this ambient world around you and at the same time an absolute blastout with a series of malevolent bots.
But beyond that, it's surprisingly deep. Bots will explode after they've taken enough damage, so if you cluster another one nearby, they can get hit with the splash effect. In later levels, you can even shoot other surfaces (lava, for one example) to cause splash effects and damage some bots. There's also a wide variety of weapons one can pick up with varying stats, that can then be combined into even more powerful forms to further murder the hell out of the robots in your path (the house recommends anything that calls itself 'room-clearing'.) There are also other ships you can unlock, more powerful hulls, and a variety of goodies to find.
The one issue I have with the game is that it sits on this depressing trend that, for the purposes of things, I will call "Ernest Cline Syndrome." Ernest Cline Syndrome is what happens when things are retro for not much of a purpose other than being kinda quirky and retro. So. All the precursor logs you find in the game are represented by old-school game boys. There's not really any reason for this, and it kind of took me out of what was actually kind of a cool experience. It also has an issue where it'll build the levels out of pre-set parts, which can be a little annoying at times, with sudden dead ends.
But in the end, a little bit of meh flavor shouldn't scare anyone off. It's a lot of fun, and it's good to start up if you just want to swirl around the inside of the station for a little while. Definitely give this one a go sometime.
Score a 4 out of 5
Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.