Greetings Koopalings! Donnie here from Play Some Video Games to review a new addition to consoles – Sublevel Zero Redux. I used this review opportunity to dust off the Xbox One in the office, but you can play Sublevel Zero Redux on your PlayStation 4 or a PC using the Steam client. I streamed the game three times using Beam on Xbox One, but so far have had difficulty downloading them to add to our YouTube page. When I get this ironed out, I’ll add the Let’s Plays to this review but thanks for those that tuned in to watch.
Sublevel Zero Redux is a new first person shooter / procedurally generated roguelike from independent studio Sigtrap Games (@SIGTRAPgames). The big sell with Sublevel Zero Redux is its six-degrees of freedom (6DoF) in which you’re piloting a gunship both left, right, up, down, forward and back in three dimensional space. As with many roguelikes of recent memory (Don’t Starve / Binding of Issac), Sublevel Zero Redux also features permadeath which means no lives & no saves. It’s not a style of game I would recommend to all gamers, even I can’t claim to be a fan of the genre, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the experience.
The game features a tron-like art style of neon glowing retro-bit blocks and warm colored environments. The use of color and contrast is very attractive. Its a modern take on classic game art and it is quite enjoyable even if simple. Aiding the presentation are some sweet, sweet tunes. The music and sound effects definitely help to sell the the sci-fi setting. Weapons also fire with great visual and audio effects which continues to build an immersive experience. I definitely recommend pulling out some headphones so you never miss a beat.
Equally good as the audio & visual direction are the mechanics. Guiding a ship with six-degrees of freedom in 3D space isn’t something often implemented in video games. The sheer amount of negative combinations that could result in a player trying to harness such movement has to be a nightmare for any developer. I’m happy to report that Sigtrap Games has largely pulled it off. Controlling your ship through the winding hallways and connected rooms is pleasant from the start. It wasn’t until my 4th or 5th run with the game that I began to really settle into the groove, but once it clicked, it was very rewarding to zip in and out of doorways blasting away with mini-guns and rockets before switching to grenades while dodging on-coming attacks with a barrel roll. There were a few occassions where my ship turned it’s axis when I didn’t specifically want it to, but it never impeded my progress or adversely affected my playtime.
That’s all to say, the game really impresses “for an indie game.” I don’t mean to sound derogatory at all, we all know independent studios have largely taken up the non-AAA video game scene. However, even with that said, there are very few indie games I’ve played that have this level of polish regarding performance. I didn’t experience a single frame rate stutter, a crash, or any other technical issue worth reporting. Considering how ambitious the goal to deliver six-degrees of freedom is, Sigtrap Games deserves some major kudos for a job very well done.
The game begins with a small cinematic explaining that the universe is literally falling apart. Wormholes open randomly, swallowing galaxies, planets, ships, people…. you get the idea. You enter an ancient facility that is behind all of this chaos in an attempt to save the galaxy. Ultimately the story is a forgettable one and is probably the easiest stone to throw at Sublevel Zero Redux. The world is so well constructed, it feels like a missed opportunity not to have some dialog between characters or more cut-scenes in between levels. I could imagine some Firewatch like dialog from your gunship back to homebase or an operator really adding some depth to the adventure.
Death is permanent with this game and you’re going to die at least a handful ,if not a couple dozen of times (at least I did). The maps are procedurally generated after each death which keeps the game feeling new every time. As you progress through each labyrinth, you encounter several floating robot combatants that move as you do and also fire projectiles for you to doge. It’s pretty standard shooter stuff but it makes for an enjoyable loop due to the superb control you have over your ship. The hook here is Sublevel Zero is one of those ‘Just One More’ type of games. You’ll never feel as if you were robbed from glory or that you weren’t good enough. There’s always a hint of… “I can do this, just one more go” with Sublevel Zero Redux that will bring you back beyond your first successful run.
To add just a little more flavor to the dish, you can upgrade and outfit your ship, as well as unlock new ones. As you progress though each sublevel, you’ll acquire materials and weapons that you can use to equip and upgrade new weapons and hulls. You can equip two sets of primary and secondary weapons which you can quick swap in combat with the right and left bumpers. Honestly I found crafting mostly a random affair as I never truly knew if I was actually upgrading over my previous tools. I was largely just clicking menu options periodically as they became available as there’s little in the way of guidance and instruction for this portion of the game. Additionally, the loot drops found in chests throughout campaign never seemed to really upgrade my ship in a tangible way.
Sublevel Zero is unlike anything out there and there isn’t a strong direct comparative for Sublevel Zero Redux on consoles. At best, this game compares to Forsaken on Nintendo 64 or the niche-popular PC game Decent from the 90s. I imagine many other reviews for Sublevel Zero Redux might mention that the game is short as some negative statement. While it is true that this game can be beaten fairly quickly (3.5 hours for me on my first day) it is a rogue-like and meant to be played through multiple times. This is where my biggest flaw with the game comes into focus. The loop began to grow stale on my third run through the game, which isn’t the best criticism for a Roguelike. The game is fun to play but has very little motivation or purpose for completing the quest let alone completing it for a second, third, or multiple runs. There’s little diversity in the environments making everything feel the same no matter how many different times you die and hit the reset button.
I’d offer that the amount of gameplay available coupled with the better than average music, style, and control justifies the Andrew Jackson ($20) out of your wallet.
Sublevel Zero Redux is the type of game that coined the phrase “for fans of the genre/series.” I wish there was a lot more here from a plot perspective, even an occassional boss battle would have been a welcome addition to the formula. It’s just unique enough that I’d recommend this game the next time you’re in-between big releases and want to get into something new. It’s a wonderful option available that won’t require a 60 hour (or dollar) investment to enjoy.
Sublevel Zero Redux is a great example of why we have come to love independent studios. With Sublevel Zero Redux the Sigtrap team attempt to bring something fresh and new to the often “too-similar” first person shooter market and the experience is worth taking a flier on.