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May 30, 2018

Smoke and Sacrifice - Review

Smoke and Sacrifice tells the story of Sachi, who when we meet her, has been summoned to fulfil an ancient ritual, by sacrificing her child Lio, in order to receive the blessing of the sun tree, so that her village may stay safe for another year. The eldest child from each family is offered up to this alter, which zaps the baby and then they are gone, but Sachi knows she does not want to give up her child, but the priests that oversee the entire ceremony, give her no quarter. Soon after the event wraps up though, Sachi meets a mysterious man known as the Tinker, who gifts her a strange pendant, before she is shuffled away from the church.


Soon after, the sun tree, the mystical object that provides light and protection to Sachi’s village, starts to fade, which lets in massive creatures, that attack everyone. A few residents decide that seeking the priests is the best course of action and they nominate Sachi to do this, but when she makes it to the church, there is no-one to be found. As she looks around, she steps onto the alter, where years before, her baby Lio was placed and taken from her, only to find herself transported to the same world that he was and now she decides to locate her child and escape this place. After being informed by some of the locals, of a feral child who lives nearby, Sachi heads there and is informed that the Tinker can be found in the nearby village, the same man who gave Sachi her pendant, is also helping the residents of this world. The people they are working for and trying to escape, well, I won’t spoil it here, but there are some surprises to who they are.

The world that you find yourself in, is fun to explore and dangerous at the same time, the day time has many creatures just wandering around, doing their thing, but it also has the same citizens of the village, toiling away in fields and such. The danger comes from not only the wildlife that lives around, but when the sun sets, so to speak, a thick purple smoke rolls across the land and hidden within are creatures that are more dangerous than anything else and there are even more things there as well. Surviving until morning, can be a tricky thing if you are not prepared, there are parts of the map that are safe for you to stay in, but if you are not near one when you will find yourself being hunted, if you are spotted.


You can survive in the world, if you equip a lantern, but they will only keep the smoke away from you, not the creatures, but when you get the pendant you wear fixed, it allows you a large space of safety, but also grants the option to block attacks, which will keep you as safe as can be. What makes the game fun, is that the world is alive and not just in the sense that it is filled with creatures, though it is, but everything in the world has a shelf life. The first few hours, I spent going around and killing the easier creatures, which resulted in my getting a lot of supplies, the problem is, they expire, so like fresh food from the supermarket, you have to use it within a set timeframe. You can store items in chests, which stops this, but as the chests can be scattered about, leaving your hard-earned items, in places that are not easily accessible, is not a clever idea.


In order to move around the world, you will also need to ensure that you are equipped to deal with its many locations, which can range from average grassland, to frozen tundra and beyond. While the grasslands and swamps are pretty easily to navigate, the other locations require you to be prepared, step a single foot onto frozen ground, without the proper footwear and you will start to take damage, as well as move slowly thanks to the cold. It is this combination of environmental hazards, as well as enemies that make the game quite challenging, even when you think you are safe at night, there is the chance one of the creatures that come out, may get close enough to you, to trigger their attacks. If you are lucky you might find a sleeping cap to skip the night, but as a one-time use item, you will want to make sure you only use it when you really have to.

The game will also challenge you in combat, most enemies will deal damage at range, but if you get to close, you will take damage as well. The earlier weapons that you get, don’t deal a lot, but using things you can collect around the world, you can upgrade them to be stronger, but it is when you start to combine attack types together, that things get interesting. Some enemies are just to smart or fast for basic attacks, so stunning them first allows you to get in close and dish out the damage, but sometimes killing the enemy is not what you need to do. When you combine all the element effects that the world itself has, mix in a few enemies that can do the same, you really need to stay on your toes, whenever you encounter something that fights back.


The game has a few issues that cause concerns, first up is the item degrading system, while its fine to keep you on your toes, losing a single item, because the hand in point was so far away, is frustrating to say the least. The second issue relates to the nights, while the smoke idea is fine, it causes the game to come to a grinding halt, during the night, there is nothing you can really do, especially early on. As the creatures that roam in the smoke, will destroy you pretty easily, staying in your safe zone is the best option, but anytime you open up the map, crafting screen or anything else, the game pauses, which means you are spending a generous portion of your game, just waiting for time to pass.

The other issue I had with the game, is how Sachi interacts with the world, whenever she moves, it looks as if she is floating, just above the ground and when you make her run, you can see that floaty look in play. When you attempt to interact with world, by either picking things up from the ground or talking with people, you need to be in the right spot, if you are off by just a fraction, the game does not register your connection. While this is not an issue when you are in open spaces, one of the things you will collect a lot of is sour fruit, to make an elixir for health and revealing hidden recipes, but there were more times than I could count, where the item would drop from a tree and as it would land near another item, the game would not let me collect it.


Presentation wise, the game actually does a wonderful job, the visuals are stylised in such a way, that they blend together an anime style, with a cardboard cut-out look and it works quite well. Creature design is really fun, with a mix of real world creatures and more fantastical designs, sadly the citizens of the world are not so grand, while interesting, they tend to blend into the backdrop far too much to make any sort of impact. The music however was delightfully spooky at times, wandering the world and hearing nothing but creatures and a slow melodic piano tune was eerier, and it was great. The people don’t speak, a few grunts and groans cover their range of noises, but the lack of spoken word, does help sell the creepiness that the world is presenting.


Smoke and Sacrifice is a story driven game and that story is one of loss and discovery, while it does not create anything brand new, its take still manages to impress. The game suffers from some issues, mostly relating to it coming to a halt each time the smoke rolls in, but looking past that, the game offers some truly wonderful fun.


Review copy provided by Curve Digital

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