Tag Archives: Twitch Prime

Trying to help Sachi survive in Smoke and Sacrifice’s grotesque underworld

Smoke and Sacrifice is not what I expected to be. One of the first screenshots for the game that I saw was similar to the one at the top of this post. It looks bright and safe and a little mundane and reminded me of any number of early towns or villages you visited in RPGs like Suikoden or Breath of Fire. There’s a field being tended to and glowing Sun Trees that are obviously very important to these people and it just feels smalltown farm-like, but then things take a turn towards darker.

See, our leading protagonist Sachi must unfortunately give up her son as part of the village’s first-born rite; basically, she is sacrificing her child to appease the gods, but the good news–if you want to call it that–is that any future children she has will be safe from this custom. How nice. Years later, when suddenly the Sun Tree fades and all the priests vanish, she learns there’s more to this ritual, such as a whole underground world.

Smoke and Sacrifice is an open-world, narrative-driven survival RPG, where exploiting living ecosystems is the key to keeping air in your lungs. Sachi must constantly craft gear, fight off monsters, and explore a massive open world as she searches for her long-lost son. Along the way, she’ll meet strange characters and take on quests for them, as well as learn what really was happening with the Sun Trees and the first-born ritual. The game quickly goes from bright to dark to seriously messed up in a matter of minutes, and you’ll quickly forget all about that fertile land above, now replaced with a gothic wasteland of strange bugs and foreign ingredients.

Unlike many other survival games, there’s a solid if sadly morbid story to follow and no permadeath to deal with. Instead, you can save your progress frequently at a few save points dotted around the map, which are in the form of glowing computer screens, with death bringing you back to your last hard save. I recommend saving all the dang time. I have suffered the sad experience of collecting a bunch of ingredients for a half hour, stumbling into a combat scenario I wasn’t ready for, and having my weapons and lantern degrade at just that moment, losing all forward progress. It stinks and is maybe the harshest part of Smoke and Sacrifice.

The combat in Smoke and Sacrifice is both punishing and a little plain. You can up your chances of making it out alive by crafting an array of armor and weapons, such as a bone machete, but you never really feel that powerful. Instead, you are better off learning every enemy’s pattern and taking them out slowly and methodically. There’s a dodge move, but it is more of a jump away than anything I’d call extremely responsive, like rolling in Bastion. I wish there was a little more strategy or options for combat, but so far it is just mashing the attack button and hopping away when it looks like the enemy will strike. I did just start crafting smoke bombs, so maybe it does get a little more advanced, but I won’t hold my breath, especially when breathing in this underworld’s air is deadly enough.

I got this game for “free” from being a Twitch Prime member, along with a number of others that I hope to get to…eventually. I think I’ll poke at it some more as I am interested to see where this dark story goes and if Sachi finds her son while also wreaking havoc on the naughty priests that forced her into this situation to begin with. Weapons, armor, and lanterns constantly degrading quickly might be too much for me to deal with though…time will only tell.

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The world is ripe for digging in SteamWorld Dig 2

While playing I, Hope and growing extremely more disinterested and disappointed in the whole thing, I began to tinker away at SteamWorld Dig 2. This was a seemingly sleeper hit for many last year, and I, like many, wish I had played it sooner. It was like experiencing polar opposite games, where one game was just learning how to program jumping code for the main character and then the other game was able to flawlessly nail the feeling of feet lifting off the ground in order to reach a higher platform. I know I shouldn’t compare the two, as they are vastly different in countless ways, but I can’t help it, considering I would use SteamWorld Dig 2 as a feel-good chaser after dealing with some frustrating areas on repeat in I, Hope.

Let’s start at the start. SteamWorld Dig 2‘s story takes place between the events of SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist, of which the latter I have in my Steam library, but have not checked out yet. Following Rusty’s disappearance at the end of SteamWorld Dig, Dorothy, a robot who he had befriended, travels to the mining town of El Machino in order to search for him. Along the way, she comes across Fen, a remnant of the Vectron that Rusty had previously fought, who joins Dorothy as a navigator. While searching the mines for Rusty and hearing rumors of him turning into a monstrous machine, Dorothy comes across a group of humans led by Doris, who claims that mysterious machines are triggering earthquakes. From there, Dorothy is off to investigate.

The gameplay is quite similar to the original SteamWorld Dig, but much more refined. The loop is very much the same–dig deep underground, collect gems and materials, unearth the terrors of the underworld, and return to the top to cash in your collected goods for upgrades to help you better navigate this “platform mining adventure forged in Metroidvania flames.” Those are the developer’s own words, but man do they nail it right there. You’ll also unlock fast travel points along the way, so you can hop to and fro with ease, and some areas will require backtracking once you acquire a certain ability or perk, such as the jetpack or grappling hook.

I ended up taking a long break from SteamWorld Dig 2 because of the time I spent in the hospital and a growing general disinterest in playing many games on my laptop, but coming back to it months later is a breeze. One of my favorite elements is related to cogs. All of Dorothy’s tools are upgradeable with cash earned from excavating gems, and additional features are upgraded with cogs, which are found for the most part in secret areas or puzzle rooms scattered around the map. So, for example, for your pickaxe, you can use modification cogs to unlock Hunter’s Edge, which gives +5 extra XP per enemy killed with pickaxe, or Bounty Hunter, which nets you a cash prize for taking out enemies with the pickaxe. What is super awesome about this is you are not locked in to any of these mods and can switch them out freely at will, similar to Functions from Transistor.

Graphically, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a pure delight, especially on my laptop since I sit so close to the screen. It reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon, all bright and bouncy and safe to absorb. The robot designs are fun and imaginative, and there’s more to talk to here than the first game. The game’s soundtrack is strong, especially the song that plays in El Machino, which is important, because you’ll be returning there a whole bunch for selling goods and upgrading your gear. Sound effects are solid, especially the noise of you collecting gems and materials, which you’ll be doing a lot of; Dorothy’s pickaxe attack against an enemy is also quite pleasant.

I’m making no promises that I’ll see SteamWorld Dig 2 to its conclusion in 2018, but that’s okay. This is a gaming experience worth savoring and dipping back into now and then to get just a little further down the hole. I fully expect Image & Form to come out with a SteamWorld Dig 3 or another spin-off like SteamWorld Heist, as this world and its characters are too good to not do more with them. I’ll be ready, whenever they are ready.

Don’t stop for nothing when it comes to High Hell’s breakneck combat

I continue to mistakenly refer to High Hell as How High. Y’know, that classic stoner flick from 2001 about multi-platinum rap superstars Redman and Method Man as Jamal and Silas, two regular guys who smoke something magical, ace their college entrance exams, and wind up at Harvard–hilarity ensues. I’m not afraid to admit that I’ve seen it more than once. Also, I’m sure I’m not alone in this conundrum. Either way, the two entities are desperately unlike, and that’s good, because I don’t think playing a videogame version of How High would be all that enjoyable. High Hell, on the other hand, is a real hoot…

High Hell is currently one of the freebies for the month of May for those with Twitch Prime, which I finally set up a month or two ago, mostly to get some free cosmetics for Fortnite. It seems like it is on the same level as Microsoft’s Games with Gold program, and I like that I’m getting the games for free permanently, unlike with PlayStation Plus, which means I don’t feel extra pressure to play through them sooner than later. We also got Pyschonauts, Clustertruck, Gone Home, Titan Souls, and I, Hope. Some of those I’ve played, and some I’ve not, so, for me, it’s been a good balance of new things to try out along with some acquiring a few classics I can open with a different launcher.

Right. Let’s cut immediately to the action now, because that’s what High Hell is all about. It’s a neon-soaked, arcade-action first-person shooter from Terri Vellmann (Heavy Bullets) and Doseone (Enter the Gungeon, Gang Beasts). I’m aware of all three of those games, though I’ve never touched ’em, but a part of me suspects one or two are waiting to be installed in my Steam library. In this one, you must take on the criminal underground with a gun that never needs reloading and bring lethal salvation to those that have fallen from the light. Er, something like that. Devolver Digital is behind it, and if you have played any of their games, you know they go big, bold, and right for the jugular. Also, they aren’t afraid to be a little goofy. Some examples that I’ve actually tasted include: Hotline Miami, Luftrausers, and Gods Will Be Watching.

The story is purposely thin and mostly told through mission objectives, such as burn three Employee of the Month paintings, destroy two wiener pumps, deface corporate effigies, and kill Beelzebot. There are main objectives and side objectives and even smaller side tasks, such as burning piles of cash, but the true goal is to stay alive and shoot down anybody or anything targeting you and your health meter. For each successful kill, you get a little bit of health back, which is good, because it doesn’t take much to bring you to your knees and health pick-ups are few and far between. You can methodically and slowly inch your way forward or charge ahead guns blazing, and both plans of attack have their moments, but you need to be quick with your shots because the enemies or big bosses don’t pull any punches.

I’m currently around level 12 or 13–I can’t remember, it’s all a pink-and-gray blur–out of 20 total missions, and I’m having a fantastic time. I normally belittle myself and lack the self-esteem to feel good about playing this type of fast-paced, twitch-based shooters, but I’m actually doing all right. Sure, I get stuck on a couple of levels, but repetition helps iron out the wrinkles and improve my playthrough each time, breaking it down to an almost exact science if you can pull off each shot. Granted, I’m not hitting speedrunning times, but that’s never been my goal; remember, the only game I’ve speedrunned so far is Gone Home.

I’m hoping to see High Hell all the way to its conclusion, but I don’t know if there is more to do after that. Or, even if there is, I don’t know if it is something I will care about. I’m enjoying the frenetic nature of these levels, and jumping off buildings to parachute away after completing all objectives is beyond satisfying, but I might have my fill by the end. We’ll see. For now, I’ll keep kicking down doors and blasting anything that gets in my way.