Sword of the Stars: The Pit Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Are you a sucker for punishment? If the answer is yes, Sword of the Stars: The Pit is the game you have been longing for! Set in a classic, 2D underground environment, you’ll hack, crack, and slash your way through everything you come across, to find the cure for a deadly plague. Will you go the way of former adventurers, or beat the odds and return victorious? Kerberos Productions has released this new RPG dungeon crawler exclusively on GamersGate, and it’s not for the inexperienced. So get your grinding gear on as we dig down into the contents of The Pit to see what is lurking in its depths.
The story begins with news of a retirement colony on Arbuda IV being plagued with a horrible disease that is turning everyone into ghouls. There is a rumour that a cure can be found at a distant, alien base located in the Feldspar Mountains. Within the mountain, there lies a dark and mysterious cave, one that has seen many go in – but never come out. You will start your journey by choosing one of three characters: Temba Mbale the Engineer, Travis Hudson the Marine (and smoke-aholic), or Toshiko Hoshinara the Scout. Each character has their own brief backstory listed in their description, which sets the tone for their motivation. They also have their own unique strengths and weaknesses that will help you along the way. An example of this would be that Toshiko is weaker and more easily hurt – but has better scavenging techniques and technological knowhow to keep you alive. It’s up to the player to determine how they’d like to play – though chances are you’ll attempt each character at least once. Aside from the introduction, there really isn’t a storyline to fall back on, which is why it is a little misleading to label The Pit as an RPG. You will not run into a bunch of dialog between you and your enemies – it is almost platform in nature this way, though it is quite assuredly a dungeon crawler in every sense of the term.
The mechanics are very straightforward – WASD controls your movement, F is fire, I is inventory, and M is map. You can use the arrow keys to control the positioning of your grenades or multiple-target shots – everything else will just auto-target your closest enemy with you hit F. Each time you move or perform an action, that is considered your turn. Your enemies will also move as one action, though you’ll notice they can usually move a farther distance than you can. There are four difficulty levels to the game: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane. The problem that may arise is that you won’t be able to tell the difference between them – as even on Easy the game is unnecessarily difficult. While a challenge is sometimes a good thing – this game may completely turn off those who are not experts at dungeon crawling.
Everything in the game is organic, meaning that your armour, weapons, ammo, even you yourself will deplete over time. Your character will have two main status bars that must not deplete all the way (or you will die): Health and Hunger. Your Health meter is based on the damage you take from enemies, or afflictions like being poisoned or subjected to a disease. This can happen by eating improperly cooked (or bad) food, running into a diseased enemy, or setting off a trap along the way. When afflicted, you’ll lose points every turn until you’re cured, so make sure to watch out for this constantly. You’ll see right above your Health meter if you have any ailments, and how severe they are, as they will say things like “Poison Lv 2” or “Blind”. There are cures and preventative drugs, med-packs, med-stations, and more to make sure you keep your Health meter full.
The Hunger meter, however, is much harder to control. Each turn, your Hunger meter will deplete, and eating is the only way to replenish it. The issue is that due to the random generation of the dungeons, you may find yourself going six or seven floors without a single room or enemy that provides any semblance of sustenance, and you will die of starvation. In fact, simply due to the sheer lack of food as you move along, survival may depend on you simply not exploring and missing big-ticket items like a new gun just to make it a little further in the game.
There are no stations aside from a Cooker (which lets you make food by combining ingredients in your inventory) – what you pick up is what you get. So stock up on whatever you can find, as even rotten food can be fixed with the right tools. It is so hard to find food, you will starve yourself out at least a few times whether you are careful with your rations or not. On several occasions, you’ll come across Freezers you can pry open – and at times you’ll notice four in a row will be empty – and then you will, yet again, die of starvation., The makers saw fit to make it slow and painful, decreasing movement speed and other afflictions before you actually collapse, so you really get the feeling you are slowly and painfully dying – along with all the desperation that would come with it in real life!
The crafting system itself is very complex – as there are no recipes or hints to help you out. You have to try to add ingredients together to make something that will work, and guess what? If your random selection doesn’t match a recipe, you will lose those items from your inventory. That would be okay if certain items weren’t so hard to obtain, and if wasn’t so necessary to add the ingredients together to give your meter a bigger boost than simply eating the ingredients by themselves. You also have to factor in that you may have to attempt to fix a Cooker, and it may only be good for one or two attempts before it breaks down. This game encourages and then in the same stroke punishes those who experiment with different ingredients. The only real way to advance is to craft, and the only real way to learn crafting is to experiment, so be prepared to die over and over until you’ve memorized enough mixtures just to survive. The one saving grace is that even if you die over and over, any new crafting recipes you discover will always be in your crafting list – so you can still remember what combinations worked in the past.
In addition to the frustrating crafting mechanic, there were a few times when the game ran into an anomaly or two, which resulted in ending the game prematurely just to resolve it. One such issue was setting off a trap that blinded me, when I was already dizzy from getting hit by a robot, I could not move on the map. When you are hit with a blinding or a dizzy affliction, it lasts a certain amount of rounds (thirty in this example). My character could not move – even after setting down a device to scan for enemies and checking the map to ensure there were no barriers around. If the character was indeed surrounded by enemies, they certainly weren’t attacking, and nothing was showing up on the scans. No matter what I did, my character simply could not move in any direction, and had nothing left in inventory to use that would be considered a move in-game. If the game was not already so difficult to guide oneself through, this might have been an easy offense to brush off. But twelve levels in, not dying of starvation, and being undone by what could only be figured for a glitch – is enough to make any gamer walk away from the computer for a while.
On the flip side, the witty commentary from the voice actors in-game is fantastic. They add a note of sarcasm and lighthearted fun into the otherwise frustrating mix. They always have something to say, even if it’s Travis exclaiming, “Let’s try shootin’ it” when an attempt at Lock-picking fails, or “Travis one; monsters zero” after eradicating a mob of enemies. You’ll find yourself associating with the characters more often, or having a semi love-hate relationship when they comment on how bad you are at the game, or how awesome they are when an attempt at a Security Bypass or Repair succeeds. The music itself is a 16-bit, drum-based, electro-mix that feels like you’re in a space adventure – a nice touch to a dungeon crawler that is futuristic while still giving credence to the fact that you’re in a giant pit. The only issue you’ll run into is that during the game itself, the music is barely even noticeable. While there are a few sound effects – the commentary from the characters, an enemy squeak or whiz, or even a few gun blasts are all you’ll really hear in the game, which does nothing to set a consistent tone. Unless you are really in it to hear the voice actors, you’ll most likely spend your time playing background music from your own collection to feel like you’re more in the mood to explore.
Visually, the game caters to the classic 16-bit gameplay, in a 2D environment. The characters and the atmosphere is cartoony in nature, with the intent on making the game feel like a re-mastered 90s title. The caves are basic brown, but not dark and dingy like you’d expect. Later on down the levels you come across environments such as alien base floors, where all the walls and floors are various shades of green, with enemies that stand out with their details. You even get to walk around with a cigarette puffing away in your mouth when you play as Travis, just to add that little extra detail to his overall persona. The layout may be basic, but you have clean, crisp graphics from start to finish.
Overall this game has little to offer in the way of storyline, and a lot to offer when it comes to mastering the elements. It is almost as if Kerberos’ intent was for gamers to die after the first dozen levels over and over again, just to build up enough knowledge to proceed through the game. There is even a basic manual online available for everyone, though many will be seeking advice from forum dwellers in order to accomplish more important, life-saving recipes and tactics. For hardcore dungeon-crawling masters, this game will be right up your alley – for everyone else, you may want to test out the demo to see if it’s worth the price of admission.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit Review receives a 3.75/5.0
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