Curve Digital’s Smoke and Sacrifice will feel instantly familiar to anyone who’s played Don’t Starve. While the majority of its gameplay relies in a slice of what made Klei Entertainment’s survival epic such a tense experience, there’s absolutely no denying where the devs behind this latest PlayStation 4 and Xbox One game took inspiration, from movement to animation, the world in which the game takes place in and the systems with which you have to deal with throughout your time playing.
Smoke and Sacrifice takes place in a bleak world governed by religion, where the first born of every family has to be given up and sacrificed to a mysterious deity in order for things to keep running the way they should. No explanation is given as to why or how, it’s just the way things are as families toil away in fields, working day in day out while zealots patrol around demanding offerings every so often. It’s then that one woman decides to investigate on her own once a “holy” piece of machinery breaks down, the very one that zaps the sacrificial babies out of existence, supposedly using them to appease god. It’s then that she discovers the dark truth behind the driving force of her existence when she lands on the dirty, polluted underworld beneath where the game takes place in.
The connection to Don’t Starve becomes quickly apparent as soon as you start playing Smoke and Sacrifice and are given control of the protagonist. The camera angle and zoom is the same locked in, close viewpoint, and movement is similarly doll-like, which is to say slow and deliberate. Attacking is relatively imprecise, but easy to get used to its quirks. The survival mechanic that works as Don’t Starve’s main thrust is also present here, but to a lesser extent, since you can never really starve in Smoke and Sacrifice. Food here works more like a HP boost than sustenance per se, and crafting is the main way of progressing through the game. Having to find and obtain recipes before crafting anything might drive you up a wall, though, since the only way to actually build anything is to actively discover them or get them from NPCs, giving no room for accidental discoveries or worse, an actual sense of progression from weak to strong equipment, since there’s no indication of the order you discover recipes scattered throughout the map.
The game’s map is open from the very get go, but getting around proves to be easier said than done due to how depending on the biome you’re in, you’ll actively have to procure special armor in order to survive — mainly, boots. Say you step into snow, you’ll be required to craft and wear fur shoes, but if you happen to go into a factory area with electricity, that foot wear won’t protect you, and you’ll start taking damage right away. That would be well and good if you could say, buy recipes for such needed items, but no, that’s not the case in this game. I might be over-exaggerating this issue a bit, but it’s needlessly annoying in a way that feels like it’s purposely there in order to pad out the game’s running time.
Still, once you do get into the groove and find the recipes you need, Smoke and Sacrifice is fun, albeit sometimes overly brutal at the tip of the hat. You’re often required to be constantly picking up items, most of which you won’t come to know their use right away, safe to say they’re more likely than not a component in an item you’ll have to craft sometime later on. The problem is that your inventory is rather limited, which forces you to store these items in chests you unlock along the way. Unless you’re way better at keeping notes than me, you’ll likely run into the same issue that I did when playing this game and lose track of where you left a certain item stack when you need it to progress. Since Smoke and Sacrifice’s map is primitive to say the least, you’ll have to either rely on notes or memory, both of which I’m pretty bad at, especially so when most of the boxes in the game look the same. Ugh.
Outside of these nitpicks, I really liked how slowly the story in this game unfurls. It’s predictable, sure, but I found plenty to like about how Curve has managed to cram into the lore, and how much of it I could dig into if I wanted. The world itself is also gorgeous, following a visual aesthetic keen to dark fantasy with a touch of Josh Kirby art — you know, the guy who did most of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld book covers — that comes alive in motion. I would’ve done with more visual variety when it comes to the environments, though. It’s a little confusing to step into the same snow, fire, forest and industrial titles every single time there’s a transition between biomes, and once again in that regard, the in-game map fails miserably, only pointing out area names when you hover the cursor over them.
Smoke and Sacrifice originally came out last year for PC and Switch, and is just now getting released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the latter of which is the version I played for this review. It’s somewhat flawed and slow to play, but if you can managed to overcome these issues, there’s an entertaining game to be found.