One of the most controversial genres of video games are walking simulators. In these games, you’re not tasked with destroying enemies, setting scores, or even clearing things as fast as possible. Rather, you explore the world around you as a story unfolds around you. The controversy comes from debate over whether games of this genre are actually games, but I’m not here to put my two cents in on this debate today. Instead, I’m here to talk about Sagebrush for Playstation 4.
Sagebrush, out on Steam last year and now on Nintendo Switch and PS4, is debatably a walking simulator, albeit one with some puzzle-solving elements. Fittingly, this game of a controversial genre is focused on a controversial topic: cults.
In this title, you find yourself at the Black Sage Ranch, the former base of the Perfect Heaven cult, a group which draws inspiration from real life cults such as Heaven’s Gate. Most prominently, this includes the death of all members of the cult via a mass suicide.
Sagebrush’s premise sets itself apart from other cult-focused games, such as Far Cry 5. It features you, the mostly silent protagonist, as a visitor to the former cult’s abandoned farm years after its demise, piecing together its story as you go along. You’re given no real direction from the offset other than that there’s a chainlink fence in front of you and a pair of wire cutters in your car’s trunk.
Though seemingly cryptic at first, Sagebrush becomes a rather simple playthrough. It’s just imperative that you read every note, listen to every tape recording, and try to open every door you encounter. While this may seem tedious at first, the plot here is engrossing enough to never make the game overstay its welcome. You become curious about the cult’s structure. You become fascinated by their leader’s backstory. And perhaps most importantly, you yearn to learn why your character is investigating the farm all these years later.
Though engrossing, Sagebrush is also very short. My initial playthrough took a little over an hour, and I earned most of the game’s PSN trophies in the process. Though the world here is a pleasure to look at, combining 3D environments with a pixellated look that often reminds me of first-person games from the mid-to-late 1990s in the best possible ways. However, it’s not without issues.
The world of Sagebrush is small. It’s easy to traverse. But it’s also often very dark, especially once you reach late game, where time shifts to nighttime. Though a flashlight item can be acquired early on, that only helps so much. The options menu comes with a brightness slider, and to actually be able to see everything, having it set to max is a must. As a result of this, though. I noticed that sometimes when in the outside areas of the map, there were a few texture glitches. Thankfully, there were no more intense glitches, and these didn’t affect the overall experience much.
Also of note here is the soundtrack, or often lack thereof. Sagebrush has a minimalist sound design, with music only in key moments and most of the game’s world filled with ambient noise. However, on manyl occasions, there’s just, well, nothing. Part of me wishes there was some music of some sort, if only so as to fill the space. Yet part of me also wonders if this would break the creepy mood that the game establishes early on. After all, we are exploring a cultist ghost town!
At the low price point, Sagebrush is a title that I think is worth experiencing at least once. It’s not very long. There’s really not much replay value. But, the story here is gripping and presented in a compelling manner. I found myself invested from beginning to end, and that alone makes Sagebrush worth recommending.
James Christensen is a writer, content creator, and social media marketing nerd currently residing in Victoria, British Columbia. He’s written about people, technology, and the environment, along with creating the online documentary series “The Art of Failure”. Feel free to check him out on Twitter and on YouTube!