My Game of the Year 2017 on the Nintendo Switch was “The Flame in the Flood”, a game by The Molasses Flood in which you go around in a barge, from environment to environment, gathering resources, avoiding perils and crafting survival equipment and food. It should come as no surprise, then, that I was really looking forward to “Smoke and Sacrifice”, a release that, while using similar gameplay mechanics, is also much more story-driven than “The Flame in the Flood”. Did I like it as much as I thought I would? Let’s find out!
Now, the main difference between “The Flame in the Flood” and “Smoke and Sacrifice” is that story I just mentioned. While the story is pretty barebones and takes a back seat to the game play in the former, Curve Digital’s release starts off with a heart-wrenching tale of a mother losing a child. Lately, I try my utmost to avoid spoilers for games I’m looking forward to, and I was fortunate enough to enter my “Smoke and Sacrifice” without knowing much about the story at all. And what a treat it was! I really can’t overstate how important it is, in this day and age, to preserve the joy of the unknown in the media we consume. Trailers tell us too much about films, and press releases tell us too much about games! Teaser after teaser, they destroy the wide-eyed discovery experience we used to have when buying a game in, say, the 90’s. Of course, that saves us the trouble of buying Superman 64 without knowing it’s awful, but it also takes away from the awe we feel when a game grips us unexpectedly. And that’s what happened to me. I hope it also happens to you, because the story in “Smoke and Sacrifice” is beautiful, and beautifully told through the environment and interactions you encounter.
A good (nay, great) story is all well and good, but without a solid gameplay experience, it all falls apart. Thankfully, that’s not the case with “Smoke and Sacrifice”: some games that rely heavily on crafting leave you to discover everything on your own (I’m looking at you, Minecraft), and while that’s excellent for some people, I prefer to have recipes. Not only does this make it easier to keep track of what you’re making and what each thing is for, the completionist in me also giggles at the thought of having all the recipes and unlocking all the goodies. I haven’t done that since “Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;birth1”, but the fact that I could brings me a lot of joy when playing games like these. “Smoke and Sacrifice” provides recipes through a variety of ways, such as NPC interaction and environmental locations to explore. It’s a great excuse to really explore the desolate wasteland you must traverse in the hope of reuniting with your child, and as the NPCs are well developed, it never becomes a chore. Ingredients for these recipes are found throughout the world in flora and fauna, as well as NPCs: shaking a tree, defeating an enemy, interacting with an NPC or simply harvesting things around you might all prove key to your survival.
And survival is the key word when talking about “Smoke and Sacrifice”. There’s a constant sense of urgency when traversing the world, as you constantly need to keep crafting certain items in order to survive. The items get depleted and used up too, either though time or through use, so you can’t just craft one of each and call it a day. It’s a great way of instilling a feeling somewhat akin to anxiety in the player, and it works wonders in short to medium bursts of gameplay, but I found the danger a bit too stressing when playing for longer periods of time. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Finally, we must talk about the presentation: I absolutely love it! The graphics in particular are outstanding. Hand-drawn illustrations from start to finish make this one of the best looking indie titles on the Switch, and really, one of the best looking titles on the console, full stop. It is somewhat reminiscent of its fellow hit indie survival title “Don’t Starve”, but if anything, I like this even more. Maybe I’m just a sucker for green, who knows. I do like The Hulk.
The one thing that I wish was more of a complete package is the sound department. No voice acting to speak of, only background, somewhat nondescript tracks… it feels a little bit like an afterthought. The sound effects are great, to the point where they are almost film foley-like. But alas, I do wish there were grandiose orchestral numbers and full voice acting and… well, I digress. I know it’s a limitation of the budget, and I’m really nitpicking.
“Smoke and Sacrifice” is, by any unit of measure, a fantastic game. It will prove a challenge even for those seasoned in the survival genre, and for newcomers it will become perhaps one of the best introductions to it. The fact that the story is so well crafted puts this a tier above other fantastic indie survival gems. While I do wish there was more care put into the sound, and the music in particular, it is not sufficient to put a nick in this game’s armor. I suggest you grab this game immediately, and feel your heartstrings pulled into Sachi’s plight. Just a word of warning: take a lantern with you.