GDC 18: Hands-On Preview: Smoke and Sacrifice (Switch)

Curve closes out its trifecta of Switch offerings with an incredible looking action-RPG title!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 03/23/2018 11:30 Comment on this     ShareThis

It isn’t every day that you start off a game with a human sacrifice, but that’s exactly what happens in Smoke and Sacrifice. Things start off in what looks to be an innocuous hamlet, with the heroine of the game, Sachi, laboring away in the fields. This perception quickly faded as the game transitioned into an unsettling ceremony Sashi is compelled to be a part of: the sacrifice of her child. Every first born child in a family must be sacrificed in order to keep the local Sun Trees aflame. These towers act as the source of light and life for the village, keeping them free of the encroaching smoke that would otherwise make it impossible for them to live.

As Sachi approaches the altar to deposit her child and say goodbye one last time, she’s clearly full of dread, as was I. The discomfort was palpable, which is something that Neal Millstone and Tancred Dyke-Wells of Solar Sails Games wanted to evoke in the player. As Dyke-Wells described it, Smoke and Sacrifice is very deliberately titled; the game is meant to touch on how we must often do uncomfortable things in order to survive, much like Sachi and the people of her village. In Smoke and Sacrifice, the immolation of Sachi’s child is symbolic of larger, real-world issues, especially ones relating to the environment and pollution, that Dyke-Wells and Millstone hope to address throughout the narrative of the game.

It’s some heavy stuff, but it isn’t long before Sachi comes to realize that there’s a chance that the ritual isn’t exactly what it seems and that her child might be alive. Well, not long for the player, but for Sachi it’s a fair stretch of time. Seven years, to be exact. That number should hold some meaning for Zelda fans, as it’s also the amount of time that Link is sealed away in the Temple of Time in Ocarina of Time before awakening once more. One might chalk that up to coincidence, but as Dyke-Wells made clear to me, there’s quite a bit of Nintendo’s series in Smoke and Sacrifice.

Dyke-Wells stated that while some have compared Smoke and Sacrifice to Don’t Starve, which he said he can appreciate because it’s a wonderful game in its own right, it’s a comparison that isn’t necessarily accurate. There are certainly some similarities to be found in Don’t Starve‘s quest for survival and the way that the player interacts with the game environment, but Smoke and Sacrifice has a lot more in common with Breath of the Wild than it does that game. For one thing, combat takes a cue from the latest Zelda installment via its destructible weapons. However, the team at Solar Sails Games has designed Sachi’s weapons to be repairable (thank you!). Also, crafting is a big part of the experience, including the ability to cook. Perishables will wither away after a time, but turn those ingredients into an actual meal from a recipe and they’ll last indefinitely.

In this way, Smoke and Sacrifice is a more nuanced experience in terms of how the player is expected to interact with the game world and monitor their various resources. I was greatly enjoying my time hacking and punching my way through the various enemies on the playing field, breaking open barrels and jars to find items, and chatting with the numerous NPCs dotted about. The writing is very solid, evoking a bit of humor in spurts so as not to have the game overly weighed down by its darker material and themes. The art direction is important in this regard, as well, with a lush, hand-drawn aesthetic that is colorful and bold with pops of steampunk thrown about, but which doesn’t stray into the cartoon-like qualities of The Wind Waker. I felt like I was making my way through an elaborate fantasy book come to life with every step I took.

I’d like to take a moment to recognize that Solar Sails Games has done a solid job of incorporating a female lead into their game. For our regular readers, you know that I don’t like to pander, so I’m not going to pretend that there are no women characters starring in contemporary video games. What I do attest to is the fact that we continue to need more of them, particularly ones of character and not just as eye candy. Sachi is a wonderful example of how to create a female lead of substance that anyone can root for. Her being a mother adds another interesting layer to her personality and the quest that she finds herself on. She’s seeking someone she loves, but on an entirely different end of the spectrum than romance.

I’m incredibly anxious to pick-up where I left off when Smoke and Sacrifice comes to Switch. We don’t have a firm release date just yet (it’s set for 2018), but as soon as we do, we’ll update it here. This is the sort of title that the industry sorely needs more of and with its timely themes in tow along with excellent presentation and gameplay, I have a strong inkling that Smoke and Sacrifice is going to be one to keep an eye out for.

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