Review: Sublevel Zero Will Drag You Down
Sublevel Zero is a first-person roguelike six-degree-of-freedom shooter by Sigtrap Games that's going to drag you down, but should you be willing to descend with it?
- Worth The Time?If the idea interests you, definitely.
- Things LovedControls work well; enemies make things frantic; great soundtrack.
- Things HatedIt didn't need to be a roguelike; freezes break any immersion you may have; crafting feels pointless; levels often feel too similar.
- RecommendationIf you're a fan of the Descent games or think the idea of six-degrees-of-freedom shooter might be interesting to try out, you'll probably be treated well by Sublevel Zero.
- Name: Sublevel Zero
- Genre: Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: Sigtrap Games
- Publisher: Mastertronic
- Price: $14.99
- Reviewed On: PC
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: if you’ve played Descent or its sequel you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting in to with Sublevel Zero. That being said, I wouldn’t immediately write it off as trying to monopolise on the nostalgia factor of Descent as Sublevel Zero does enough to stand out from Parallax’s renowned titles.
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Sublevel Zero is a six-degrees-of-freedom first person shooter that will see you navigating procedurally generated levels in order to find the core of that level. Your main objective is to find the core , destroy it and then move on to the next level, all while trying to survive the onslaught of some rather unfriendly enemies and crafting yourself some improved firepower. It sounds like we have a mishmash of everything indie here and thankfully Sublevel Zero is able to deliver on this to an acceptable extent.
Going in to Sublevel Zero I expected , due to the unique movement capabilities present, that the controls were going to be a bit awkward. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even when playing with a keyboard and mouse that the controls worked quite well and I didn’t have to contort my hands as I expected. It is important that these controls are as good as they are though, because you’re going to need every bit of mobility you can get. You will find yourself flying through narrow corridors and dodging various projectiles, so it is important that you familiarise yourself with all the options available to you. While you may find yourself getting quite disoriented when starting out, you’ll quickly adjust everything but you may find yourself having a bit of difficulty when it comes to navigating each sublevel.
Sublevel Zero gives you a pretty good map to use for navigation during the game, but it is something that you have to look at far too often. While the environments have a pleasing aesthetic, there are segments that look so similar that you’ll find yourself going around in circles, with the route you’re supposed to be taking hidden in plain sight or missed thanks to disorientation. This is easy to overcome, but it would have been a bit better if, say, rooms with a similar style had a slightly different tinge to them or perhaps more unique identifiers present. It can’t be all sightseeing though as even though you are going to be navigating the twists and turns of each sublevel, there will have to be something to get in your way.
What would a game be without some sort of inconsiderate enemy showing up to ruin your gameplay? Well, Sublevel Zero is no different from any other game. You’re going to be confronted by some weird and wonderful enemies who are going to want to shoot the crap out of you and failing that, they’ll probably try to ram your face off. There are quite a few enemy types in Sublevel Zero and thankfully they all look unique. This means that they’re all easily identifiable so you can approach the many hairy situations you find yourself in with a little bit of knowledge. The problem is, game knowledge can only get you so far so it might help to get some decent firepower on your side.
This is where the loot and crafting system comes in to play. Killing enemies will drop ammo, parts and nanites for the player to make use of as loot. The parts can come in the form of weapons, as well as hulls and engines for your ship. These are all well and good but you’d expect that crafting these drops into superior parts would be beneficial right? Well, while there are obviously the stats bonuses that come from this, it largely feels cumbersome and inconsequential. There’s no place for the player to look up recipes in game so you often don’t really know what to keep a lookout for or what you can even make.
Most of the time I just crafted something purely because I needed space in my inventory and I never felt any sort of improvement to my ship. While there were time when I could see a notable change, this didn’t happen frequently enough for me to pay attention. The crafting system unfortunately feels tacked on and while I understand the aim of putting it in, it just doesn’t feel influential enough and the core gameplay mechanics of Sublevel Zero don’t allow it to be all that effective. When this is coupled with the game occasionally freezing when you change parts, it makes sense if you lose interest in crafting.
This brings us to my biggest gripe about the game, which is unfortunately the core premise. I feel like it didn’t really need to be a roguelike. While it obviously adds to the gameplay, I just feel like the crafting would have been a lot more useful if there was no permadeath. It would mean that player would be able to engage with the crafting and exploration with tension without the use of permadeath (think Dark Souls). It’s not that I’m not a fan of roguelikes (they’re probably some of the most enjoyable games out there because of their structure) but in Sublevel Zero I just feel frustrated as every death feels like a huge step back rather than an opportunity to improve.
What Sublevel Zero does, it does suitably. When everything comes together, however, you start to see faults. While I want to love Sublevel Zero, it just does a couple of things that hinder enjoyment. It has an incredibly pleasing aesthetic, with a rather catchy soundtrack and controls that feel great to play with – it’s just a shame that it lets itself down in some places. You can definitely have fun with this title, and if it’s something that interests you you quite easily will. It’s just that with a couple of adjustments here and there it could have been so much better.