Smoke and Sacrifice PC Review
Good drama and crafting system
Tonal shifts everywhere
Smoke and Mirrors
Games are an artistic medium and have been used to convey complex themes and even ideas that are hard to witness, let alone take part in as part of the interactive experience. Smoke and Sacrifice starts off with a gut punch right away as we witness and control a mother who is giving up her baby via a ritual. This mother also gets transported to another place, where her child supposedly went and must battle her way through this dark land to make her family whole again.
While not exactly nuanced, the beginning of this story really tugs at the heart strings by making you take control of Sachi (the mother) during this incredibly dark yet engaging start to your adventure. It makes you take ownership of the decision and propels you to get your baby back more so than if you just watched the whole thing happen. That said, since we don’t have any character development beforehand, we feel the loss a bit less since we don’t know anything about Sachi or her baby. Once she follows the baby via a sacrificial laser, she ends up in a dark land with monsters all around. This is where the game really starts as you pick up almost everything and start to craft all your weapons and tools. The crafting something is really great here and it intuitively tells you what you need to get more, and it always seems to make you craft the very next thing you need and feels really well paced.
The art style is the main pull for this whole experience, as its very unique and while it has a darker tone than most, there is still so much detail to everything. The slight glow of certain plants, the rosy cheeks of Sachi, even the dark foreboding outlines of the NPCs really do a great job at setting the tone and atmosphere to creep you out and make you feel as sad as Sachi. The characters movements are a bit odd since each figure is really a collection of small segments like a paper doll with hinges at the limbs, so the combat seems disjointed. However, the amazing character design and artwork really help to sell even the oddest looking characters.
However, great art design is not all that makes a game work. The crafting was well thought out but the story itself is pacing nightmare and the tonal deafness of some scenes really pulls you away from the immersion. We go from a heart wrenching opening, to a very mild fetch quest, to combat with boars to craft something else, and it just seems so boring after such a strong opening. We know that non-linear and subtle story telling can work with something like Dark Souls, where the lore has to be found in small chunks from item descriptions, but here we see a lot, but have no context for what we are seeing, and if we should care. Beyond seeing Sachi being part of a cult that somehow worships a fake “sun-tree” we don’t really know anything about this world.
To be blunt, SaS is a lot of good ideas with a poor execution. It has fantastic artwork that sets the scene, but the actors don’t have any good lines. The pacing is off putting, and the story is about as easy to follow as a David Lynch film. I do wish more time was put into the writing or character development, but on its own the artwork and gameplay do enough to keep us entertained, but since it’s not exactly a cheap game, it’s a price not many will be willing to pay.
Also available on Switch.