º Enemy AI will forget about you if you leave the room quickly enough.
I must admit, when I first saw previews of Sublevel Zero, I was blown away by how fast-paced and beautiful it all looked. Flying through random and winding tunnels, blasting away at enemy vessels and the promise of frustrating permadeath. I was impressed and ready to play. Usually, at least for me anyways, the trailer’s impression is usually followed by unmitigated disappointment; this is not one of those times. Sublevel Zero offers exactly what it says it does, and is it glorious.
The story is simple, and yet engaging enough for this type of game. The universe has begun ripping itself apart, and humanity has spread out into factions, fearful of the technology that caused space to descend into chaos. Your clan seeks answers from the technology that supposedly caused these rifts and black holes. Discovering a research base in the middle of nowhere, you enter as the base is pulled into an event horizon. Unsure of where you’re going, you search the infrastructure looking for whatever lies at the heart of it.
There must be something deep within the facility, as the robots are still running around with heavy firepower. You can find little data logs strewn throughout the maze of corridors, providing vague insight into what happened. The story is entirely skippable if one wishes, but it’s a real pleasure that adds weight to the experience.
Most won’t be coming for the story however; many are simply interested in playing a roguelike 3D space shooter, and they will not be disappointed. The procedural environments keep the action fast-paced and fresh, as you rush up to the next door, ready to take on whatever lies within. Each time you die, you’ll restart the game at the beginning, ready to build up and take on the station in your attempt of getting from Zero to Sublevel Five.
Sigtrap Games have released an experience that feels like an interstellar Binding of Isaac. Each room features familiar elements but keeps it fresh with enemy placement and dead ends. Your goal is to reach a reactor at the end of every level and fight the defenses to proceed to the next. Sure, you might find the end early, but surely there’s some weapons and additional ammo that you could go back and get. It’s a great balance of knowing your strengths and realizing when to backtrack in search of additional health packs. If you collect enough materials, your ship will get a selection of a random perma-bonus that could provide invaluable assistance to your cause.
There’s no doubt about it; the guns are freaking awesome. You start out with basic blasters, but slowly over time you find random weapons that all have unique abilities. Your standard ammo could be used in a common repeater, or you could use it in a shotgun-esque blaster. Your plasma energy could be used in a single-shot railgun for maximum damage, or in a flamethrower that soaks large crowds. The added ability to build even more powerful weapons with varying abilities keeps the game engaged in strategy. You don’t have unlimited resources or space, and upgrading takes Nanites that quickly vanish after killing robots.
The varying degree of enemies is also impressive. Some hovering enemies hang back and attempt to snipe you while others kamikaze towards you with reckless abandon. There’s also stationary anti-aircraft guns, and even tanks that hug the surface of the walls. Every time you enter a room, you have to assess the most dangerous enemies quickly, and take them out while the others try to pick you off. The amount of enemies does provide a nice diversity, and they increase the deeper you go.
For those who like cake walks, this game might not be for you. It’s tough- and it will break you. Several well-placed shots can leave you defending what little energy you have left. Ammo can be very scarce, leaving you defenseless. Some runs, you’ll have regenerating health and an awesome energy gun, and you’ll feel very confident. Then, you’ll get turned around in a cave, end up cornering yourself into some wall before being blasted into space dust. These moments of disappointment are only fleeting, as you quickly hop back in for another run.
Depending on how well you did, the game will unlock various perks and equipment. The game features seven vehicles, but only one is unlocked in the beginning. Upon playing the game, you’ll obtain access to them as you prove yourself efficient in certain aspects. Do you like ramming your vehicle into sentries? Well, the game will reward you with a specific ship designed to be a juggernaut in this field. These unlocks will ensure you keep coming back, as you find your personal preferences and build strategies in your attempt of stopping all the black holes.
Controls are surprisingly easy for a game where you have the ability to fly in any direction. You point your cursor and the nose of your ship with the mouse, move on the x-axis with WASD, and the Y-Axis with Ctrl and Space. You can even control your yaw with Q & E. Personally, I went with a controller, which made the experience way more enjoyable. Before you know it, you’ll be boosting through caverns, sliding into engine rooms and blasting away at enemies. Getting turned around is inevitable, and the map system is a Godsend, featuring a 3D Metroid-esque system that you can fly around and survey. This especially comes in handy when you end up in a long tunnel filled with dead ends, as the map is quickly pulled and thrown away with no loading times.
The soundtrack sounds like it’s from a The Glitch Mob album, consisting of floaty techno and heavy bass hits, adding to powerful confrontations. While there aren’t many in the rotation, the ones that are there don’t get repetitive and sound professionally mixed. The sound effects are beautiful, having a bit of audio pulled back to sound as if you’re in a vacuum. The impacts come in loud and clear, with the sound of your hull being hit coming in louder than the blasts themselves.
There are some problems though, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a patch. For one, when you use a controller, icons that are supposed to represent the button are glitched out. After you learn the controls, you won’t need them though- but it does look bad. I also don’t understand why the developers went with pixelation on their textures. Unless there’s a technical reason, I don’t understand the idea behind them wanting the environments to look like Minecraft. The enemy AI also doesn’t really chase after you as well as they could, but these are small knit picks.
Bottom line, there’s no reason not to pick this up if you aren’t intrigued by an intergalactic, rogue space shooter. It sets out to provide an entrancing shooter experience, and it succeeds in almost every regard. It’s 15 dollars, which is a little high for the price of admission, but in its first week it’s going to be on sale. If this interests you, I would say Sublevel Zero is a must buy. I haven’t had that much fun dying in a long time, and I look forward to my continued voyages towards the bottom of this fortress of no gravity action.