Maybe it's our caveman genes at work, but there's just something inherently satisfying about gathering and crafting in survival games. Filling your inventory until it strains with basic materials, then slowly learning how to create the clothes, weapons, and strange tools (like "milkers") that open up the world around you, there's no rush like it for the amateur survivalist. Smoke and Sacrifice, out at the end of the month, has all that - but it's giftwrapped in a beautifully dark story of missing children, strange rites, and a world struggling against climate collapse.
Your character is Sachi, a woman who sacrifices her child to something called the Sun Tree, starting a chain of events that leave her stranded in an underworld wilderness fighting to survive. Picture your worst Monday ever, and then add deadly smoke. That dark, swirling fog is almost a character all its own, and one of your first tasks is to build a lantern to help keep it at bay so you can explore. Once this is task is complete, you're free to explore the freakish world of plants, polyps (jellyfish like blobs), and monsters (we spotted giant birds and adorable pig/porcupine hybrids) that inhabit the world. There are other humans too, with their own stories to tell, tips to share, and requests to make.
Crafting is simple, but collecting the knowledge and elements needed isn't. Some recipes you'll discover by talking to the strange inhabitants you meet on your travels, some you'll find hidden out in the world. You'll constantly be discovering new ways to protect yourself from the environment, to make your weapons (which will degrade over time, naturally) more effective against the grotesques that lurk at every corner of the map. At the same time you'll be propelled forward by the story, and the need to find out what happened to your child. It gives the whole experience, even in the hour that I played, an emotional drive that's often absent from other survival experiences.
Anyone who has dabbled and died in something like Don't Starve will find Smoke and Sacrifice familiar. It builds on that same accessibility and compulsions, but all held together by sticky story glue. Even better, it's a twisted, intriguing tale with world-building that wouldn't be out of place in a belter of a high fantasy novel, and the art is a pleasing cross between dreamy illustration and dark comic book.
But just because this has a story, don't mistake it for a soft-serve version of life and death. There are save points, but they're scattered through the distinctly hostile world, and you're always just one wasp attack from disaster. I also saw signs of a fast travel system, but your use of that will be limited with tokens, so don't go thinking you can just zip around the world with nary a care. I died at the hands of wasps, the smoke, and the bloated mother of those previously mentioned pig/porcupine hybrids, all in the space of a single demo. Each death just made me smarter, and I already have grand plans for when I finally get to play the game on my own time. Let's just say I'm looking forward to trying out my milker on old Mama Spiky Pig.
Smoke and Sacrifice will be released for Nintendo Switch and PC on May 31, with plans to target other platforms in the works. Until then, check out our list of the best Switch games of 2018 so far.