Smoke and Sacrifice is a survival game packed with more threats to your personal health than a nightclub in Essex after 2am. If its menagerie of extremely unfriendly creatures doesn't slaughter you, then the climate conditions, ghosts, or deadly smoke that descends with the night will. The biggest surprise of all? It manages to make anxiety about your own demise super fun.
This isn't one of those open-ended survival games that's just about how long you can keep breathing - there's a tale of missing children and a shady cult to unravel. You play as Sachi, a mother forced to give up her baby who then ends up in a strange, twisted underworld trying to track her child down. Along the way there's advice from tinkers, street urchins, feral children, and - with a little violent persuasion - sinister priests. The aforementioned deadly smoke is key too, and in a way it's one of your most insidious enemies. When you're holding a lantern, it's no big deal - but the moment you're not, things go very wrong, very quickly.
Save me from myself
Despite the strong storyline, the exploring, crafting, and collecting that's so key to the genre is still all there, and you're free to wander as you wish, ignoring requests for aid as long as you want. The illustrated art style and top down view mean it's easy to take in all the little details, and to navigate the map without too much trouble. You'll spend your time harvesting plants and animal parts, learning new recipes (from people or by revealing hidden messages in the world) and cobbling together new items. If you're stuck, it's usually because you need to find someone who has some important advice, or because you haven't crafted that new item in your menu.
It's the best of both worlds: just enough story to keep you going, not enough to make you feel tied down. Sure, the game lacks the permadeath that's usually a standard of the genre, but it's a decent payoff for a engaging narrative. There are a few save points dotted around the world - in the form of glowing computer screens - and death will just take you back to your last save. It doesn't make the journey feel any easier when your fireproof boots give out at exactly the wrong moment, and it's still punishing when you kick the bucket and realize you've lost an hour of combat and collecting.
The combat is hardcore, and while you can up your chances by crafting an array of weapons, you never feel overpowered. Turns out, the Boy Scouts were on to something - not with the toggles or the rampant sexism, obviously, but with that whole 'be prepared' schtick. When I was trying to milk a ghost and got mauled by a fiery death larvae because I hadn't repaired my ice sword, my final thoughts were that perhaps Robert Baden-Powell was a fan of survival games.
Yes. I milked a ghost. I had entirely legitimate reasons for doing so.
Nothing lasts forever. Especially ice swords.
The few irritations I felt were the sort that only come from hours and hours of play. I struggled with the milking at first because it was mapped to a different button than everything else, but that's something the devs told me they plan to patch. Then, as I collected more and more weapons and armor (a large array is required to survive in different climate conditions), the inventory limits and degradation mechanic (nothing lasts forever in Smoke and Sacrifice) started to grate. It means you can never really revel in the quirky arsenal, because you're always one missed repair or overstuffed inventory away from disaster.
But these are small issues in hours and hours of satisfying survival, and the world constantly surprises, horrifies, and delights. Just when you think you've figured out an area, something new will arrive - a strange pig mask, perhaps - and it opens up new ways to live. Or die. Did I mention that everything wants to kill you? With a strong story and a distinctive look, Smoke and Sacrifice more than earns its place in the survival genre. Just don't forget to craft that lantern.