The 90s classic Descent put the player in a tiny spaceship which could move in six axis – up, down, left right, forward backward, pitching, yawing and rolling. Players fought and explored through an intricate three dimensional maze where walls were ceilings and floors and there was no real up or down. It was difficult and addictive and became a classic but while it spawned sequels including a Kickstarter currently in production and a cult following the genre never got mass market, but I loved it.
Roguelike games are much more popular these days with procedural generated levels, permadeath and a very high level of difficulty. What do you get if you take the spirit of Descent and make it roguelike in 2015? Sublevel Zero.
The game starts off in a tutorial with the most basic hull type and a single gun and slowly ramps up through moving forward and back, left and right, up and down, rolling, pitching, yawing and boosting and are then let free in a procedural maze filled with enemies, confusion and the odd treasure chest.
The objective of the game – apart from not dying – is to gather materials and parts to a starship engine. Each level has a reactor core at its end to blow up which gives you a part. The storyline is based on the idea is that once you’ve made it through every level you’ll have enough bits to craft yourself a working stardrive and escape.
Sublevel Zero is difficult. The game has permadeath and you are given an option once after each level to quit and save for next time or carry on but that save only works once – launch into that save then die or quit without getting to the next level and you’ll lose your progress. To compensate somewhat for this you get to keep crafting recipes you’ve learnt and when you hit achievements such as destroying 300 enemy with plasma weapons you’ll get specialised hulls.
So what else is notable? VR support in the form of Oculus Rift support. Support for multiple types of controllers including mouse and keyboard, joystick, Xbox Controller and HOTAS flight sticks. It also supports complete key rebinding and the developers have committed to supporting as many input systems as they can. I’ve tried mouse, keyboard, trackpad, MMO mouse, Logitech joystick, Thrustmaster HOTAS X flight stick and N52 and all worked. I ended back up with the keyboard/mouse combination as that was what I was most practiced with but if you have the hardware it will probably work.
Price: £10.99 / $14.99 / €13.99
For the first week there will be a 15% discount – £9.35 in the UK.
About SigTrap Games
SigTrap Games was founded in late 2014 by Luke Thompson and Gary Lloyd. They are based in Huddersfield but also work in Manchester. Sublevel Zero is their first game and they’re working with the Mastertronic Groups as a publisher.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
Lets get this out of the way. Sublevel Zero is not an easy game and is not accessible to people who cannot handle the twisting viewpoint and motion. It does take place entirely indoors and hence there is always a good horizon available but with the lack of a fixed up and down even with this it can get confusing and nausea inducing. Assuming you can cope with this you’ll need reasonable reflexes and the good control of a keyboard and mouse or joystick.
Whilst there is deliberately no save in the game it is possible to pause at any time by opening the options menu although opening the inventory / crafting screen or map does not pause. The ability to log out paused after each level breaks up the experience enough that it is possible to play through a level at a time. Levels can take anything from a few minutes if you speed run perfectly up to an hour or two if you very carefully and deliberately explore.
The level design is procedurally generated although you’ll see many standard configurations of components – enough to make them familiar without removing the surprise.
Sublevel Zero has has an ergonomic as possible control system supporting almost any controller and being remappable. It also allows for autolevelling, swapping keys, sensitivity, mouse acceleration and smoothing and aim and movement ramping. It is a complicated system but the defaults are reasonable and similar to its spiritual predecessor so any muscle memory built up there can be transferred over. There is no button mashing needed nor any QTEs.
Graphically Sublevel Zero has a very traditional and retro style. There are a number of adjustments available in everything from lighting to field of view and it supports up to 1920×1080. In other words you’re not going to be blown away by the graphics but crucially they’re smooth and move perfectly even on an older PC. I did not find any instances where color blindness would cause an issue.
The audio is simple with a master volume slider, sound effect slider and music volume slider. The music is 8 bit inspired and has that right combination of likeability that fades in the background and aids concentration. It’s composed by Will Bedford and there’s a sample available here.
Environment & People
SigTrap Games and the Mastertronic Group are not companies that come to mind when discussing the environment. They are game creators and publishers working in the technology industry and not surprisingly, neither is at the forefront of eco-design. Little is available about company policy around environmental impact, responsible business or sustainability.
New Indie games seem to fall between the £10 and £25 mark and Sublevel Zero falls towards the lower end and is well worth the price.
Players: Single Player
Full controller support
Language: English, French, German and Russian
Platform: PC Steam, Mac or Linux
Because of the six degrees of motion you’ll need at the least a keyboard and mouse to play – a trackpad might be theoretically possibly but it was a nightmare in reality.
OS: Win 7 / Win 8 / Win 10
Processor: 2.0 GHz Dual Core Processor
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: Shader Model 3 compliant graphics cards (GeForce GT 520/Radeon HD 3850 and above)
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Hard Drive: 800 MB available space
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0c compatible.
I’m going to be honest. From the moment I sat down at EGX a couple of weeks ago and played Sublevel Zero I loved the game. The creators started building it partially from a love of the original Descent “That perfect combination of Doom-style tight corridor FPS mixed in with six degrees of freedom shooter….we wanted to drag the game kicking and screaming into the modern age by adding procedural generated levels,’and’ a thumping chiptune soundtrack ” They were fans of the original and wanted to see if they could match or top it with a modern feel.
They succeeded. If you played and loved the original Descent you are going to love Sublevel Zero. If you’ve never played a 6-dof game and have a reasonably strong stomach then it’s a great place to enter the genre. Sublevel Zero isn’t without its flaws – the permadeath is going to put off a number of players, the procedurally generated levels are sometimes highly confusing and there’s not much of a storyline but it’s beautifully and smoothly modeled and very playable and immersive. For the price its one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. Highly recomended.
Product: Sublevel Zero| Author/Developer: Sigtrap Games| Publisher: Mastertronic Group | Platform: PC – Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam | Genre: Rogue-like, six-degree of freedom | Language: English, French, German, Russian | Players: 1 | Release Date: 8th October 2015 |Content Rating: not rated
The review is based on the PC version of the game kindly provided by Mastertronic. First published on 8th October 2015