Based on the popular 2006 game, Sword of the Stars, Sword of the Stars: The Pit by Canadian developer Kerberos Productions is not just the first independently published game made by the company but is the first time a game set in the Sword of the Stars universe have deviated from the strategy formula its parent game to become a dungeon crawling RPG one instead. It’s a transition that is admirable but far from perfect.
Set on Arbuda IV, a planet colony reserved specifically for retired veterans, a viral outbreak transformers the colony into a living nightmare. Its living inhabitants have turned into abominations that now stalk. You play as a lone individual hoping to end the plague, you venture downwards into the planet’s hostile plague infested underground to seek a cure that is rumored to exist.
Even more disappointing is that a story could’ve have fit perfectly in this game considering the atmosphere, setting and would’ve given players another motivator to play the game from start to finish. It’s a missed opportunity that while many players can forgive will not be enjoyed by gamers who come hoping for a strong story.
GameplayIf story in this game is disappointing, the gameplay does make up in part for that. Anyone who has ever played the game Rogue by Epyx will find many similarities with that in regards to style and gameplay. Like that game, The Pit is a turn based RPG game with the main rule being that time only advances through actions you take on screen. Every step you take for instance means that somewhere on the map an enemy has as well. Likewise trying to unlock a door will have the same effect with the negative of leaving you open for attack.
Picking one of three characters representing three classes (soldier, engineer and scout) each with their own strengths, weaknesses and stats. As you progress through the game you can improve these characters by defeating enemies and interacting with the environment to increase specific skills. This can all be accomplished with any easy to use control scheme that allows you to aim your firearm, open your inventory and look at the map with just a simple keyboard control scheme.
The traditional dungeon crawler formula is improved upon with a number of unique features such as a hunger meter that compels players to continually remain well fed otherwise sickness and death are the inevitable results. Another crafting system. Items you find in the game can be turned into new items through experimentation or by learning the requirements to make them from decrypted messages in the game. Should you successfully make the item, the recipe used to do so is saved permanently for future games.
Every time you start a new game it is always a new experience because of the randomization. Maps, items and enemies you encounter are never the same for each game. You may meet certain kinds of enemies in one game while meeting others in the second play. You’ll likely find it easy to get food to eat in one playthrough only to find it a chore when you start another game. This feature in games always ensures more replays and constant challenge.
Challenge is precisely what this game is all about. It is very difficult and is made even harder by there being no save points during gameplay. You only have one chance to beat the game and If you die then you must restart the game from the very beginning. The only saving that is done occurs after you quit the game which will automatically save at the point you left the game.This should pose a great challenge that will frustrate everyone except the most hardened player not afraid to die multiple times.
GraphicsMade up entirely of hand drawn 2D art, the graphics do a fairly good job of illustrating the dank underground you explore, its unfriendly inhabitants and the characters you control. Animations in the game are decently animated and flow smoothly. In all the game has an almost cartoonish appearance that is gritty and reflects the uncertainty and horrors you encounter as you descend further into the planet.
They aren’t groundbreaking, but the graphics manage to be just above average but could still use slightly more improvement.
Sound in the game is for this game a little better than average with a good soundtrack and effects and crisp high quality sound effects that fit well with the game’s gritty science fiction setting. There’s even voice over work too to accompany the game’s few characters that are well recorded and fit the personality of the characters they’re attached to.
But monotony and quantity hinder this area of the game the most. Many sound effects just play over and over again with no real difference or uniqueness. Some examples include enemies often repeating themselves and the taunts your characters give after defeating enemies is very limited. The worst offender though is the music. For the bulk of the game you’ll only hear one specific track before it eventually changes over to another. there are not many songs in the game. A shame since the soundtrack is one of the game’s strongest points and is especially deserving of more variety.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit barely just manages be an above average title. This is possible only due to its challenging gameplay and innovative ideas that throw fresh ideas at the roguelike dungeon crawler formula. But it doesn’t go far enough to be truly unique and enjoyable. As it stands it may appeal to those looking for a decent dungeon crawler and provide some fun, the game is stuck halfway in a pit that it doesn’t seem to want to climb all the way out of.