Sublevel Zero Review (PC)
Kieran David Sephton tries to master the controls in Sublevel Zero
Sublevel Zero is a welcome addition into the ever-growing market of roguelikes available out there, but this has something special thrown into the mix. Sublevel Zero is sat very cleverly between the midst of the upcoming reinventing of space combat games akin to the revamped Elite series’ Elite: Dangerous and the ever developing Star Citizen. Only, this has the mixture of modernised graphics and the first introduction of 3d modelling of the 90s thrown in, a nod toward Descent, and a multitude of vibrant colours from enemy automated turrets and level design.
Thrown into a craft amidst mankind being scattered across the universe after something only known as ‘The Event’, it becomes your task to find out what happened within an abandoned research centre. Much alike Descent, Sublevel Zero returns to being a 6dof game, utilising six degrees of freedom. Players control their craft up, down, left, right and even have the option to rotate around their own axis. Experience the levels as corridors twisting and turning, attempting to keep yourself paralleled or adjacent to the horizon.
At first the controls feel awkward but after a few minutes of experimenting it becomes second nature. I cannot express how important it is that you are comfortable with the controls in Sublevel Zero as they are pivotal to your success in both survival and offense. By default, controls are offered in both mouse and keyboard and controller, with both feeling very fluid and easy to master with a little practice.
Out of curiosity I had left a x52 flight stick plugged in and, sure enough, it was detected and it works. Mapping the keys is easy enough as well with the simple controls that the game has, a few tweaks were needed for my own preferences in control of the craft. However, after a short stint at attempting to control my craft with the flight stick I reverted back to using a trusty 360 controller and remapped a few controls to suit my own needs. Not to say that using a flight stick is awkward and not enjoyable, just for the sake of getting a feel of the game I felt that too much time mastering those controls would have been spent.
Using these controls to avoid shots from the automated turrets and natural hazards in level design are key to survival as you attempt to take as few hits as possible. Rolling left and right or just floating up and down keep your ship out-of-the-way of incoming missiles or plasma shots. Having said that, some of the shots from the turrets blend too well into the colours of levels, forcing you to change tactics to retreat and recover before starting an attack run on the turrets. Take too many hits and your ship explodes and much alike many other roguelikes, Sublevel Zero is a permadeath. Levels reset and differ each time that you play them so you lose everything that you had gained previously and are forced to start over again. The only aspect to remain constant across these deaths and level resets is the different ship types unlockable by goals set within Sublevel Zero. Destroy 300 enemies with plasma weapons to unlock the Pyro, ram and destroy 150 enemies and unlock the Berserker, each unlock is permanent no matter how many deaths you may have.
Whilst there are different ships within the game, there is also a varied selection of hulls and weaponry, each with individual traits,pro’s and con’s. Weapons fall into categories such as missile, plasma and bullet types and are unlockable from crates and by defeating turrets along the way. Along with unlocking weaponry this way, it is also possible to utilise the crafting system and combine different weapons to create something potentially more powerful, or cooler depending on which you want. The same can be said with body types for ships and engine drives. Yet, the crafting system can be a little underwhelming at times where more powerful weapons can be wasted accidentally in creating a lackluster and weaker weapon or the combinations are just not worth proceeding with.
How you equip these weapons into the ship’s four weapons slots, two gun and two missile, can determine how successful you are in reaching the end of each of the 6 stages within Sublevel Zero You can also place weapons in the limited cargo storage of your ship if you think you may be able to craft something out of them in the future. It’s worth noting that with the turrets encountered you’ll soon be able to identify which type they are. Some hanging back sniping, others raining a barrage of missiles, and others charging toward you, drill bits whirring ready to tackle you head on. Learning from each encounter you’ll develop a strategy to combat such attacks and assist you in surviving a little longer each time.
As much fun as Sublevel Zero is, it’s a little thin in terms of narrative and level design as caverns and corridors start to feel the same and playthroughs are not memorable enough to satisfy or warrant multiple playthroughs, unless you are determined to achieve each of the different types of ship and discover just what the “????” objective is to unlock the Stormtrooper ship. The game’s narrative doesn’t really matter in the long scheme of things, finding text logs add to the lore, yet don’t really add to the sense of purpose of each stage.
That being said, the ease of control and nostalgic feeling of being able to explore space in this manner is something that has been neglected for far too long and makes Sublevel Zero very enjoyable and it is something that I will find myself coming back to on occasion. A few tweaks to systems like the crafting and maybe a little more purpose to each level would add to this game, taking it from being something good gameplay wise, to something great as a whole.
6 pew pew pews out of 10