My name is Booker and I’d like to welcome you to my inaugural game review, sit tight and listen, I have a fully loaded keyboard and I am not afraid to use it!
So which lucky game gets to pop my reviewer cherry and suffer my baleful gaze? Well [spoiler alert] its a little charmer, and its from two-man dev team Hit The Crow called Sunken.
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Ok, well I’ve kind of given away that I like this game in the first paragraph but there are caveats to this as we shall find out as I continue.
Sunken is a top down, isometric dungeon brawler somewhat in the vein of Diablo, a comparison this game will get a lot obviously, but one that I make mostly from ignorance as I have never played Diablo, apart from a short demo on steam once that failed to light my fire. Shock horror I know but these types of games have never been my “thang” so it seemed the perfect reason for Bammsters to let me loose with this review. Could Sunken convert me where Diablo could not? We shall see.
Those of you with taste will have quite sensibly missed my rambling “lets play” video a couple of weeks back, in which I stumbled around the first level of this game pretty much learning on the fly what I was doing. There’s not much in the way of tutorials in Sunken, whether this is just something not yet included in this Beta or is part of the game design I’m not entirely sure but when you are a noob to the entire genre it was an extra layer of befuddlement I could have done without! Also shrouded in mystery is the premise for the game, I have been assured that the story develops throughout the game but I have not yet been able to advance far enough into it to gain any more than a mere glimpse of what may be in store!
So what the hell do you think you are doing reviewing a game you haven’t advanced very far in? I here you ask! Well trust me it wasn’t for the want of trying, you see, Sunken is hard….and ruthless. There are no checkpoints here and no extra lives, if you die that’s it, back to the beginning. Sound harsh? Well it gets harsher but let me rewind a moment and explain some of the gameplay elements within Sunken so that you may start to understand my pain.
Combat is deceptively simple, bash the right mouse button to hit stuff, no auto aim mind so you’ve got to click the mouse on what you want to hit. Nice thing about this is that if you are surrounded by an admiring crowd of skeletal axe murderers you can hit any thing in range in a single swipe. In addition to the basic attack you have abilities, 5 of which you can have available at any time and all of which require the ever present game staple mana to use. You start the game with one of these abilities, the rest you have to make for yourself, there are 10 tiers of these abilities with 5 abilities per tier and each ability has several layers of upgrades available to it, yup, there’s a lot a depth here but with only 4 active slots available and one on the left mouse button there’s a big future headache here in what to choose!
And the reason for all this combat? Apart from avoiding a horrible death obviously, its all about the loot. Killing foes (and they are many and varied, kudos to the 2 man dev team) causes them to drop loot, it seems pretty random but drops will include health and mana potions, crafting materials, recipe books, weapons, armour and so forth, everything you’ll need in the game. Recipe books may contain potions or abilities or anything really, you need to learn them then use crafting materials to make them. Armour and weapons can have extra bonuses with them and can also add to your four primary stats, might, dexterity, intelligence and vitality, all pretty standard fare. You get five points to spend on these stats every time you go up a level by earning XP killing everything in sight. I’m not entirely sure at what level you cap at but I am assured it is over 100!
So, as you can see, there is plenty to do in this game, it has depth, it has combat that you can tailor to your style with abilities as you find them and craft them. There is a real sense of accomplishment as you build your character and start getting snippets of story and avoid death by a whisker recoup and re-join the fight, but then, inevitably, you click the wrong ability, you get surrounded, run out of mana at the wrong time, just make a simple stupid mistake and you die, you really really die. All that XP, all those primary stats, every single piece of cool armour or hard hitting weaponry with bonuses (literally) to die for. Your crafting materials, your recipes not yet crafted, your potions, everything gone, just gone. Back at the beginning of the first level with nothing but a pair of trousers and a tear in your eye. What. Sort. Of. Madness. Is. This!
There is one silver lining, you keep your abilities (oh joy!). The theory being that they will speed up your next run through the dungeons, well thanks for that!!
Fortunately the game is engaging enough to continue, at least while you are on these early dungeons but the levels of masochism required to get to a high level character (over 100 I remind you!) is something I cant begin to contemplate. The stress of meeting the next boss or swarm of monsters knowing that one false move loses everything is mind boggling. I cant quite work out if this is a stroke of genius or a huge miscalculation on the part of Hit The Crow. Part of me loves the idea that staying alive in a game matters so much but then the other part of me that likes to chill while gaming is appalled that I should even entertain such a notion! The video accompanying my dulcet tones here ends with me failing to get past the boss at the end of the 2nd dungeon, I did manage this feat once but I wasn’t recording unfortunately. After that failure I couldn’t face playing any more that night and if I had given this review then it would’ve had a good few choice words in it and a rather scathing low score. But, now I find myself itching to try again, at odd moments during the day I find myself calculating how to quickly get through these lower levels again to progress the game forward. That surely means Hit The Crow have got something right, right? Of course they have, Sunken runs smoothly and looks great with some awesome attention to detail when you take into account the small team. The voice acting is quirky, clearly one person but engaging all the same. Gameplay is challenging and deep and somehow, nearly always retains that “Just one more try” vibe that so many games lack. I hope these guys find a market for this type of game challenge because Sunken deserves to be played by as many people as possible. For me in the long term its probably one challenge too many, give me some checkpoints and this game gets a 9, but for making me cry like a girl it’ll have to settle for an 8.
I’ll probably still never play Diablo again, but I cant wait for my next date with Sunken. Job done!
Sunken is currently available through Steam on early access for the princely sum of £6.99. Don’t just sit there, go buy it!
Its been real