Smoke and Sacrifice Review: Compelling Survival

Smoke and Sacrifice presents us with a hostile landscape.

We’ve only got a few tools to survive; all that’s keeping us going is a precious teddy bear and the promise of reuniting with a loved one. This is no ordinary survival game.

Dark but beautiful

The first thing you will notice in Smoke and Sacrifice, and I mentioned this in my preview months ago, is the sheer beauty of the design. Every building, landscape and piece of flora and fauna has been lovingly hand illustrated to great effect. Smoke and Sacrifice’s world may be incredibly ominous, but it’s captivating thanks to its stellar design. Sachi, the protagonist of this adventure, looks awesome especially in the gear you craft later on the journey. The creatures vary from hilariously silly to sickeningly scary; some managing to be both. Take the pugbears at the beginning of the story: they might look cute if they weren’t so aggressively destructive.

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Unlike many other survival games, Smoke and Sacrifice has a fixed, pre-designed world. There’s no random generation here. Though this might hamper replay value (which I wouldn’t worry about as the main story is lengthy), it does lend a unique advantage to the way that Sachi’s story is told. You begin in a strange but peaceful village before setting out into the horrid, unforgiving world. Each location you visit is different from the last, but every one is wondrously scary in its own way. Coupled  with the hand-drawn illustration, this design choice makes this a striking game even before you’ve had the chance to interact with it.

Sachi’s Journey

Be prepared: Smoke and Sacrifice is heart-wrenching right from the very start. Playing as Sachi, this is more than a survival game; it’s her story, too. . Though you will have to eat, fight and collect resources to survive, you’ll also deal with interesting NPCs along the way. Each adding to Sachi’s narrative, it’s a refreshing change of pace from a traditional survival game.

You don’t have to spend long in Smoke and Sacrifice’s world to realise that not all it what it seems;the world that Sachi thought she knew  is filled with conspiracy and collusion. . Having Sachi try to deal with this while also battling the dangerous wildlife makes for an interesting juxtaposition. This evolution from a girl who can’t put two sticks together, to a champion of the wildlands is the main hook of many survival games – but the fact that here, it also serves a narrative purpose, makes it all the better.

One small cog in a carefully constructed machine

Smoke and Sacrifice’s developers have described the game as a “living world”. By that they mean a world whose flora and fauna interact with each other. Sachi may be the main protagonist in our story, but in the grand scheme of things, she’s only one small cog in the big machine that makes the whole ecosystem work. And from the moment I saw two jellied polyps mating I knew that they meant what they said.

Yes, you can go around with a spiked cudgel beating everything that moves – and to be honest that has been my main strategy – but you can also capture, befriend or nefariously tamper with the habits of the world around you. The most enjoyment I had in this game was not necessarily fighting with hostile creatures, but luring them into carefully planned traps. Luring enemies into a deadly wasp nest before smoking them out and collecting my loot was much more enjoyable than it had any right to be.

When it does come to combat Smoke and Sacrifice is very old school. Each creature has its own attack patterns and behaviours that you can learn and exploit. Whether that’s by laying  pre-planned traps or adept dodging is up to you and the resources you have to hand. However you decide to approach combat though, Smoke and Sacrifice is not forgiving. Wander into the wrong place unprepared and you can instantly get wiped out, returning you to your last save point. And, also in old-school fashion, save points are  few and far between so preparation is key!

Stand-out survival

The only major downside I experienced playing Smoke and Sacrifice is that sometimes the fixed camera angle makes it hard to distinguish between different objects. This can lead to troubling consequences such as accidently attacking a creature you had no intention to fight instead of harvesting a crop in front of it. The worst thing to happen to me, however, was fighting a shadow monster, using a lot of resources to keep me patched up and fighting fresh, only for the loot to fall behind a tree and become near impossible to collect.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Smoke and Sacrifice, simply because it is a beautiful game. But you shouldn’t pick up this game for the aesthetics alone; its whole design and premise is on point, altogether making for a fascinating survival experience. You can draw a lot of parallels to other survival games, but Smoke and Sacrifice stands out on its own thanks to Sachi’s compelling story.

Smoke and Sacrifice is available on PC and Nintendo Switch. We reviewed the PC version.