7th sector review
On the 5th of February, developer Sometimes you introduced us to the world of 7th Sector. A dystopian, cyberpunk environment were darkness, oppression and machines reign supreme. Birthed from the mind of Unity developer Sergey Noskov, this title paints a picture of a ravaged Russian society. Within this, the player takes control of a power current. Not a human, anthropomorphic animal or mythical creature. Just a unit of power travelling through the scattered wires of the bleak setting.
Cut from the same cloth as 2.5 platform puzzlers such as Limbo, Little Nightmares and Unravel. This title starts the player off with a view of a television casting a static picture. Encased in it is the silhouette of a person or phantom. The player is urged to hold a button and from there the player breaks free in the form of a little ball of electricity free to explore.
You don’t have all the power
What strikes you about the gameplay as you travel through the ominous and atmospheric scenery, is the shortcomings of the controls. Although conceptually the controls and mechanics have the potential to create a fantastic puzzle game. The controls are unpolished. Movement is inconsistent and unsatisfying as the player navigates. Curves in the wires act to slow the player down drastically, preventing freedom of movement or consistent speed. Changing from wire to wire is clunky and slow. Also, in areas where there are obstacles to avoid through what this game may call its version of platforming. This clunky inconsistency creates trial and error where there really needn’t be.
This doesn’t change as you progress through the game. The different ‘characters’ or machines offer a fun novelty initially. However, as this wears thin, what you are left with is a laboured puzzler which the player pushes through for the next novel contraption to control.
Are the puzzles a spark of genius?
7th Sector’s puzzles and design offer quite a lot of confusion for the player. Optional puzzles can easily be mistaken for the main path. Puzzles often have no clear solution, leading to backtracking aimlessly along with maneuvering objects randomly until you come to the solution. Often doing so and not understanding why the puzzle has been solved. Then there is often the potential to cheat your way to a solution. An example being some puzzles require the player to add voltage until 220 volts is achieved. Mashing the action button until the player passes the puzzle offers a quicker and easier solution with the least path of resistance. Which begs the question, why bother doing it the right way?
However, credit has to be given to some aspects of the puzzle design in-game. In some instances, 7th Sector creates intriguing and cohesive puzzles that ask the player to experiment, think carefully and take environmental aspects into account. As well as this, the developers included randomly generated solutions to puzzles to prevent simply looking up the answer. Urging players to concentrate and find the logic to the puzzle. This offered emergent gameplay and as a mechanic, it was much appreciated when the puzzles were built well. However, this is not consistent throughout. Puzzles range from patronizingly easy to needlessly obtuse and frustrating. Then to add insult to injury, these dont scale throughout. Instead, there is a fluctuation of easy, challenging and frustratingly difficult puzzles in areas of the game where they don’t belong.
Beauty And The Bleak
The crowning achievement of 7th Sector is obvious from the outset and that is the world it creates. From the start, the game conveys a harsh, gritty and ominous tone that aims to unsettle the player. You begin alone with nothing but a hollow factory surroundings and machines to interact with. The sounds are jarring and loud with an aim to startle and the aesthetic is dark and gloomy. The title crafts this vibe carefully through clever background inclusions such as clues to puzzles or simply silhouettes of people to remind you that you are not truly alone and all is not lost.
7th Sector graphically holds up with its counterparts in the 2.5D puzzler genre. The scenery the player travels through is sharp and refined with decent textures and mixes different indoor and outdoor environments that are crafted beautifully. The art style while competently delivered is nothing to write home about. It is a gloomy cyberpunk world which, as a theme, has been rehashed numerous times. Despite this though, it delivers what it sets out to do competently and lends itself to the overall telling of an unscripted narrative that these types of games are synonymous with.
The narrative for this game is apparent as you traverse the world. 7th Sector presents no dialogue and instead relies heavily on environmental cues to stimulate the player. Thankfully where some games can get lost in the ambiguity of silent storytelling, this game thrives. It’s ability to gather the attention of the player through the surroundings. Whilst not holding their hand through the story and puzzles is commendable. The way clues and set pieces are interwoven with a wonderful synth soundtrack not dissimilar to the likes of stranger things or indie classic, transistor, is compelling.
What has to be commended above all though, is the investment one feels towards something that lacks sentience. You are a force of energy, not something that is often personified. Yet the player feels attached to this electrical current. As mysterious messages are relayed telling you that ‘they’ are after you. Who ‘they’ are is unclear, as is the plot for long durations. Yet, you feel a certain connection to the ball of energy you control. You feel motivated to help it get to its destination and aid with the escape.
The developers include a series of machines that allow for a certain level of sentient feeling. Such as a remote control vehicle, a gramophone that plays a series of classic musical tracks, magnetic orbs or machine gun-wielding robots. Shame the car wasn’t a Voltz-wagon though. Anybody? No? OK then.
7th sector gives the player the chance to connect with the entity they are controlling. It’s a unique approach to character development by having no true face to represent it. Yet, it works wonderfully.
The game also boasts a total of four unique endings to the story. Whether these are positive or negative is dependent on your actions throughout your journey and stealthiness through the end game.
Shockingly good or cut the power?
Let’s not get it twisted. This game is in no way as good as its closest counterparts such as Limbo or Inside. It’s a non-contest. The game does fall flat on many occasions. The controls are inconsistent and too vaguely explained. The puzzles are poorly scaled for the difficulty and are obtuse in their nature at times. Yet, putting this all aside, it still has a lot going for it. The sound and score compliment a fantastically crafted environment and silent story. The concept is unique and offers a series of moments that spark joy, pun intended. Not to mention that despite the flaws with the puzzles, when they get it right, the challenges really offer something special.
Although the idea of a machine master race kind of dystopia is a tired concept. 7th Sector still offers a compelling narrative. this is due to the silent telling of the story through environmental cues. Through this, the game offers enough intrigue to continue without shoving the tech-pocolypse content down your throat.
What might put a lot of players off this one is it’s $19.99 price tag at the time of release and I’m obligated to agree. The game doesn’t justify that price fully for me. If you can pick this one up in a sale though, I would recommend it. It does an awful lot right. So much so that you forgive the flaws to continue through the world and find out just what is going on in this dark and oppressed society.
7th Sector is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC for $19.99 and released on the 5th of February 2020. This review was based on the digital release on PS4.