A rougelike, procedurally generated, voxel based, 8-bit inspired spaceship shooter! Sounds like a dream right? Well thanks to nearly every Tom, Dick and Harry who can put any semblance of code together, smashing a game out in about 12 hours and then releasing it onto steam using all or most of the above buzzwords, those terms have been pulled through the dirt and then some. Suffice to say when I got my hands on Sublevel Zero my expectations were low. But my was I wrong.
The first thing I should probably say is that I’m not very good at Sublevel Zero (that and that the game is quite hard). Despite playing it for several hours have yet to manage to beat the second stage. As such, you should take this into account as some of my complaints may well be solved later in the game. I also suffered from some game freezes and long loading times which may just be due to my PC – make sure to check forums for issues before purchasing.
Sublevel Zero starts with a fairly forgettable story and then you’re plonked into a world where everything is out to get you. The levels are procedurally generated and as it’s a rougelike you lose everything when you die. The controls are a little difficult at first and I’d defiantly recommend using a controller, but once you get used to them it’s smooth and satisfying flying.
Right from the start there’s a decent amount of variety in the enemies you face. Each one is mechanically and visibly different from the others and each requires a different approach. The end room of each level seems to lack some kind of boss. They generally feature a larger number of enemies than elsewhere but whilst this does certainly make it quite difficult it is somewhat anti- climactic. Your ability to deal with them largely grows from your own experience rather than actual upgrades to your ship, meaning that even the weakest of enemies can still do significant damage and in Sublevel Zero things can go very wrong, very quickly. Whilst you can pick up Med-Packs, they heal slowly over time and provide a relatively small amount of health, and so are in no way going to save you in a panic.
The meat of the game comes from the weapons you use and there are lots of them. You start with a couple of basic weapons and you gain more either as pick-ups or by crafting them. Weapons are crafted by combining weapons in your inventory together at the cost of ‘Nanites’ (a currency dropped by enemies and chests) There are a huge range of different weapons from Gatling guns to rockets and lasers to cannons and what with the easy switching, crafting and limited ammo you’re constantly swapping weapons and trying out lots of new fun weapons.
The Facility you find yourself in is fairly repetitive and despite a clear attempt by the developers to make sure that each room is different, it’s fairly easy to get turned about. However the excellent 3D map you can access makes reorientation easy yourself and near impossible to get truly lost. The steel like textures on the first level also make it easy for some of the enemies to blend in causing shots to often seem like they’re coming from out of nowhere.
The main problem I have with the level design (and the game in general) is that it feels very cramped. The corridors are tight and even the larger rooms that you find don’t feel very large, and about half way through the level the steel plated corridors get exchanged for rock tunnels which feel equally as claustrophobic. What I kept wanting was a large open space to fly around in and pull crafty manoeuvres on my foes, which is maybe what you would expect from a game about spaceships.
In all I enjoyed playing Sublevel Zero and will probably play it for a bit longer if only to say that I managed to make it to the third level. It also features VR support so is something I’ll come back to when I get my hands on a headset. The ship felt great to fly and the sheer variety of weapons meant that the game never got stale. I can honestly say that I’d recommend giving it a go.