Sublevel Zero Redux – Review
When I was growing up, Sony released The PlayStation, or what today we would know as the PS One. The system, which would later become a shining icon of modern gaming and entertainment, was among the very first to introduce titles with fully rendered three-dimensional gameplay.
As a young boy, seeing this was absolutely mind-blowing. In fact, I don’t ever recall really having words for it. Crash Bandicoot, Warhawk, Colony Wars, and so many other titles were in this strange visual dimensions of graphics, radically different from the sprites and 2D worlds on the SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo.
Among them was a game called Descent from Parallax productions and Interplay Entertainment. Descent was a First-person ship shooting action adventure game that had players explore massive interstellar labyrinths while combatting a rogue computer defense system and their robot army.
I never beat the game, but I fondly remember it for its combat, mystery, solid presentation, and constant sense of isolation. While there have been many games that have featured isolation and solid combat, such as the legendary Metroid franchise, the ability to do it in the context of a combat starship has rarely been seen.
Enter Sublevel Zero Redux from SIGTRAP Studios and Merge Games Limited. Originally released on Steam, the Redux version features a bevy of enhancements and features. I’m pleased to say that, while the gameplay mechanic hasn’t been seen in decades, it holds up amazingly well and Sublevel Zero Redux proves to be an amazing experience.
The world of Sublevel Zero Redux is a rather bleak one, but you probably wouldn’t know that considering the bright, vibrant visuals the game has. Humanity is in dire need and internal conflict rages across the colonial territory. As a lone independent combat pilot, you venture to an unknown planetoid that is rumored to contain ancient alien technologies, as well as hidden treasures.
Shortly after you enter the planetoid, you discover a massive facility. Its purpose is unknown, and it is difficult to discern whether this facility is a military base, a temple of worship, or an ancient R&D lab. Shortly after entering, the doors behind you are sealed. Absolutely nothing can be done to break out. Your only option is to explore this mysterious place and unlock the secrets hiding within in a hopeful attempt to escape.
Sublevel Zero is a rogue-like procedurally generation space ship combat gamer that gives player s multiple degrees of freedom and direction. The objective is to fight enemies and stay alive long enough to reach the core. By destroying the core, players will continue their descent into the planetoid to unlock the special treasures.
Players will have to traverse five levels, each one a completely different experience through procedural generation. Additionally, as each level is large and detailed, expect to spend quite some time on each level. Players will need to decide whether they want to make a direct route tot heir goal or explore every corner possible for weapons and health The former may give players a chance to make it to the end but wield weaker weapons, while the latter may give players more powerful weapons but face more dangerous enemies. Each experience is just as dangerous, unpredictable, and thrilling as the next.
Fortunately, aiding players on this journey is a crafting system and a holographic map. Players will be able to obtain primary and secondary weapons through destroying enemies and treasure chests. Players can equip new weapons on the fly. They range from energy weapons, such as plasma cannons, to projectiles weapons, such as Vulcans. Players can also wield powerful missile systems, but their effectiveness will vary.
Some variants will have high ammunition capacity but low damage while others are equivalent to small nuclear weapons, where the enemy will be completely destroyed, but the blast can damage you as well. Players will also have the ability to combine weapons systems into a more powerful weapon. A good strategy is to collect these weapons, sell the less powerful ones for scrap, and try and combine more powerful ones. This crafting system also applies to the ships hull and propulsion systems to allow for better evasion and durability.
Playing Sublevel Zero Redux feels enriching, fresh, and thrilling in ways that most games cannot replicate. As mentioned before, other games can give a sense of danger and isolation, but it’ a very different feeling when both those sensations are in a combat spacecraft. You believe you are safe since you are in a vehicle, but SubLevel Zero Redux reminds you, very much so, that safety is non-existent.
Sublevel Zero Redux is a challenging experience but a great one that continuously invites you into its world, even after you beat the game. Shooting robotic enemies in lava pits, ice caverns, and factories is thrilling. The level design and free range of movement in the zero-g environment provide for frantic combat with tactical advantages to consider. Even when players get shot down, the game still provides an invitation to keep trying just one more time.
When your ship is badly damaged and you’re able to score one more shot to destroy an enemy or the central core, that’s when Sub-level Zero Redux truly shines. Complimenting the game is a sharp visual presentation, with pixel-inspired detailed and vibrant color palettes.
Additionally, UK-based composer Will Bedford composes a whimsical score for the game, splicing those hauntingly mysterious notes with familiar, nostalgic chiptunes and a whimsical space feeling.
The only real drawback I have for Sublevel Zero is the fact that there are only five levels. I could have imagined another few levels, filled with new weapons, new enemies, and different interiors, especially as the game has such a haunting mystery to it. Additionally, I would have liked to see more enemy and boss fights. As for the difficulty, the game will put up a challenge, and some players may find themselves dying shortly after starting. However, I highly encourage players to play regardless of their skill level. Despite game’s setbacks, each level explored was incredible, and the procedural generation kept me coming back.
Sub-Level Zero is a truly unique experience, which stands out in the sea of other shooters. The game combines classic mechanics, as well as new ones, in a time that has seemingly forgotten about these styles of action experiences. It brought me back to feeling like a 90’s kid again, while also providing a special experience gameplay experience. From it’s mesmerizing presentation to its white-knuckle gameplay, Sublevel Zero Redux is an interstellar adventure worth experiencing again and again.
Sublevel Zero is available on PlayStation 4 and Steam. This was reviewed by the generous donation of a press key by Merge Games