New to the series, the first thing I noticed about Sublevel Zero Redux is the vibrant, neon colour scheme and the 80’s-inspired techno music. Each of these aspects helps infuse the game with a sense of fast-paced fun. Frantic at nearly every turn, this upbeat, six-degrees-of-freedom shooter puts the player inside an upgradable spaceship as they blast their way through a research facility. Featuring perma-death and craftable equipment, the game instills a got-to-collect-them-all mindset that begs for another round. Only a few small bugs and oversights prevent Sublevel Zero Redux from achieving its full potential.
The vague plotline explains that humanity has lost touch with science and technology. An unknown cataclysm erupts across the universe, halting human advancement. In the wake of the event, humans have spread apart and divided into warring factions, each in the pursuit of older, pre-cataclysm technology which is substantially more advanced than current weaponry. Space becomes divided into clans, which govern as best they can. The player takes on the role of a scout in search of pre-cataclysm knowledge – anything that may help the unnamed clan to bring back to the, ever original, “Council”.
Discovering an ancient laboratory, the player is tasked with retrieving as much information as possible and bringing it back for their clan elders. Story comes mostly in the form of blurry datapad entries which add flavour text yet are too difficult to read to become integral to the story. Upon entering the system, the universe begins tearing itself apart. You’re left with no choice but to enter the facility, guarded by automated defence systems, and find salvation for your people.
All of this is explained in the first couple of minutes, almost in a PowerPoint presentation. The unoriginal, apocalyptic plotline is merely a device to situate the player in constant combat with waves of enemies. Although it is incredibly lacking in detail, and what it does offer is rather vague and generic, the story is inconsequential to the sheer amount of fun the game has to offer.
Sublevel Zero Redux provides little in the way of information – partly to encourage game-world exploration and partly to confuse the player. For example, nowhere does it mention that by clicking the right thumbstick you can swap between single-shot or simultaneous attacks. It seems like an oversight to not have included this in the diagram of the controller inputs in the hard-pause menu. Furthermore, the game lacks explanation of weapon types in-game or main aspects of the core equipment, such as what “Trichording” means in terms of engines. Fans of the series will be familiar, yet, for those new to the game, it becomes very confusing.
Despite the lack of guidance, or perhaps because of it, the controls for the game are quite intuitive and make effective use of the Xbox One controller. For example, the player can boost, which acts as a temporary sprint, with the press of the left thumbstick. This is a natural fit for any fan of first-person shooters, which Sublevel Zero Redux bases its controls on. It’s also nice to see the D-Pad used as a means of controlling movement. In Sublevel Zero Redux, the up and down buttons control the vertical movement of the spacecraft while the left and right buttons rotate the ship accordingly 90 degrees. The expansive directional controls make for some great maneuverability for those good at seamlessly swapping from joystick to D-Pad and vice versa.
Overall, everything felt natural – necessary for a-six-degrees-of-freedom shooter – and really nailed the sense of controlling a spaceship. Adding to the immersion, the weapons menu does not pause gameplay, leaving the player vulnerable. This feels like a good fit. Although the tutorials are lacking depth, the core controls really serve well.
Sublevel Zero Redux utilizes a modular level design to create randomized dungeons, effectively different upon each playthrough, while increasing the difficulty proportionately as the player progresses from one level to the next. There is a nice mix of tight corridors, large, open rooms, and twisting, rocky caves. These all add to the experience and do not feel forcibly stacked together. Instead, the levels feel genuinely connected to one another. Environmental hazards paint the walls red in the form of lava lakes, which understandably damage the ship. I found that out the hard way.
As far as the audio goes, it’s fantastic. The sound-design is spot-on and really rounds out the experience with laser sounds zipping through the air, mechanical shifts as new upgrades are installed, and the constant mayhem of explosions ringing true to form. Keeping the player engaged, the soundtrack reacts to the gameplay with differing music styles for exploration and combat that is reminiscent of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, in all the right ways.
To craft new weapons and equipment, Sublevel Zero Redux uses collectible nanites as currency. Killing an enemy releases nanites, respective to their character type and difficulty. Ammunition is gathered in the same way, forcing the player to rush into battle and catch those needed items before they permanently expire. This mechanic works very well in the game, helping to fuel the high-octane fights by adding pressure and forcing otherwise defensive players (like myself) to press boost and enter the fray.
Battles are quite fun, and the end-level bosses are the most memorable, yet I discovered a game-breaking glitch that had me enraged. The game closes the door behind you upon reaching the final room of a given level. The intention is that you will leap forward and enter the hectic, end-level combat with the boss and his underlings. What the game developers failed to realize is that the player can be trapped on the other side. To my dismay, the glitch (perhaps game-design is a better term), permanently locked the door in front of me after I poked my nose into the final room. In this way, the level was unbeatable and forced me to restart the game as if I died.
I, for one, am not a fan of the menus and text in Sublevel Zero Redux. The font chosen is very blocky and pixelated, no doubt to match the game’s atmosphere, yet remains blurry and unclear. Worsening matters, the text is too small, making it very difficult to read and forcing me to play the entire game on my coffee table rather than back on the couch. Add to that the small in-game menus, which should have been full-screen, and it makes for some frustrating delays in an otherwise quick and exciting game.
It’s worth mentioning that performance noticeably shutters at times, pausing momentarily as combat picks up suddenly or as heavy action fills the screen. It is nothing game-breaking, yet hiccups like this disrupt the game and break what could be an immersive experience.
Despite these setbacks, the game is a blast to play. Literally. There are constantly explosions of struck enemies littering the screen. Using the block-based environment to its advantage, Sublevel Zero Redux constructs the action in vibrant cubes, reminiscent of Minecraft. This works very well and is part of the visual appeal. Expanding on this, the game has excellent weapon collision, both inbound and outbound, as enemies launch missiles, turrets fire lasers, and you unleash a mix of projectiles. Everything responds to their own mechanics and even collide mid-air, making the stratagem of targeting incoming missiles a legitimate tactic.
Crafting is quite involved in the form of tiered combinations. Equipment found in-game is often first tier, which can be combined to create second-tier items, and again for the resultantly-stronger third-tier items. This can be seen with hulls that grant the player more health, engines with greater speeds, and missiles that do more damage or add new abilities. It is fun to find new weapons, and experiment with complementary loadouts. I found myself constantly dotting from item to item, checking and comparing how the next piece of loot compares with my own stash.
Strangely enough, the crafting mechanic only shows the weapon you’re creating and the two component parts. There is no side-by-side comparison to your equipped gear unless it happens to be one of the two components. Half of the time this was problematic and forced me to jump back-and-forth between menus when a simple equipment menu on the right-hand side would have sufficed. Lack of foresight like this slows down the action of the game incredibly. It seems the developers were aware of the game’s minor setbacks, yet not enough was done in regards to the menus, text, and comparison charts. Weapon pickup is addictive to experiment with as you gather more blueprints, with an intuitive, colour-coated system to rate stats of a given item and ranking them from weakest to strongest: red, yellow, white, blue, and green respectively.
Sublevel Zero Redux, In Summary:
Sublevel Zero Redux is a fun game as its core, but minor bugs and obvious oversights break up the excitement and detract too much from the gameplay. The experience would really benefit from a more-detailed tutorial, improved menus, and little more fine-tuning. Despite the setbacks, I really did enjoy the combat. The fast-paced gameplay makes for intense gaming sessions – evoking heightened moments similar to the original Doom. The variety of enemies grows as the player gets further into the game and makes for some exceptional replayability. Coupled with the discovery of new craftable blueprints, added bonuses (when finishing a level), and various ship models, it’s a title that has a lot to offer. There is fun to be had here, and it’s worth the $20 price tag. Fans of the series will love it!
Was I too hard on the menus and small omissions? Does the world need more 80’s techno? Leave your thoughts below!
- Intuitive controls
- Fast, intense gameplay
- Excellent music and sound effects
- Addicting crafting system
- Blurry text
- Small, cramped menus
- Several glitches and shutters in gameplay
- Unoriginal story