Who says innovation in gaming is dead?
Before the review starts, there’s one thing you need to know about this game before you consider buying it. Subaeria lists itself as “controller recommended” game. However, I would take that a step further and say that the controller is mandatory. There is no tutorial that tells you the keyboard mapping of the controls, nor a settings option to see what they are or how to change them. The whole game is built on having an Xbox controller. I actually went and bought one from GameStop for about $30 so if you don’t currently have a controller, playing this game may be more of an investment than you initially thought. With that said…
To be honest, I don’t normally play games that are in Early Access. I always felt it was better to buy a game once it was fully complete and ready for launch. However, given the videos I had seen of Subaeria and how differently it seemed to play for any other game I had in my library, when I received the opportunity to review it I took up the offer. To say this game was full of surprises would be an understatement. The way it plays isn’t much like anything I’ve experienced before in a very good way. I also found the way the story progresses to be refreshing and adds a lot to the game itself. Not knowing what I was getting myself into proved to be a huge drawback, though. The reason for that being that Subaeria is, in actuality, a hardcore game.
What do I mean when I say “hardcore game”? Allow me to give you a list!
- There is currently no way to save in the game. There is talk of implementing it later on and maybe for the finished version only, but as it stands if you die you’re starting over from level 1.
- There are no extra lives you can get. Once your health hits zero, that’s it. No do overs.
- All the maps are randomly generated. If you die three rooms into the first stage and start over, all of the enemies you encounter and the level design will have changed.
- The difficulty level is attached to your character, not the stages. This means that going backwards could prove to make your gaming experience much harder than it has to be. When you start out you’re difficulty level 1. If you move to Stage 2, your difficulty level goes up to 2. However imagine that you realize you didn’t do a quest back in Stage 1. If you decide to go back to Stage 1, the difficulty level for it is now 3, it doesn’t go back down to 1. This means that you must be absolutely sure you’ve done everything you can on a stage before progressing. Having to go back could spell disaster for later levels.
- Randomly generated buffs. There are buffs you can receive throughout the game such as movement buffs or ways to increase your health-bar, however they are randomly generated along with the levels. Even though there are shops that sell these buffs, they only sell two of an item and those are randomly generated as well. Not to mention that currency is somewhat hard to obtain in the game. This means that you pretty much take whatever buff you’re given and have to make do. Some playthroughs you’ll find you have plenty of health. Others you may be stuck with the default starter health bar for a very long time.
- All your hard work could prove to be for nothing in the end, as there is a wrong way to go about doing the story. To get the best possible ending you have to remember the choices you made on which quest leads where, or write it all down on paper. Either way, just blindly going through the story could spell doom for you.
Despite my dislike for games that go out of their way to make the experience difficult for the player, I found I was still able to really enjoy some of my time with Subaeria. The reason for this is because it approaches game play in a way that I haven’t really encountered before.
The game centers around trying to survive being attacked by robots and room hazards. Although they’re all equipped with weapons ready to kill you, there is no direct way to go about dispatching them. Instead, Subaeria‘s game play centers around manipulating your enemy’s movements, crashing them into hazards that will destroy them for you. The basic format of the beginning of the game goes that yellow enemies are weak to the colour blue and vice versa. An example would be that you can destroy a yellow saw-blade enemy by running it into blue lasers, or crashing it into a blue sawblade enemy. There are also environmental hazards placed in some of the levels like bombs that you can get your enemies to blow up, or indestructible colorless versions of the robots that you’ll have to use to destroy all the colored robots. As the difficulty level of the game increases, so do the amount of environmental hazards and tools you are given to destroy the robots. This makes it sound like the difficulty balances out, but it really doesn’t. Every level of difficulty makes the game exponentially harder. Each room you enter has you on your toes and putting your platforming and movement skills to the test. If there’s anything to be said about playing Subaeria, it’s that the more you play the better you’re bound to get at it.
About the most direct way you have of interacting with your enemies is by using your drone to collect special skills that sometimes appear throughout the stages. You can only carry two skills at a time and all of their effects vary. Some of them allow you to shut down an enemy for a few seconds, giving you time to run away and plan. Other types heal you, make you invincible, or allow you to control your enemy and run it into a hazard to quickly get rid of it. All of these skills have a usage limit, though, and there’s never a guarantee when you’ll get one you find useful. While I found these skills to be fun, I never really felt dependent upon them. Some of my more successful attempts had me barely using them. But they’re still a nice to have.
It’s also worth mentioning that the story isn’t bland. The setting is a post-apocalyptic one where the Earth was destroyed by a flood and humanity is relegated to living in metallic boxes in the ocean. It’s also a dystopian setting seeing as how the rich have entirely separated themselves from the poor and people waste their lives and money playing an addicting video game all day. Despite the premise being somewhat generic and overdone, the writers did a good job at holding your interest with what was going on. Although it’s somewhat confusing and feels disjointed in a way by thrusting you into short and sudden cutscenes, I didn’t feel bored or disinterested with it. You kind of don’t get a chance to, either, seeing as how there are multiple bad endings you can get in the game depending on what quests you decide to do first. I’ve also seen that there are multiple characters you can play in the game, but they didn’t seem readily available. I’m assuming they’re either unlocked or will come with the full release of the game. Seeing as how early access only allowed me to see most of the story for one character I’m genuinely interested to see how the others play out.
Unfortunately the game play and story weren’t enough to give me a positive view on the game. The fact is that Subaeria proves to be sub-par in almost every other aspect.
While the visuals are clean and pretty good to look at set to Ultra, the character designs are somewhat bland and the tutorial level had an atrocious water graphic affect that made playing it almost an eyesore. I could see why they used it, but it felt unnecessary regardless and it really took away from the experience by making the game look cheaper than it actually was. A player’s first experience with a game is important and despite serving its purpose as a tutorial level, it really undersells the game.
The dialogue takes way too long to load. Every time you speak to a character it takes about two seconds for the actual text window to pop up, and then more time for the text to start scrolling. While you can skip the scrolling text and force it to appear in full, you can’t speed up how fast the dialogue box itself takes to animate and open. Also, despite having a frame where the heads of the characters you’re speaking to should go, all that’s put there is a silhouette of a generic model. There’s practically no point to having it there. Because of this I end up spending a lot more time talking to NPCs than necessary, which makes me not want to talk to them at all. Unfortunately some of them have good information sometimes, or grant you items, so it’s still worth it to try and speak to as many as you can.
The music is a weird blend of electronic music and robot sound effects. It comes off as really generic and boring to listen to, or sometimes even annoying. I think this type of game would play best with your own soundtrack. Personally I enjoyed it best playing alongside a good dubstep soundtrack, but that’s just me. Either way you’re not missing anything if you turn the music off. You’re probably doing yourself a favor, to be honest.
The game is also still pretty buggy. Seeing as how it’s early access that may be expected, but some of the bugs are game breaking. I’ve gotten stuck more than once by skillfully platforming my way through a series of boxes that weren’t apparently meant to be scaled. Also, if you happen to enter plot relevant rooms that are ahead of where you currently are in the story, sometimes the cut scenes will play out and force you to skip ahead in your quest. This could have serious repercussions as it locks you out from discovering other parts in the story that could prevent you from playing out a bad ending.
Although I reviewed Subaeria rather critically, I feel like it has massive potential to be a huge hit. All it needs it some bug fixes, a way to save that doesn’t even have to be generous, some optimization of the dialogue boxes, and a redesigning of the tutorial to really make it shine. Add “valid keyboard and mouse” controls to the list. It would probably cost too much to re-do the sound track or change the character designs, but honestly those two things can be overlooked with a fun game. So really they’re not the most important parts. I would gladly play this game again and give it a new review once it fully releases and can see what it’s actually supposed to play like.
This has been Roderick and thank you for taking the time to read this review on BitCultures. Looking forward to writing more for you in the future! Until then stay cool, beautiful people.