Welcome to the new Scouting Party! In an effort to give our audience the best possible coverage of games, select Scouting Party videos will now be accompanied by a written preview that gives readers a more in-depth look into the game as it stands than a first impressions video alone could. We’re still experimenting with this format, so please let us know in the comments what you think!
The Binding of Issac has been a very influential game over the last few years despite its origins as a side project for Super Meat Boy creator Edmund McMillen. It struck just as roguelikes were achieving a surge of popularity both from players for their longevity and variety and developers due to the depth they bring to projects with an otherwise limited scope. However, only a few games have attempted to try out Issac‘s unique but limited top down perspective without also adapting its combat system. Studios Illogika have attempted just that with Subaeria, a top down roguelike with puzzle elements where enemies have to be manipulated to your advantage in order to be destroyed. I previously looked at the game at PAX East and had a great time with it, so I couldn’t wait to get my hand on the Early Access build of the game that recently went up on Steam.
The story here is one of a technological utopia, filled with cleaning robots armed with buzzsaws and virtual reality delights that leave unprepared teens credless and at the mercy of said robots. Armed with only a drone and an array of apps to hack into the robot’s functions, your character is tasked with navigating halls of cargo containers and forcing robots to smash into each other in them, with an end goal of surviving long enough to clear your name. There are story segments on each level that further this plot, which is unique for a roguelike, even if they seem to be exactly the same for every run.
Subaeria really shines in the gameplay department, bringing a very unique spin to the procedural death labyrinth. Your character has no way to fight off the robots hunting you down, so you must rely on swift movement to lure them into the right lasers to defeat them. Instead of shooting foes, you have to put yourself out there and dodge foes, tricking them into situations where they explode. In addition, some of the enemies are indestructible, but they’re much more aggressive, so you can lure them into charging into the more vulnerable foes. Once a room is clear of those enemies, the chargers shut down and you can continue on.
You also have your drone, which can do everything from produce holograms as a distraction, mark an enemy as a foe for others to target, change a robot’s color so it will explode when crossing a certain laser, and so on. Each of these apps are spread randomly throughout levels, acting as the power-ups for each run. As seen in the video, there were a few situations where I was stuck with mostly useless range boosts instead of something that could help, but it seems that the levels are designed to be defeated without any help from the drone. I also noticed that some of the power-ups and passive perks seemed to randomly spawn in places that seemed impossible to get to, which does happen in games like Binding of Issac, but here seems more of an unpolished feature. This can all be fixed before the final release of course, but dodging through a tense wave of foes and then being rewarded with something you can’t procure is frustrating to say the least.
Subaeria‘s store page mentions that the Early Access period will be used to add more variety to the game’s content, including new environments, power-ups, and enemies. This is a good use of their time, because if there is one thing the game already nails, it is the visual style. Everything in the game is well-defined, and the world that has been built feels ripe for exploring. There are a few points where the style overrides the gameplay, and you’re not sure how to navigate some of the levels, but for the most part it’s just eye candy as you’re jumping over killer buzz-saw pinball bumpers. I also appreciated the advertising that was plastered everywhere; it really drives home the dystopian utopia feelings.
The biggest hurdle that Subaeria will have to get over in its current state is its unique gameplay. It takes a while to get a handle on what you’re doing and figure out the rules of the world. Hopefully this will be tuned to be a bit more inviting for new players during this process. If you are looking for something unique and puzzling in your rogue-likes, Subaeria certainly fits the build. Check out my first impressions of what’s currently in the game and see if its worth your time to dive in now.
What do you think of Subaeria? What do you think of our new format for Scouting Party? What do you think of your local sports team? Answer these questions and more in the comments below!