Previewing an Early Access game is sometimes tricky. Some games are in early beta, meaning that the game still has a way to go before it is finished. What is important to me is that the mechanics have been made, the framework is there, and the dev team has a clear idea of what direction they are going in. However, with Subaeria, I do think that there are other factors that must be brought up.
Subaeria is a 3d puzzle platformer being developed by Illogika, a Montreal based company who ported Hitman Go to Android. The game takes place in an underwater society where there is a clear class separation and wealth gap. People who live in the bottom rung of society work long days for little money and literally live in cargo crates. One of the popular escapes from this awful existence is a virtual reality game—and propaganda source—called “EXPod,” which is so good that it becomes an addiction and a massive source of debt for some of the people who play it.
The debt is actually worse than the addiction to EXPod, because of the underwater society’s way of dealing with creditors. If a person gets more than 30,000 credits in debt, they are declared “Credless,” which revokes their access to food pills, their home, and also unleashes a hoard of “Cleaners” (murderbots) upon them. Cleaners are the custodians of the society, and their job is to clean things … and also to kill all credless scum and throw them overboard because they committed the crime of not being able to pay off their debt.
In Subaeria, you play as Styx, a young girl with a bunch of friends who try very hard not to swear. She is the daughter of a factory worker and is into EXPod with her friends. As you probably have guessed by now, she is declared credless at the beginning of the game and now has murderbots after her. Luckily, Styx’s EXPod experience has taught her how to kill the Cleaners, because the society thought it would be a good plan to teach the people whom they are trying to kill with murderbots how to defend themselves from said murderbots.
The Cleaners are assigned to one room, which locks off when a credless person walks in and stays locked until either the person dies or the Cleaners are destroyed. However, the player is always unarmed, meaning that they have to get creative in how they destroy the Cleaners. Cleaners come in one of three colors: Blue, Yellow, or White. Blue Cleaners are immune to blue sources of damage, but are destroyed by yellow Cleaners or lasers, and vice versa. White Cleaners are immune to both colors and destroy both colors, but shut off when there are no colored Cleaners left. The point of the game is to aggro the Cleaners and cause them to kill each other or themselves.
The player also controls a droid that can be used to mess with the Cleaners in other ways—make the player invisible temporarily, etc. The droid has two spaces for abilities and a limited amount of uses of each ability before it needs to get a new one. The droid is meant to give the player a bit of an extra edge, but I never found much of a use for it. This is mainly because by the time the Cleaner is within a range that the droid can actually use its ability, the Cleaner has already detected me and is moving in for an attack. However, the droid is a good way to pick up hard to reach loot and can be a life saver depending on what abilities you find, something that is left completely up to chance.
Subaeria is a Rouge-lite in the sense that it randomizes its levels and powerups and has permadeath. The entire map is split up into areas, which are split up into individual rooms that are connected. Traveling between areas also increases the security level, making the murderbots bigger and tougher. In order to produce a randomized map, the game takes pre-made rooms, adds in enemies that can be destroyed by that environment, and then shuffles those around randomly. This also includes rooms that are required to advance the story in some way, such as your home or the EXPod arcade. The randomization does a good job of making each playthrough seem fresh despite the fact that the story is the same each time. It also allows the player to learn specific ways of taking out enemies in each room while providing a large enough number of rooms to not become repetitive.
Overall, what I have seen from Subaeria is good. The team knows what they are doing and have laid down a good framework for how they are going to make a final product. However, I cannot fully recommend the game for pre-purchase in its current state because of how poorly optimized it is. My laptop is an ASUS G751-jt, which has a Quad Core Processor and a GTX 970m. It ran The Witcher 3 at almost max settings at 45 frames per second, 30 if I turned on the hair physics. Right now, with the game on it’s lowest settings, I can get an unsteady framerate around 30 at 1080p, 45-60 at 720p. Not only that, but the framerate is inconsistent, dipping below 20 fps in certain crowded areas. Normally I don’t bring up performance in an Early Access title because that is usually something that changes by the time the game is released. However, Subaeria has particularly bad performance that actually can make the game nearly unplayable, and I found multiple people saying similar things while going through the Early Access reviews on Steam. Again this is something that probably will change by the time the game is released.
Despite its performance problem, Subaeria has a lot going for it. The premise is good, the mechanics are in place, and most things are working properly. Illogika also will be releasing three other characters besides Styx to play, each with their own stories that will impact the other characters. Working through areas and outsmarting the Cleaners proved to be tense and fun, and when the performance improves, it might be worth a look. Subaeria is planned for release between six months and a year from now.
This game was previewed with a free review copy from Illogika.