Sky Break caught my attention the moment I took a look at screenshots of it in action. I was entranced immediately, but I admit I was still wary of the idea of presentation over actual product. I've played my fair share of games that were beautiful disasters; astounding to look at but ran as well as people in movies dashing away from large falling objects. In addition, I've played a large number of Early Access survival Steam games, many of which have been updating for years with no sign of an actual release. Some of my favorites just stopped updating entirely. Sky Break is in that rare category of indie survival games that actually released in a timely manner. I had many expectations, none of which were particularly good.
When you first start a new game, you're given a brief background via text and slideshow. Humans are being wiped out by a plague and this difficult-to-colonize planet, Arcania, seems to contain the only semblance of a cure. It had been evacuated due to the colonization and industrial robots somehow turning against their masters, further adding to the difficulties of the stormy world. A group of scientists was dispatched to Arcania in an attempt to create a cure for the plague, but upon arriving, the storms wiped out most of the ships. You are one of the few survivors, though your ship was destroyed in the effort of landing. You wake up, disoriented, lost, and lacking in every tool except your primary weapon.
Most survival games use a mechanic based around food: you're effectively on a constant time limit, forced to scavenge in order to survive, and hopefully your scavenging skills or your abilities increase enough to where you're capable of working on longer term survival rather than just consuming every potato chip crumb you find locked in an old cash register the moment you find it. In Sky Break your needs differ. The world's awful weather slowly worsens over time, decreasing visibility, spawning tornadoes and waterspouts, and eventually, fatal lightning bursts. When you first arrive, the heavy wind and rain gives you a sense of urgency, and yet a strange, serene attachment to the wild visuals. The red-colored grass whips violently, and the alien trees bend and creak as you gaze up at the heavy clouds slowly darkening around you.
The first thing you must do is retrieve your probe, which means finding it and then hacking into it, rebooting the system and bringing it online. The hacking process consists of a simple mini-game lining up wires on a circular grid using careful clicks. Once the probe is alive, it chirps and happily follows you around like a Ghost in Destiny. It proves considerably useful, acting as your radar. Activating it is a simple keypress, and it sends out a signal that returns in the form of a compass superimposed around your body with a series of markers telling you what lies in which direction. My first radar pulse returns a few question marks, items of note, and your main objective. The actual radar on your screen will give you the marks for item caches and interesting alien samples.
As you travel, you can fill your primary weapon by finding ammo caches. The main weapon appears to be a glorified taser, shooting a small electrical bolt. You have a secondary "weapon" in the form of the short-range hacking device you used to bring your probe online, but it doesn't actually do any damage. Before reaching your main objective, you'll come across what at first glance appears to be robotic cats. As you get close, a sensor marker appears around your reticule, warning you you're being seen. You can stealthily hide in bushes, dashing from plant to plant in an attempt to avoid the robotic cats. Or you could act like me, and assume they're something you should run up to and pet.
Of course, they attack. On the first island, which acts as a tutorial island where the danger is minimal, the animals tend to work alone. This one immediately dashed away, ran around behind me, and started to melee at my backside like I was a particularly large mob in an MMO. Now terrified I was going to die on the tutorial island, I immediately ran as fast as I could, mashing buttons until I discovered the sprint mechanic. A limited bar for jumping and dashing allows me to stumble through a stormy jungle until I come across a lone piece of technology. It's a strange station, like a radio tower, and of course, I immediately push the big red button because if I've learned anything so far, stumbling directly into problems is how I learn best. Once activated, it shoots a bright light into the sky and I look up to see the clouds pulling back, clearing the air and giving me my first hint of daylight since I landed. In my head, I hear the sound of a chorus of angels as light filters down from the jungle around me and I give this world a taste of normality, taming the island for my own. The rain stops and the wind slows just long enough for me to turn around and be mauled by the robot cat.
That's right; instead of consuming pies whole to regain more time to explore, you activate beacons placed around the world which will clear the sky, taming the winds and rain long enough to push back the ticking clock of deadly lightning. The concept is wholly refreshing, limiting you without resorting too much to classic cliche. After defeating a few lone robo-cats or sneaking by them like I eventually did, you come across a massive station. The sky is constantly clear around it, and once you call the lift, you're launched straight into the air, far above the cloud line. Here, you're introduced to your second-best companion on your journey. This flying platform acts as your home here in the world of Sky Break. It has a variety of rooms, such as an upgrade station, seed stations, a docking platform for the eventual flying machine you'll collect, and what appears to be a pet trophy room.
This introduces one of the more interesting, and yet frustrating, aspects of Sky Break. The world is beautiful, and as you travel, you'll come across a wide variety of interesting robotic critters. The automated machines left behind still roam freely, and many of them are hostile to you. By putting them down, you'll begin a short countdown to where they're actually out of energy. Before they fully die, though, you're capable of capturing them, hacking them and pulling them to your side as an animal robo-companion. When I hacked my first metal cat, I was downright excited until I actually got into a fight. My robo-cat companion dashed away, vaulting into a tree where it slowly turned around and stared at me as if it were my fault. It never once actually helped me in the fight. Thinking to myself this was just a realistic way to program any cat, robotic or otherwise, I decided to hack one of the other creatures nearby. This was a tall, quadruped creature that resembled a giraffe. Getting into a fight with this as my companion turned out to be less useful than the cat, as the giraffe knocked me into a platform, where I was trapped and had to restart the game.
Barring the significant AI bugs, I found myself readily exploring the world. Traversing peaks and valleys, ridges and canyons, I managed to discover an enormous, hostile, and heavily armored bipedal robot that stomped me flat by launching missiles from long distances. I forgot to pay attention to the storm level and a tornado sucked me in and crushed me to bits while lightning fried what was left. I was forced to respect the intensity of the world I had just landed on, and I loved it. For every bit of danger, there was also beauty. The whipping landscape in a storm succeeded in filling me with regret at the fact that it was a sunny day outside in the real world, and suddenly coming across a lonely windmill in the middle of the woods inspired me to push more big red buttons.
Your ongoing mission becomes quite simple and maybe even a little tedious when you've made it further into Sky Break. You collect plant samples. You come across interesting bushes, fungus, cacti, and even tiny trees oozing what you can assume is a foul smell, and collect every one of them. After you collect a certain amount, you'll have a new breakthrough in your crafting ability, and you'll be able to create more items to help you out in your travels, such as batteries, ammo, med packs, and even defense-boosting syringes and heavier weapons. You also collect "chips" from fallen enemies and from windmills, which you can use to increase your abilities as well as the abilities of your robo-critter companions. I found those to be mostly useless unless I hunted down the ranged version of each type. By the end of the game, I had a huge robot bear and two robo-lizards who launched bombs at my enemies. You're allowed to command your companions to attack, move, and guard locations, with each command being relatively easy to assign. The menu system is unusual, but simple, and pauses the game as you choose your weapon or tool.
Once you find a signal station on each island, you're allowed to move your floating home to a new location to explore more of the world. After you've reached the number of plant samples you're required to have in order to synthesize the cure, your next objective is to find a working ship and upgrade it to be capable of actually leaving the planet again. Thankfully, you're capable of cannibalizing the bits and pieces left behind from your companion's ships, and soon you have a capable exploration vessel.
Each island is incredibly diverse, with a new biome to recapture your attention just as the last one was starting to feel stale. Pacing was solid, and despite feeling like Sky Break might be a little short, it also never outstayed its welcome. Each island had new animals to try and hack, new plants to collect, and usually a new item to craft in order to aid your frenzied attempt to avoid enormous sandstorms and blizzards. A few times, Sky Break even attempts to be a bit of a platformer, getting you to jump your way across frozen chunks of ice you'll eventually upgrade your ship enough to just fly over. The sense of progression is complete, though maybe a little rushed towards the end as you end up picking up your upgrades left and right without real regard to how beautiful the island beneath you might be from the ground. It's also possible this was on purpose, helping you appreciate the fact that you've moved far beyond your starting circumstances, armed with nothing but a measly taser.
There's not a wide selection of ways to play Sky Break, though it certainly doesn't force you to play in any one of them. You can upgrade your ability to sprint, and easily outrun the silly robo-birds that intend to murder you. The AI often seems incapable of keeping up with your ability to simply dash, and when some of the larger creatures chase you, they often can't hit you even when you're just moving backwards at a walk. Your own companions have a tendency to run face-first into rocks and then proceed to be utterly useless, or they knock you into various landforms where you're stuck for good. You could also play by sneaking your way around the maps, though the amount of vegetation you can hide in become limited in later islands. I chose to do a little of both, mixed with wild, flailing gunshots towards the few animals I felt I could aim at without being murdered. The robots all have a series of armor bars protecting health bars, and when you remove one of those pieces of armor, they act as if they're tazed, shaking for a few moments and allowing you to get in a number of shots before they return to action again and you're forced to shoot off another section of armor. Once the health goes down entirely, there might be four sections of armor left, but those don't matter when your insides are all fried.
There isn't much of a story to Sky Break. You'll find various notes left behind by the previous crews on the planets before the machines revolted telling about efforts to synthesize a plague cure back in those days, as well. I didn't find them all, but it also didn't seem vastly important, as most of them merely gave you a slice of what life was like on Arcania, rather than actually introducing new story elements. The story you're told at the beginning is all you need to know for the entirety of Sky Break, as actually playing it means telling your own.
Overall, Sky Break was an excellent distraction. It's very short, totaling around 8-10 hours if you're dedicated to revealing all corners of the map, and that's how long it feels. It never feels as if the developers threw in simple mechanics to simply increase the play time, it never feels too jam packed or too simple. Sky Break firmly inhabits that "Goldilocks zone" of not being too cold or too hot. That being said, frustrating bugs and an awful AI kill otherwise enjoyable parts of the experience. Taking your amazing robotic bear into battle loses it's spark when said bear is distracted by suddenly deciding it likes clipping into a nearby mountain for the fourth time. If you're looking for a simple, beautiful indie game with a few rough corners, look no further. Sky Break is good for a rainy day.
Sky Break was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers.
Sky Break will pale in comparison to any larger open world game, but for it's size, it packs a lot of power.(Review Policy)
- Beautiful Game World
- Innovative Survival Mechanic
- Solid Pacing
- Awful AI Pathfinding
- Story Mechanics are Barebones