Smoke and Sacrifice tells an uneasy story about sacrifice, twisted alternate dimensions, religious cults, and the search for a darker truth. The game throws you into a hostile world on the search for you son, and it is your job to survive in the face of great adversity.
The protagonist is Sachi, a mother who unwillingly gives away her only son before the world is thrown into chaos. Venturing into a darker realm, Sachi is made to face hard and mysterious truths about the world she lives in, the people around her, and the happenings that are taking place. Sachi has to survive deathly smoke, hostile monstrosities, and find a way to bring back her son.
The game is a survival RPG. You explore the twisted landscape around you, craft tools and equipment to help you survive, and pursue answers to the mysteries of the world. The game is likely to draw comparisons to Don’t Starve, although it certainly does manage to pave its own path and set itself apart in some very distinct ways.
The game doesn’t have a day / night cycle, it has a smoke and no-smoke cycle. When the time comes a thick cloud of smoke will descend onto the world and begin to choke and poison your character. Taking damage over time is only part of the threat, because the world also just becomes more hostile on its own with your vision reduced to boot. Crafting a lantern to keep the smoke away will be one of your first duties within the game, and something you will quickly learn to constantly keep an eye on. It’s an always looming threat that will keep you feeling uneasy as you play. Smoke and Sacrifice isn’t the kind of game that ever wants you to feel comfortable or powerful.
The game is also much more narrative focused than other survival titles. There’s an ongoing narrative and a constant path you will be expected to follow. Due to this the game also doesn’t feature permadeath unlike many other games within the genre. The narrative is always there but it also doesn’t bog you down into linearity. You’re free to explore and play with the survival mechanics as much as you’d like before you feel confident enough to continue. Occasionally I found myself stuck but in those circumstances it’s usually just about tracking down the next NPC to help you along your path. With progression comes a saving system that I will say is unfortunately imperfect. Smoke and Sacrifice doesn’t auto-save and if it does it does it very infrequently. Be aware of this before jumping in.
Survival in the game is also less about food, water, warmth, sanity, or any other commonly reoccurring survival tropes. It’s more just about… well, survival. There are threats everywhere and continuing on your search for answers will continue to put you in more and more danger. Crafting and surviving is a necessity to keep you going, facing bigger threats, and surviving every bout of smoke. As you play you will pick up quests, some necessary for progression and some not, but every action you take will help you along your journey. Unlocking new crafting recipes as you play will be of great help so ensure you’re always exploring, questing, and scavenging.
Enemies in the game are also somewhat unique, not just in style but in their artificial intelligence. The developers describe Smoke and Sacrifice as having a “functioning ecosystem”. What this means is that the monsters can interact with one another and their behaviour can be influenced by the player. For instance monsters can breed and create horrific offspring, or they can be tamed to help the player.
The whole game looks like a creepy children’s picture book come to life. The world, the monster, even the architecture of the buildings give off an uneasy feel. The hand-drawn 2D art is beautiful and evocative from a stationary snapshot. Unfortunately once you move around the 3D space, those 2D assets begin to shift unnaturally due to perspective. It’s an effect I’ve seen in other games and it’s not something that I’ve ever really appreciated. It leaves the game in an odd point of limbo where I’ll occasionally be playing and adoring the visuals and occasionally those same visuals will just leave me feeling uncomfortable, but not in the good atmospheric way.
Regardless, the game nails that atmospheric feeling. You can’t play Smoke and Sacrifice without feeling impending doom, helplessness, and a bit of disgust. For those looking to try out a new survival experience, Smoke and Sacrifice is certainly a good option. With hours and hours of gameplay available, it’s a game that is hard not to recommend. Smoke and Sacrifice is recently available on both PC and Nintendo Switch.