Sword of the Stars: The Pit Review

10 Mar 2013

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Kerberos Productions
Release Date:2013-02-22
Genre:
  • Role-Playing,Action
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Top-Down
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Presentation

Roguelikes are just as well known for their tough gameplay as they are for their minimalist presentation, but The Pit earns some points for making things more accessible. It has a clean and functional art style with an old 16-bit look to it, and while the big-headed cartoonish characters are not going to be to anyone's tastes, the monster designs are a bit more inspired, and include several types of robots, blobs of acid, aliens, and one particular enemy that conceals itself as a helpful object, only to attack you when you get close - a sci-fi take on the classic mimic enemy. The visuals get the job done quite well and I have few complaints about them, but unfortunately performance can be a bit poor at times, usually when you're in an area with lots of enemies - a game engine issue, not my PC's hardware. Refreshingly, The Pit was rock-solid stable for me, and I experienced no crashes or bugs while playing, not bad for the v1.0.0.0 release.

The soundtrack and sound effects in The Pit aren't bad either. The menu interface is full of stock-standard computer-y bips and boops, and each weapon and monster type has unique sound effects which help them stand apart. There is even a little bit of voice acting here and there for your player character, though it's not what I'd call professional work. The music, meanwhile, is a mix of electronic ambiance and more upbeat techno-inspired songs that remind me of games you might find on the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis; they're both atmospheric and catchy, and I certainly didn't find myself rushing to mute the game in favor of my own music.

The Pit does have a few small weaknesses here and there. The control setup is one of them. The basic controls are fairly intuitive - by default it uses the WASD keys for movement, R for reloading, F for attacking, Z for zooming the camera in and out, X for resting, spacebar for interacting, etc. Where it stumbles is in the aiming system. Instead of using the mouse to select targets, you have to use the arrow keys to move your reticle instead. This can take a little getting used to. What's more, if you are using a multi-target weapon, you have to hold the Ctrl key to select each individual target, and if you let go before finishing selecting all three targets then you'll need to aim again. As many menus in the game work best with the mouse anyway, it's puzzling why arrow keys are used instead.  Mouse control has been hinted at for an expansion by the developers, but I'm not in favor of withholding basic usability features like that.

There are also a few gaps in the finish and polish here and there - for example, there are no tooltip descriptions of skills and attributes, and there are some blind spots in the game's tutorial as well, so you'll need to (gasp!) read the manual to fully come to grips with the mechanics.  Annoyingly, when you are carrying a hacking tool, lockpick, etc., the game will default to using it every time you go to interact with an object. I would have much preferred it default to not using those items, as they tend to be limited and it can be irritating to have to tell the game to not use up a lockpick if you don't need or want to use it, every single time you interact with a locked door (Editor's Note: this issue has been fixed in the latest patch).

Conclusion

Overall, Sword of the Stars: The Pit is a quality roguelike which provides a pretty full-featured character system, a good roster of enemies to fight, lots of equipment and items to use, a fairly extensive (if contrived) crafting system, and, perhaps most importantly for it, attractive presentation and accessible gameplay. While I do think there is room for improvement, and it's not as feature-rich as other roguelikes, it's hard to complain too much at what you get out of the game, and it's bound to be improved in the future with patches and expansion packs. At an asking price of $10, I can recommend Sword of the Stars: The Pit to most roguelike fans, as well as RPG fans who are interested a painless gateway into the genre; while it's not the best, most feature-rich roguelike on the market, its futuristic theme and unique elements elevate it to make it well worth considering.
 
 

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