Game Review #476: 7th Sector (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Sergey Noskov, Sometimes You Publisher: Sometimes You Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer, Puzzle Release Date: 2.5.2020 Price: $19.99
Buy 7th Sector from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
The proliferation of the indie game scene in recent years has given rise to a number of single-person developers chasing the dream. Russian developer Sergey Noskov is one of those dreamers, and his most recent release, 7th Sector for the Nintendo Switch, gives players a good look at some of the wonderful experimentation happening in the indie scene. 7th Sector is a puzzle-platformer that explores atmospheric narrative techniques in favor of traditional dialogue-based exposition. It’s a pretty fascinating game to play, but unfortunately it features several small weaknesses that add up to an experience that is often more frustrating than rewarding.
Ghost in Some Shells
First, the good. 7th Sector follows a simple spark from a humble TV-tube prison to the finale of a bloody revolution in the titular 7th Sector, and it does so without a single word of dialogue or expository text of any kind. Tracking the story of the revolution as it happens entirely in the background of the game’s action is a fascinating triumph of atmospheric storytelling. Less clear is the story of the spark itself. At first you just play as a spark making its way through the world via wires and electronics. It also inhabits several bodies – a BB-8 style rolling droid, a war droid complete with machine gun, and a flying drone. There’s one more that’s kind of spoilery, and could have been made a lot less vague with some textual exposition, but I think I get what happened. Still, the wordless storytelling mechanics employed by 7th Sector are a remarkable achievement, and make for a complete and satisfying narrative arc no matter which of the four endings you experience.
And Those Shells Sure Are Pretty
The narrative style isn’t the only impressive aspect of 7th Sector’s art direction. The 3D graphics are beautifully rendered to create a fully-realized cyberpunk atmosphere. The droid designs scream “Machinery of the Oppressive Regime” from the very first glance and they inhabit settings that positively radiate corporate dystopian vibes. I suppose one could accuse them of looking a little generic, but I prefer to just consider them to be well-executed archetypes. Maybe that’s splitting hairs, but let’s not over-complicate this more than I already have; the game looks good. The electronic soundtrack complements the whole affair perfectly – or at least it did whenever I noticed it. Honestly, it kind of faded into the background because of how absorbed I became in the gameplay – sadly, not always for positive reasons.
There are 7 Sectors, But You’re All Alone
An old TV hums to life – a form obscured by static appears within. You can move the figure from side to side, and a prompt appears telling you to hit “A” to interact with stuff. That is all the help you get - unless you give up and run off to Google, that is. And here we discover the most intriguing asset and biggest weakness in 7th Sector’s puzzles: the complete and total lack of guidance. For seasoned puzzle pros, exploring every nook and cranny of every single screen looking for one last inscrutable clue to crack the code will be immensely rewarding. For everyone else, the need to slowly inch through every screen trying to find that one tiny, barely visible blinking light to interact with will be a tedious, discouraging slog.
Personally, I’m swearing off puzzle games for a while after this one. I found playing it to be an immensely frustrating experience, containing several puzzles that suffer greatly from a lack of direction. We’ll pick just one example to keep things brief. A puzzle from the flying drone portion tasks players with finding five hidden glyphs that will reveal different symbols that are supposed to be input into a device in a certain order as a passcode. They need to be input in the order in which they appear along the level. If you discover them in the right order the first time, bully for you – but if you miss one, get ready for backtracking and I really hope you remember where you found all the glyphs. Also, there’s nothing that really indicates which order you’re supposed to find and therefore arrange them, so even if you find all five before getting to console, you may not have found them properly and you’ll have to randomly input the symbols you found anyway.
Live, Die, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat Twenty More Times, Destroy Controller
In addition to some tedious and disheartening puzzle designs, there are some action segments that are intensely aggravating. I really don’t want to spend all day ripping this game apart, so I’ll just pick one again. My least favorite example came during the war droid segment that required me to shoot my way through a few enemy war droids and machine gun turrets. The machine gun recoiled when firing, which is fair enough. It wasn’t that bad when shooting at other war droids; they’re large and hard to miss. But the turrets? Those bastards were small and hard to keep in the line of fire. I died at least thirty times because I couldn’t keep the damn targeting laser on the turret, whereas its aim is dead-on every damn bullet it fires. It was insanely frustrating, and I almost dropped the game right there and never came back.
Perhaps I Am Overreacting
I’ve ripped on some sections of the game I became frustrated with, but I don’t want to make it sound like that’s the whole game. While there are some madly aggravating sections, the majority of the game is designed and balanced well enough. The puzzles don’t hold your hand, but by and large the tools to solve them are provided to you, even if they are not at first presented as such. As a whole, the action sequences tend to be more off-putting than the puzzles, but even then it was a small minority that truly rose to intolerable levels of exasperation. But those sections made me want to pull my hair out and smash my Switch on the ground, so be prepared for that.
The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows
The artistic direction of 7th Sector is above reproach. The graphics are sharp and well-designed, the music works well in tandem with the rest of the game, and the game’s experimentation with atmospheric narrative techniques is an unqualified success. The game design, on the other hand, sometimes suffers immensely from some overly aggravating action segments and a terminal lack of direction for the puzzles. While these issues aren’t representative of the majority of the game’s content, when they arise they can be so intolerable that they threaten to overwhelm the experience entirely. If you’re a puzzle-loving glutton for punishment, I can’t recommend this game highly enough. If you’re not, well… it still has worthwhile elements, and anyone who loves to see how the art of gaming can be pushed forward should take a look.
Buy 7th Sector from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes