Sublevel Zero, released October 8, was created by indie developer Sigtrap Games and published by Mastertronic. It’s a fast-paced, first-person shooter (FPS) with a twist: you can move in every direction. Sublevel Zero reinvents the six-degrees-of-freedom genre pioneered by the series Descent, and does so with a roguelike flare and procedurally generated levels. Sublevel Zero is a well-polished breath of fresh air that makes for a very enjoyable experience, and scratches an itch that not many games can.
Several characteristics of Sublevel Zero hit me immediately on my first play-through: the visuals, the controls, the sound and music, and the feel of the game’s combat. The visuals in the game are very pleasing on the eyes, while the soundtrack (composed by Will Benford) becomes very enjoyable to listen to as it dynamically reacts to not only the environments you occupy, but also whether you are in combat or not. As well, there’s a high level of degree in this game’s polish that really shines. Even the lower-level weapons that you find have a satisfactory punch to them.
The roguelike nature of this game is also worth pointing out. “Roguelike” is a term coined for games that follow in the same vein as an old game called Rogue — you have one life, and if you lose it, you have to start over. This may seem frustrating, but these games have a feature to combat the fact that you will be replaying a lot of the game over: Every level is randomly generated. It is highly unlikely you will ever progress through the same stage twice.
Sublevel Zero plays the roguelike angle very well, adding tension with every encounter, and giving you the opportunity to try different ways to play the game every time. Weapons have different traits, and you have the ability to craft new weapons by combining old ones. On top of that, you also unlock randomized perks for your ship each time you level up. Every experience feels fresh and new, making for a very enjoyable, replayable, and delightfully challenging gaming atmosphere.
However, one gripe I have about the randomized nature of Sublevel Zero’s levels is that they become quite linear and often repetitive. You begin to recognize rooms after a few plays through — there are not enough environments to encounter. Sublevel Zero lacks a sense of exploration with its linearity, and what sense remains becomes stale fairly quickly. But the game makes up for it plenty with its real strengths.
Sublevel Zero is a refreshing throwback to a subgenre in the FPS blanket that has not been explored as much as it could have been. With tense, challenging, and enjoyable gameplay, Sublevel Zero is an indie game that definitely warrants attention.