“This city is an empty glass. Words do nothing. No one sleeps.”
Y’know what puzzle games need? Visible spectacle! Forget fancy gimmicks and sharp writing, shove it all in an environment that would be more suited to a 90s anime. Yeah, that sounds like a surefire winner, and here we have 7th Sector trying to avoid Roy Batty in a cramped space.
This is the sophomore title from one Носков Сергей, better known as one Sergey Noskov. In 2016, Sergey released their debut title, 35mm, which saw moderate acclaim despite a lot of glaring issues, like the survival mechanics being half-baked and goddamn awful. The publisher for today’s title, however, is the Eastern European-based Sometimes You, which is both a blessing or a burden. Do we have a Mooseman on the horizon, or is it Alteric? Only time will tell.
There’s no plot, believe me. It, like its peer TurnOn, is under the vague pretenses that your presence in the world will illuminate the lives of those that even dare to come near you. For the most part, you play as a spark of electricity that goes across this sullen cyber-noir world, exploring the concrete jungle and trying to figure out what your place in all of this is as you progress.
As stated above, the main contemporary is the blisteringly-okay side-scrolling platformer TurnOn for the most part, with both focusing on a mechanic of revolving puzzles around the use of electricity. Transformer boxes, HDDs that require power, so on and so forth, and it’s presented in an incredibly simple manner. The way 7th Sector attempts to grab the player is through the use of evolution, in an execution that’s commendable if a bit naff.
Carry on playing, and you’ll see yourself become bigger, faster, more of a King than a Pawn in this game of survival. Intelligence and brute strength play an equal part, and in gameplay, they both struggle to entertain, leaving you with flaccid attempts at a unique presentation. Part of this comes down to too many mechanics attempting to take the spotlight at the same time, and with a 4-hour runtime, this constant juggling act keeps fumbling.
At first, it’s a simplistic endeavor, relying on environmental storytelling and straight-forward logic and math puzzles. Solving for X, finding the correct equation for the right voltages, stuff like that — and it’s fine. It’s not going to break the bank of immersive gameplay, but that’s not what Noskov is aiming for. What Noskov is aiming for is the next step in what titles like Braid, LIMBO and Inside pulled off wondrously in the “arty” platformer genre.
The result? Failure. Noskov’s telegraphing of important events doesn’t really pan out the way it should, with a lot of important moments and clarity behind hidden underneath unclear directions and objectives. A lot of the time, it seems like the game can’t really handle its ambitious scope, instead, praying that the blur doesn’t completely obscure the chain of events.
You can tell exactly what Noskov is trying to say with these moments; that evolution is a double-edged sword, that condition expands and learns, that machines are closer to humanity than originally thought, and if you’re one to destroy, then you only cause others to lead by example. It’s compelling, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it smart, especially considering how much of this is forced into the gameplay proceedings.
A lot of the sections in 7th Sector were like pulling teeth with tweezers — you’re not getting anywhere and it’s just stabbing into the gums. I don’t have a problem with keeping mental check-lists in terms of maths equations, like with the transformer boxes refusing to show their additions or subtractions from the overall voltage. I have a problem, however, with the inconsistency of it, and the inconsistency continues with the perspectives and constantly shifting playing fields.
The exact moment that the scenarios of 7th Sector begin to take the piss is when you are treated to a driving section… in a 3D space… with wonky physics… and Halo-style controls. Haha. Nope. I refuse to entertain the idea that this could be considered good at any angle. It doesn’t help that this instance of a physics puzzle involves using a vehicle lighter than the objects you’re pushing, and doesn’t have collision detection in the first place.
Before we delve any further, however, I will say that Noskov has an eye for aesthetics. They can craft a world that seems like their own, effortlessly with what seems like limited materials, even if you can see Rutger Hauer in the back for half of the bloody game. 7th Sector’s art design is superb, and for a budget game, that’s not to be taken lightly. It’s a marvel to watch, it’s like an Eastern-European Planet Alpha, and that’s great. It’s just a shame that for a lot of it, Noskov doesn’t know what to do with it, or disregard it completely.
There’s a bit at the beginning of 7th Sector that’s sheer artistic perfection. You arrive on this rooftop and this unobtrusive purple lighting sits solemnly on top of these wet rooftops. The Sidewalks & Skeletons-esque score seeps in, and the world continues moving in a slow and uncaring manner, built for a higher power, not yours. It’s fantastic stuff, and it’s almost immediately swept away afterwards.
That being said, Noskov may be overreaching with what is capable in-game, like the rain not actually existing. You’ll see windows be drenched with a flow of rainwater, but no actual rain will be visible, just a mild mist at the bottom of the screen. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, it’s just one of those things that maybe shouldn’t have been attempted.
It’s a shame that nothing else reaches the apex of beauty shown previously. The tone keeps switching between cutesy robots acting clumsy and dark forces overtaking the world, along with the residents in this land just generally being depressed and miserable. I don’t understand, maybe its another correlation between the easy nature of being a youngster, only to be kicked in the arse as an adult later on in life. Telling stuff, albeit not entrancing due to the fact that it’s the most transparent criticism one can make about any aspect of society.
After this eye-opening visual treat, 7th Sector is determined to close them again, as you’re subject to more and more confusing and fleeting aspects of puzzles that are added just so 7th Sector can claim variety, rather than allowing it to sink into the pacing. There’s a left-field programming puzzle which would’ve been alright if it wasn’t for the lack of options, and after that, you’re treated to combat, which… NOPE.
Okay, picture this, alright? You’re now suddenly a bipedal robot, with a giant gatling gun mounted on your back. This, by all accounts, should be a moment where you feel invincible, no? Granted, you haven’t earned said invincibility at all, since the player growth is tied directly to moments in the game where you simply flick a switch, but progress! Now all you have to do is face the same bipedal robots while dealing with disgusting recoil, and also, turrets that don’t have the same overheating mechanic you do. Just… ugh.
Let it be declared that 7th Sector tries. It tries too much at once as it attempts to overload the synapses with a flourish of different stories, tones, and mechanics, none of which are given a chance to mature or grow. All of these little tidbits of a greater game lay lifeless in the overall proceedings, and they hurt the game more for not being a part of the world.
In the end, 7th Sector is another classic example of too many eggs in the basket. What rare and life-giving ideas that are present in this title are left to impress rather than engross and its quite-honestly brilliant art direction is also left in the back-burner, which is tragic considering its scope. Alas, all of those moments will be lost in time…
Like… tears, in the unrendered rain.
This review of 7th Sector was based upon the Xbox One version of the game. A review code was provided for this purpose.
A title that barely passes the finishing line in terms of enjoyment and narrative pleasure, with a weighty bag of under-cooked mechanics on its back.
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