Sublevel Zero is a first-person roguelike six-degrees-of-freedom shooter—a mouthful, to be sure. The player is the unnamed pilot of a small scout ship which has happened upon an ancient complex hidden away between existential rifts. Taking place in an unimaginably far future, the universe’s relentless expansion has begun to stretch its own fabric, making reality incredibly unstable—literally tearing apart at its own seams. Humanity has lived among the stars for untold millennia, with people having become scattered and etching out livings among the stars in small tribes, with past knowledge and technology lost to time and distance. You are a scout for your tribe, scouring the universe for a means to reverse the damage caused by the “Event™,” which has seemingly accelerated the degradation of known existence.
In your search, you discover the aforementioned space station just as it collides with a dimensional rift. Trapped in this mysterious place, which just so happens to hold the key to repairing space-time, you decide delve deeper into the station in order to find the magical mcguffin that will set the universe right once more.
Your little fighter ship has limited armaments, limited inventory space, and limited health. Six dangerous and mysterious sublevels of a long-forgotten space station exist before you. A deadly automated defense systems will carry out its programming.
Just another day in space.
You can strafe, roll, and fly in every direction, as can your enemies. The maps are randomized every time you start a new game, so Sublevel Zero features massive replayability, typical of roguelikes. You should also take note that the game operates on a permadeath basis—one life, one chance—so you may be experiencing a lot of the different maps this title has to offer. Throughout each map you will encounter small green chests which hold nanites (a valuable crafting resource) ammunition, the ever-needed repair kits and quantifiable oodles of loot. Loot includes weapons, missiles, engines and hulls.
These hulls you find are different from the ship type you select at the beginning of a new game, as they only modify your ships in incremental amounts. There is quite a bit of variety in weapons and missiles, while engines and hulls are more limited in variance and harder to come by.
Weapons range from heavy-hitting beams to speedy miniguns and extend to just about every sci-fi and contemporary weapon in between, lighting up your screen in bursts of bright, flashy colors. There is also a crafting system, which uses both loot and nanites to give you some new toys to play with. Inventory space is very limited, especially since precious and rare repair kits take up as many slots as a gun does. You’re about as likely to find a powerful weapon as you are to craft one, so the system is fairly balanced. Hoarding nanites does pay off, however, as it is one method to acquire nanocrates (outside of accomplishing certain feats) upon level completion. Provided you survive. Nanocrates grant you a substantial, permanent ship upgrade, which will help you delve deeper into the derelict space station’s reaches. Throughout the levels you also encounter text logs, which give you more insight into the game’s story and world.
Enemies come in several varieties, differentiated by color, but lack different designs. From the basic weak grunt, all the way to ramming enemies, stationary turrets, missile platforms (which are particularly terrible to encounter), and snipers, you once again encounter a varied selection of foes adorned by signature colors.
Based on the descriptions and the screenshots, you might have noticed how particularly colorful Sublevel Zero is. The flashy neons mixed with the fast-paced six-directional combat are a visual treat, but can be a tough ride on the eyes for some (my wife, watching from across the room, told me she wouldn’t play for fear of getting sick). However, if you can stomach it, Sublevel Zero is absolutely amazing on a visual level. The graphics are low-poly and the textures are a tad low in resolution (noticeable if you get a close up), but it all comes together as a nearly-tangible, visual treat. You’ll be flying through narrow shafts for the majority of the first level (read: the majority of your game time) and never feel claustrophobic, because the visual aesthetic is so intriguing.
Then we get to the gameplay which ties it all together, which is simple enough. You progress through each level, destroying everything that would try to destroy you along the way. You’ll also be dying a whole lot, so get ready to become very familiar with the prop-palette of Sublevel Zero‘s sublevel zero—the first level.
For all the flash and fun Sublevel Zero has, it does feel threadbare after some time. Sure, there is plenty of potential replayability with its randomly-generated maps, but the layouts are almost too similar. After a while, it stops mattering whether or not the next corridor goes left or right—you just travel forward regardless. The difficulty gives it longevity, as you’ll need to fight through sublevels 0 through 3 a lot just to see what 4 and 5 hold. Luckily, each sublevel is different enough from the previous one to be worth exploring at least once. However, the loot begins to recycle itself after a traversing levels enough times, with the same happening to the enemies.
You’ll have to play a good amount of Sublevel Zero to see it all, but there isn’t enough to Sublevel Zero to wholly justify it. Don’t get the wrong impression—the game is heaps of fun, but just a bit thin on content. For the price it goes for, plus the potential reunion with lunch it might trigger in some, we suggest only getting this at full price if what you’ve read above has hooked you completely. If you’re mildly interested, it’s best to wait for a sale.
When all is said and done, Sublevel Zero is an incredibly fun game with several great ideas, a solid amount of replayability, and a handful of forgivable flaws. Certainly worth thee time and money as it is right now.
Sublevel Zero was developed and published by Sigtrap Games. It is currently available for PC, Mac and Linux.
A digital copy of this game was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes.