A ferocious plague has devastated the Arbuda IV colony, and modern medicine has utterly failed to provide a solution. Only one option remains: a brave individual must descend into The Pit, a massive hole in the ground built by a long extinct race of aliens. No one has ever returned from The Pit, but if someone could reach the bottom the plague might be cured. Do you dare brave The Pit?
As the gaming industry approaches the so-called next generation, manufacturers and developers alike are all about experiences. It’s been the buzzword of choice the past few months: just watch this year’s E3 press events for proof of that. With this focus on experiences, games have been getting easier. Much easier. In fact, most games don’t actually require skill to complete. The exception to that rule is a small genre of games referred to as “Roguelike”, Rogue being a dungeon crawling game from 1980. Roguelike games share a common theme; Players progress through a series of “floors” of increasingly convoluted nature, relying solely on their skills and the environment to survive.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit – Mind Games is one such title, and has a difficulty somewhere between eye-watering and thermonuclear. Indeed, surviving is often the best you can hope for in Mind Games. The Normal difficulty is totally unforgiving, and even Easy is challenging. Routine encounters routinely prove deadly if you aren’t careful, and often you’ll be wiped out without even realizing what caused your demise. The game practically forces you to play on Normal or above – Easy does not allow use of the Ranger and Psion classes.
Mind Games is an expansion to the original game (The Pit) featuring new monsters, floors, items, and playable characters. More importantly, the expansion brings Psionic (magic) powers to the table, giving expanded options for character progression and dealing with The Pit’s challenges. The game is essentially turn based, giving each character a set number of moves on each turn and with each action taking a specific number of turns to complete. I learned that fact the hard way when I got ambushed while picking a lock and had no way to defend myself. Other RPG elements are present too, with leveling, skill trees, crafting, and dice rolls along for the ride.
As the saying goes, you have to be lucky to be good, and that holds in Mind Games. Will you find the food you desperately need? Maybe. You might get bone slivers instead though, and a string of unlucky drops can spell failure on later floors. The floors are randomly generated on each play through, which gives a realistic sense of discovery and a definite feeling of tension/dread. While I enjoyed the random nature, sometimes things seemed to go too far. For example, many doorways have traps embedded in them, color coded to a specific effect. That too is randomly generated – so the greenish doorway that minorly healed you last time could fatally poison you this time. More often than not, traps must be endured to get where you need to go, or reach crucial resources.
Spending skill points wisely is absolutely crucial. While burning a few points on non-focus skills isn’t a bad idea in most RPGs, it’s a really bad idea in Mind Games. You need to plan well in advance to ensure the Psi Shield skill is available when you need it, or you can deal enough damage to handle more difficult enemies. Doing some level grinding on the earlier floors is advisable – the difficulty ramps up in a hurry and can catch you off guard.
One of the sole concessions to accessibility is the crafting system. Recipes discovered in the game mercifully carry over to future runs, making individual runs feel like small pieces of a larger meta-game. I found myself making a few quick and careless runs with the engineer (who can effectively hack recipe-holding computers) to try a build up a good selection of recipes before trying to go deeper.
On a technical level, The Pit – Mind Games sports 16 bit style sprites that are bright and punchy. The art is typical sci-fi fare, but it runs like butter with a slick field of view effect that puts the area outside your vision in shadow. The chiptune soundtrack can get a little repetitive, but sound cues are used to great effect – in many cases a growl or groan is the only indication of what awaits in the next room.
The replay value here is undeniable. Each run is a totally new ball game, and you never know what might hide around the next corner. Getting taken out because of a poor decision or bad luck invariably made me stomp away from the computer only to sit back down a few minutes later. The game is fun, and I enjoy the intellectual aspect of the game. For dungeon crawl fans, The Pit –Mind Games could eat up whole bunch of spare time. For the uninitiated, don’t expect success right away – this is definitely not an instant gratification type of affair. It demands patience, and success (presumably) follows. Some will love this game and others will hate it, with the brutal difficulty being responsible for both sides. Personally I’m leaning more towards to positive.