Sublevel Zero Redux (Xbox One Review)
It’s been some time since I’ve ventured deep into the labyrinthine depths of Sublevel Zero’s corridors. I’ve forgotten how to tilt and skew my spaceship to fit the narrow confines of this long abandoned research facility, making me complacent in my own undoing several times over. I’m glad though, as it’s made me enter into SIGTrap’s Sublevel Zero Redux as a new player, fresh and unaware of what lies ahead.
Set in the far reaches of outer space, Sublevel Zero Redux takes players on a trail of discovery of new technology in a now deserted outpost filled to the brim with rogue A.I. Uncover what secrets you can and return alive with what you have discovered to ensure humanity’s survival–simple enough. Though most of the story context is provided at the start of the game via plain text prompts, the rest of Sublevel Zero’s story is scattered and divided through various data logs that the player can pick up on their descent. However, it takes a bit of luck and perseverance to unlock them; the procedural generation of Sublevel Zero’s environments means that these data logs are randomised, myself finding the first datapad numerous times in a single run.
Fighting off the variety of enemy drones that roam the halls of Sublevel Zero Redux can range from child-like difficulty levels to nigh on impossible. The player is expected to hone their maneuvering skills, perform precise movements and have incredibly quick reaction times as Sublevel Zero Redux turns from a corridor shooter to a multi-dimensional bullet hell game, especially when it comes to end-of-stage bosses. These bosses are nothing more than a “Core”: a powerful engine full of volatile energy that can fire all manner of hell at you, as well spawn enemies and unfortunately destroy the game’s framerate.
Sublevel Zero’s original debut had me reeling from what I like to call ’framerate disorientation’, all thanks to the free-form style of movement that can bring about motion sickness if you move too quickly. Mix this with severe frame drops and you’ve got a head-scrambling concoction that had me confused as to my actual position within the game and done me bloody murder in firefights.
Thankfully, these instances of frame drops have been filed down a little–they still exist but they are nowhere near as severe. That is, until you reach one of the later stages of Sublevel Zero Redux. One particular instance had me fight an end-stage Core only to have my game freeze over several times in a row. This was due to a mass of objects cluttering the screen at once; lasers, drones, debris, particle effects. I literally had to wait a several minutes for Sublevel Zero Redux to settle down before I could resume playing.
If you have ever played Sublevel Zero on PC then you’ll be all too familiar with this port’s layout and mechanics. Not much in the way of new content has been added, but rather just a bit of fine tuning under the hood. Some new features include difficulty levels, some new enemies and some extra option menus to view codex entries. Nothing remarkable, but enough to have people hooked a little while longer. Crafting is still as important as ever, combining items to create new tiered level of weapons and armour for your craft. All of this requires Nanites, which acts as both currency and experience points.
Nanites are little floating purple gems that players collect upon the destruction of enemies. These can be used, as mentioned above, to craft new gear to make you a more powerful force to be reckoned with. Secondly, if enough are gathered within a stage then you get to choose a perk boost at the end if completed successfully; a pseudo level up that makes you slightly stronger with beneficial perks, but will also see you falter in other stats as well. For example, a boost in damage for Bullet weapons will see you do less damage with all others types–a trade off that mixes up the players tactics for a chance of an easier victory.
Ultimately, Sublevel Zero Redux is a relatively solid and expanded port of its original 2015 release. Some new difficulties adds a much needed factor of replayability as well as a plethora of codex entries to unlock. Unfortunately, the game is still riddled with frame drops here and there, and I experienced a few cases of the game completely game locking. So if you don’t mind a few stuttery frames then Sublevel Zero Redux is a satisfactory choice for anyone who is looking for their next roguelike fix.