Cyberpunk is having a resurgence of sorts in pop culture, a development that is especially pronounced in video games. High profile titles have garnered attention, and smaller releases are helping raise awareness in general. But there is an indie game that lately deserves a higher profile. 7th Sector released this week on consoles, and it is a creative and atmospheric side-scrolling puzzle game that entertains on multiple levels.
Developer Sergey Noskov and publisher Sometimes You have found a winning formula with a unique experience that not only alternates between different avatars and varied gameplay mechanics, but presents a narrative that is at once appealing and confounding as it centers on a main character (or characters) that is either human or artificial or both and is desperately fleeing an existence and society in disarray. It is enigmatic and relatable.
Players, after all, begin as a figure on a TV screen that breaks out of the picture tube to become a spark traveling along circuitry. At other times players will control objects including an RC car, an electronic sphere, a mech or robot, a kind of drone and a person. Sometimes the transitions are seamless between avatars, other times they are implied or imagined. Is it the same essential spark that energizes each avatar? What is the connection, if any?
These are mysteries that gamers are encouraged to figure out for themselves. And in case you wonder whether I spoiled too much, I'm still coming to grips with what I experienced and in no way feel like I have all the answers. In this way, 7th Sector is a puzzle itself that needs decoding, from control panels, computer interfaces and mechanical obstacles that use math, pattern recognition or another test, to its dystopian world of organic/mechanical conflict.
The puzzles themselves offer a refreshing array of challenges. Math skills will be sorely tested as there are multiple obstacles that require the correct combination of data though sometimes in different formats. A variety of tests involve pattern recognition but in assorted displays. Physical obstacles demand speed and precise timing across varied settings. And melee or ranged attacks also factor in to different scenarios. It's a wealth of puzzle content.
Thankfully controls are relatively simple and reasonably configured on the Nintendo Switch. Movement is responsive and fluid, and interaction with objects is simple and intuitive. To facilitate actions, animation is smooth. Depending on the avatar, players will sprint, crouch, traverse gaps, operate controls or machines, avoid detection or assault, attack, solve problems, etc. And apply each ability in a range of situations that keep such tests fresh.
I don't want to give away too much about the puzzles as they represent the chief element of gameplay. But I will say that they can be challenging, though for most gamers that's likely a positive. I definitely enjoyed the broad variety of challenges and the consistent entertainment value, still there were times that I was frustrated either due to the nature of the puzzle, how the presentation could interfere, or the precision timing involved.
As a spark, traversing cables while evading disruptive charges is fun, but attempting obscure mathematical puzzles -- including one with unclear symbols -- was not. Using a mech to clear a path is a blast, except when fired upon from foes offscreen. Traversing an obstacle course is exhilarating, but not when there's precious little margin for error. And controlling the RC car is a nice option, except for unintuitive 3D movement and items that get stuck in irretrievable places.
Of course, fans of 2D side scrolling games can expect trial and error gameplay. And most gamers seem to enjoy a tougher challenge than yours truly, who just wants a fun escape at the end of a hectic work day. So while I might chafe at an obscure math problem or rage at my umpteenth attempt to avoid the same obstacles, I suspect most gamers will appreciate the challenge. As long as they keep the Switch docked; details are too small to be helpful when portable.
Did I mention there are four possible endings? The one I unlocked (and that I've seen online) reinforces the enigmatic nature of the narrative in general, though it does give rise to some suspicions I have about the story. That said, I'm curious if the other endings might contribute any more to one's understanding of the game. But to be honest, I prefer its mysterious nature and how it can be open to interpretation.
Combine the varied and challenging gameplay with a mysterious if spare story, a genuinely compelling setting and a classic art design that appears to take inspiration from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, and you have the ingredients for an entertaining journey. The score and sound FX also complement the game well. All in all, it's an excursion into a dystopian cyberpunk world that's worth taking for those with a sharp mind, steady hand and quick reflexes.
(This post was based on a review code of 7th Sector for Nintendo Switch. The game released February 5 on that platform as well as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, following an initial release on PC.)
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