It’s dark. You’re backed up into a corner with only a pistol, 3 bullets left in the clip. You’ve been poisoned, contracted an alien disease and you’re injured. You can hear the growling of some monstrous alien not far from you. You check your boot and discover your trusted combat knife. You smirk, wipe your face, and exclaim that you don’t have time to bleed.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit is Kerberos‘ entry to the roguelike genre that has seemed to been growing on the PC ever since Dwarf Fortress made such an impact. As you can guess, The Pit takes place in the Sword of the Stars universe and features many of the staples of the turn based randomly generated dungeon games out there, except the term dungeon should be applied to futuristic and decrepit alien labs in the case of The Pit.
The start off, the game gives you a rather nice tutorial on what you should know and how the game controls. This is a very nice change of pace compared to many games that have been released in the past few years that rely on the user to watch YouTube videos in order to understand how to play their game. The Pit doesn’t have many graphical options, but it isn’t needed either as it’s done in an art style that instantly reminded me of Masters of Orion 2 which is a very good thing. The art is crisp, colorful and important things such as enemies and dropped loot are easily identifiable against the background.
There are three classes to choose from: soldier, engineer, and scout. Each one has their benefit; soldier has more health and more weapon skills, engineer can repair and use computers with less risk of failure, and scout has survivability and exploration skills, such as lockpicking and trap finding. The name of the game is surviving to get to the 30th level and each class gives you a certain set of skills to deal with it. Do you just brute force your way through and shoot everything that moves, ignoring locked computers and equipment that might keep you from going hungry? Do you rely on repairing things to keep your weapons at top condition and move slowly on your way? Do you use the rooms to your advantage and snipe off distant enemies? The choices are yours to make but quite often there are times when you’re pushed into a corner and you have no choice but to go out in a blaze of glory; it’s not a fault of the The Pit, that’s the name of the game when you play a roguelike. You will die, and often. It’s learning from your mistakes and praying for a miracle each level.
The controls are fluid, with everything being done solely on the keyboard, the mouse only used for UI elements, which of course can be accessed by using the arrow keys and enter. The sounds are as archaic as the graphics, which is great nostalgia. It keeps things simple and focuses on the gameplay, a certain charm that is often lost on me, but The Pit managed to strike all the right chords. However, the music is a bit uninspired and can often drone.
In just a couple of days, I played each of the three classes multiple times on Normal and Hard difficulties. The farthest level I was able to reach was level 15 on Normal mode. Each death was usually the result of a poison or disease. Rarely was I outnumbered by the enemies, so it seemed the game was more about managing your resources and loot pick-ups, rather than the pure damage by the aliens and robots wandering the halls.
Not all that glitters is gold, however. The graphics, while retro, tugging on the strings of nostalgia, do get boring after the first few levels. There seems to be a lack of variety, once you’ve seen a few levels you’ve seen them all. It’s still crisp and easy to see, but there could definitely be some variety place in.
The biggest thing I did not enjoy about the game was the crafting system. They try to introduce it in the tutorial by giving you a piece of meat and bread, telling you to make a sandwich. This gives you the hope that the crafting could be logical, much like Guild Wars 2. However, most of the items picked up in The Pit are not of this Earth. They are glands, entrails, teeth, lungs and cybernetic parts. Discovering recipes is a pain because they follow no logical pattern, nor is there an in-game guide on to discovering recipes. Also, there isn’t any way to track what you’ve tried and what fails. There are four crafting slots available for ingredients; however, most recipes only require 2 or 3 items. If you try a recipe and nothing is created from it, you lose those items. This gets frustrating fast as you have to keep track of what doesn’t work yourself. The game remembers all recipes successfully discovered through all your play through, so I’m not sure why they chose to punish you for failing to discover. In any case, it got to the point where I stopped bothering with it. It was anti-fun. I’m sure many of my deaths could have been avoided had I learned how to create anti-venom or such.
All in all, the game is great fun if you’re into roguelike games. The layouts are always random. The classes can be leveled up in various ways. No two play-throughs are alike and you’ll find yourself dying many different ways as you progress. The Pit delivers a solid experience and should be a must buy for fans of the genre. And remember, in space, no one can hear you scream as you die for the forty-second time.[signoff1]