Sublevel Zero Redux is a 360 degree cock pit shooter that plays with roguelike tendencies. The reason why I say that is because every map in the game is procedurally generated as are the enemies that appear. The gameplay is very simple and straightforward, it’s the mechanics of the game that give it a twist. While piloting your ship, you’re able to turn and face any way in a full radius around yourself. The point of the game is to clear four levels that will complete a run and unlock more components for your ship to craft a better engine, hud, and weapons. Also if you complete a run and complete certain tasks along the way, you will unlock better ships to start with on your next run.
The shooting, which serves as the crux of the game, feels really good, but the lack of auto aim kind of hurts it as well; at times, the ship can lose control while you’re shooting in every which direction. To work around the shooting and make things more interesting, multiple weapons are interjected to your ships and you can find parts to craft an even bigger arsenal with. It helps break things up.
While the game isn’t punishing by any means, it definitely doesn’t make it easy to survive the four levels you go through. That base system, crafting better and better weapons, makes fighting the same enemies over again more a chore than a challenge. Even with the arsenal of weapons and upgrades they throw at you, it’s still better to take things slow. You never know when the next door you go through will be filled with a swarm of enemies. The real challenge comes when enemies are on all sides of you, which were the majority of the times I found myself hitting a wall.
The design of the game is interesting because every map is being procedurally generated for every level; you never know what to expect. That being said, once you get in a flow of playing, most of the level design is similar enough and looks pretty samey, just with a different skin. The enemies also look similar but with a different color pallet and the same six ship designs create a recurring theme of repetition. This can work with roguelikes that feel full, or fuller, with a higher variety of worlds. That isn’t the case with Sublevel Zero.
The game doesn’t do a lot on the story front. It sets up its own cool aesthetic, but that’s pretty much where it ends. It would have helped broaden Sublevel’s vibe and style if there were more kernels of flavor throughout its vistas.
That being said, the visual colors are very vivid and beautiful in a futuristic neon way, giving it almost an 80s cyberpunk aesthetic. Or even on the Tron levels of traditional science fiction. The music is very well done and the sound design is great with the sounds of the weapons and your ship feeling that same tightness that any proud cockpit shooter should evoke. The up close vibe of being pressed to glass with enemies on all sides.
The game’s first two hours are the two hours you’ll see over and over again. When roguelikes get it right, this works, but there is too much of a repeating nature with not enough change to go along with it to make those two hours worth seeing over, and over again. It loses the fun it strikes up so quickly with its style and becomes more monotonous in spite of how cool its aesthetic instead of in step with it.
Sublevel Zero Redux is a vivid and bright trip through the visual coaster of a cockpit shooter. It tries to throw roguelike tendencies into the mix, but with little success. Instead, it’s first two hours are far too indicative of the nature of the whole game, leaving too much to be desired.