In times of late, we’ve had a resurgence of the roguelikes. Games like The Binding of Isaac and FTL have combined the classic elements of permadeath and exploration with new action-based gameplay. However, to some, the genre is synonymous with its original turn-based nature. In respect to that, The Pit is a traditional roguelike—in this case separating itself with a pretty original Sci-Fi setting. The game actually takes place in the universe of Sword of the Stars, a series of 4X games. While they were published by Paradox Interactive, it seems that since the relative failure of the second game, Kerberos Productions lost that support. This spin-off is independently made, and a crowd-funding success story. The combination of an IndieGoGo campaign and other funding through the game’s website allowed it to be made.

So, is it any good? Well, when it comes to what most would agree is the most important part of any roguelike, the gameplay, the game is quite solid. The combat, being turn-based, ends up being tactical as well as diverse. Depending on your starting class, of which there are three, you get some weapons to begin with—some sort of melee weapon, at least one gun, and some sort of grenade or grenades. From there, you can collect a variety of new weapons to slaughter hordes upon hordes of aliens with. You can also collect biological modifications for your weapons. An intriguing idea but one with surprisingly lackluster implementation. The modification is not visible beforehand, is completely random, and oftentimes is not very exciting—sometimes simply adding a little extra weapon durability. In addition, the random effects can be negative, meaning the mods are not necessarily worth using. However, the weapons themselves are varied and fun to switch between. They can break, and run out of ammo, so to survive you will need to use everything at your disposal.

The Pit really is a game of survival. From the start you have to worry about your supplies, your health, and finding enough food to fill your hunger bar. In the first level it becomes clear how you need to be concerned with any action, such as searching a crate or reloading a gun, as they take a certain number of turns, where you are left vulnerable. It just gets more and more difficult and intense from there. Anything normal mode or above is a real challenge that forces you to think tactically about combat, movement, and resource management. Of course, learning how to do so properly may take you more than a couple playthroughs.

What makes those playthroughs interesting is the randomness: of rooms, of enemies, but particularly of items. The game has a ton of them. Weapons, armor, different types of food, different types of medical tools, portable purifiers.. Crafting supplies are a big inventory filler too. The crafting system in the game involves either finding rare recipes or guessing your way into finding them. If you fail to find a correct recipe though, all objects used get lost. It’s a very risky endeavor. Either way you decide to do it, these crafting schematics are of a type of progress that goes beyond the individual dungeon crawl and become a permanent part of the game. It’s real progress too, as an enormous part of how well you do and how you play is based on the items you use. Even the difference between starting characters is largely based around that fact. On one side of the spectrum we have the marine, with an array of weapons to pewpew with. On the other side we  have the engineer, with less firepower, but with a bunch of interesting, portable machines and tools that accomplish all sorts of tasks.

ThePit 2013-03-09 16-43-00-27The first thing you see upon entering the game is a little introductory message, explaining why this deep pit needs exploring. You are searching for some alien technology that is, in practice, the last hope for humanity. Beyond that, story isn’t featured too much, but as a game focused on repetition, narrative isn’t something that should be expected too much anyway. Even the most interesting tale gets boring as all hell after you’ve been forced to listen to it 20 times in a row.

Another thing roguelikes are not exactly known for is their visuals. This game isn’t really a huge exception, but it’s better than the norm. The visual style, especially with the environments, is a little bland and while there is some variety between levels, it’s really not too special. It’s not bad by any means, and the items in particular have pretty good art, but the often uninteresting visuals, combined with the lack of any real soundtrack, lead to some missed potential, leaving a game that, while really fun, may not be quite as enticing as it could have been. On the other hand, it isn’t ASCII. By roguelike standards, that means it’s visually top tier.

Some parts of the game go for a level of realism. The survival aspect is a big part of that, and what really stands out is the field of view your character has. Everything behind you is invisible and cannot be auto-aimed at. It’s definitely a good way to simulate vision without making it a first person game. However, while things like that add to realism, there are some contrasting ‘gamey’ elements to be had. Each time you level up, your health gets a nice boost up to max.

ThePit 2013-03-09 16-39-29-98Leveling is your typical RPG fare, with three stats and a bunch of abilities to choose from, all starting at different points depending on your starting class. The way the game is designed, it’s a lot easier to be a jack of all trades then to specialize in one of these skills, but it is quite possible to direct your hero down a certain path. Skills give you higher or lower chances of succeeding at different activities, in the style of a lot of older games. While there’s nothing revolutionary in the leveling system itself, the fact that everything you do—from shooting things to hacking terminals—grants you experience is good, and makes it quite profitable to explore each level fully. I like that kind of encouragement, although it does definitely give the game a slower pace. Other things do too, particularly the amount of item management necessary as you go deeper. A slow progression isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not for everyone, so be warned.

The Pit is a roguelike both relatively accessible and hard as nails. There’s something there for newbies getting into roguelikes, veterans who want an interesting setting plus a solid game, and fans of the Sword of the Stars universe. While not perfect by any means, it gets the important things right: turn-based tactical gameplay, a heavy emphasis on exploration and survival, and enough randomization and variety to make permadeath a good thing.

You can find The Pit on Steam and on Gamersgate.

You can visit the dev’s website, here.

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One Response

  1. Scott Salisbury

    I can’t quite tell from reading your review, but did you know that you can get bites of lore from the non-crafting logs in the data consoles? Also, the backstory is more like “you are the last hope of AN entire planet, specifically a previously-thriving colony on the fringe of Human-controlled space.” All of the characters are also for some reason or another hoping to save one particular person, Tamiko Hoshinara, who for reasons and in ways initially unknown to the player went into The Pit and was captured. See the developer forums for more of the lore: http://www.kerberos-productions.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=70

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