Twisting and turning through the corridors of Sublevel Zero, the first thing I lost was down. Down doesn’t exist in space and neither does Up; they’re thought experiment under the pretense of gravity. When you’re floating in your ship, maneuvering around a horde of angry robots, rotating the world with the twist of your ship, down is exactly where you want it to be. That moment I realized that was one of the most empowering in all of Sublevel Zero: Redux.
Sublevel Zero: Redux is a six-degrees of freedom (6DOF) shooter. A few of these have come and gone over the years, most with little fanfare, but the genre seems to have a magnetic pull all its own. Redux traces its roots to the mid 1990s with Descent, and, like that game, you find yourself in a spaceship with the freedom to move up, down, left, right, forward, and back (hence, six degrees of freedom). In Sublevel, you can rotate your ship, turning the world on its side or completely upside down.
It’s disorienting at first, that freedom.
It’s disorienting at first, that freedom. After a quick tutorial, you’re thrown into the game to go forward and die, and rise and repeat, until you make your way through the handful of levels set in the in-game space-station. It’s a rogue-like, so you’re expected to die, and because the maze-like levels reinvent themselves every time you die, there’s little anticipating what’s beyond every doorway. Instead, you’re given over to the mechanics of flight and combat. The early going is tough, but mastering the art of dodging the occasionally bullet-hell like onslaughts enemy projectiles is thrilling. The natural urge is to backpedal, but once the realization hits that you can move anywhere and shift the world to its most convenient, the siren song of those six-degrees begins in earnest.
The goal of every level is to destroy a reactor core unlocking the next level, upgrading yourself along the way. As you might imagine, levels become progressively more difficult as you go, but each are broken into a series of chambers filled with enemies and loot upgrades. Room to room, difficulty will spike from easy to overwhelming, but those most difficult encounters usually reward you with a new weapon, engine, or hull upgrade for your ship. The RPG hooks are light but effective. Since the game allows you to oscillate between two machine guns and missile launchers at any given time and hot swap them on the fly, there’s always room try out your new toys as you find them. That’s important too, as certain enemies are weaker to different weapon types, and upon the reactor core, that knowledge is put to the test.
The game also allows you to upgrade your ship in other ways. Completing side-objectives, such as killing a certain amount of enemies with a particular weapon or taking a given amount of damage without dying will unlock new gunship types to choose at startup. Enemies also drop nanites and materials used in a crafting menu to combine and upgrade weapons and hulls. It’s a nice, if basic, addition but one that I often forgot about focusing on the life and death matters at hand.
Exploration is treat for the eyes.
Exploration is treat for the eyes. Each level takes on a different tone but each are brightly colored in over-saturated primary and neon hues. Nevermind that Sublevel Zero takes place on one of the most nonsensical spacestations ever imagined. Lava pits, subterranean tunnels with little robotic, dive-bombing diggers, and exactly nowhere fit for human habitation — despite the presence of text diaries littered throughout the levels, this isn’t a setting you’ll want to think about too much. It’s a backdrop for the arcade-inspired live, die, repeat gameplay of progression-based roguelikes.
Ultimately, the randomly generated levels do detract from the experience. Zooming around the space stations is always fun — I found myself playing a mini-game of seeing how fast I could race past enemies before they’d take me out — but the algorithm underlying it all eventually rears its ugly head, making levels feel samey and pieced-together after you’ve been through them a few times. Taken in moderate doses, Sublevel Zero: Redux is a blast. Played for too long, and the seams begin to show.
Final Sublevel Zero Redux Review Thoughts
Sublevel Zero: Redux is a remastered and expanded version of the original 2015 release on PC. Having never played the PC version, I can’t comment on the changes to the original formula. What I can say consoles needed a 6DOF shooter a Sublevel Zero fills that void nicely. Its RPG and rogue-like elements elicit the addictive anticipation of one more run and, before you know it, you’re off again. The downsides of random generation aren’t unique to Sublevel Zero, but are disappointing nonetheless. The long-game isn’t quite there, and a few extra how-tos would be most welcome, but the mechanics of blasting your way through its robot infested halls are a lot of fun to master.
Editor’s Note: Our PS4 copy of Sublevel Zero Redux was provided by Public Relations for review purposes.