Sword of the Stars: The Pit Mind Games Review (PC)

or SotSTPMG for short…

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Edit: Had accidentally attributed the game to Paradox, rather than the rightful developers Kerberos. My apologies!

Sword of the Stars is a generally well-liked 4x space-strategy game. The sequel/expansion didn’t fare so well, but many see it as an accessible yet deep example of the 4x genre. When Kerberos followed up with Sword of the Stars: The Pit, many were confused. Admittedly both genres cater to the hardcore crowd, but the Pit was a roguelike, a genre often reserved for fantasy settings. You controlled an intrepid marine, engineer or scout as they explored multiple levels of some kind of space station in a turn-based adventure. Being a roguelike, when you die you lose everything and start again, and every level is completely randomised, so there’s a lot of replayability in theory. Roguelikes also commonly have a fairly light-hearted tone and there’s definitely a sense of humour in The Pit, although not as obviously as in Dungeons of Dredmore. Fast forward to 2013 and we have an expansion for The Pit, called Min Games. It introduces a few new levels to the dungeon, a few new classes and a whole new type of skill in psionic powers.

First impressions of The Pit, and therefore Mind Games, aren’t great. It’s an ugly game, going for the low-fi but oddly high-res pixel sprites that so many indie games can get away with, but come off odd when it’s used on something without the right tone. Dredmore gets away with it thanks to the comedy through, whereas in The Pit you’re being assaulted on a lonely space station by parasitic worms, murderous robots and some strange wasp-like bats from the off and there’s a distinct lack of humour. With the limited lighting effects and dull tilesets there’s very little to create any sense of atmosphere, and instead you find yourself ignoring the setting completely, focusing instead on stats and weapons.

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Gameplay wise it’s very much a typical roguelike. You level up, you have different skillpoints to spend, with decisions to be made between making the levels easier to traverse with science and mechanical skills allowing you to open doors and repair machine and locks, or spending your points on more offensive weapon or psionic skills. The psionic skills are hilariously powerful at times but take quite a long while to level up, and recharging psionic energy is often quite difficult. Similarly as a soldier you’ll find yourself ridiculously powerful right up until your ammo runs out, which seems to happen a lot. Being an engineer seems like the best bet as at least you’re constantly able to resupply yourself, even if you struggle to kill more than two enemies at a time. This makes the psionic-based upgrades in the expansion seem a little worthless as they are essentially just another type of weapon you can run out of. A few of them have cool effects but if you’re trying to progress you’re unlikely to use much past the heals and the direct damage techniques.

The combat is dreary, with anaemic firing animations letting lose bullets that appear to move slightly slower than you could walk. Some enemies dissolve in a satisfying way once they’re defeated but with some the sprites are so muddled it’s hard to tell if anything’s really changed once they’re dead. As you progress through the levels you get access to progressively more powerful weapons, but often your almost inevitable death will come at the hands of something you couldn’t have prepared for. There’s often a single room on a level with a group of enemies that are ridiculously overpowered compared to you. IT’s best to just avoid these completely until you have some grenades or enough psi energy to take them all out in a single turn. This kind of gameplay doesn’t lend itself towards tension or risk/reward gameplay, you just make calculated decisions about the best way forward until the game does something unfair and it kills you. Not what I’d call a lot of fun.

There is a fair amount of depth to the game, with a wide variety of skills and a crafting system that hinges on discovery, but punishes experimentation. If you experiment with ingredients, you’re guaranteed to lose everything when you try to make a recipe that doesn’t exist. This will just push players to use gamefaqs or a wiki, defeating the point of being able to discover things for yourself. Have eggs and bread? Think they’d go well together in a cooker? Tough, somehow you’ve just destroyed both in a fit of egg throwing and bread crumbling, leaving you with nothing to eat now. That’ll teach you for trying to make an egg sandwich.

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The comedy in the game coems mostly through the voice overs which are extremely hit and miss. Occasionally some of the quips managed to raise a smile, but in general they were irritating and tedious. The funniest lines came from the names of the achievements and the explanations (such as getting one for walking the height of the Eiffel Tower, but the achievement leading to a rant about them making you pay for an elevator).

While there is a competent roguelike here, there’s so little reason to recommend it over the many excellent competitors. If you’re a big fan of the Sword of the Stars universe then you’ll get a kick out of the references and enemies, but if you’re an alien to that (still quite niche) series then the only draw is that it’s set in space rather than in a cave or dungeon. Although the first floor looks kind of like a cave.

If you’ve already got The Pit, and love it, this expansion will let you play a bit more and introduce a few new playstyles. If you’ve never played it before or wasn’t a fan, give it a miss, there’s nothing new or exciting enough to make it worth the purchase.

Verdict 5

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