Before experiencing Dark Souls, I was not aware of having a predisposition towards masochism, or that I was one for saying: “Yes, mistress”. It was a revelation. From Software’s action-RPG successfully re-introduced punishingly difficult gameplay into mainstream media, which by itself gave life to a brand new sub-genre: Souls-like. Since then, many developers have attempted to replicate the game’s success to a varying degree and Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption is the latest indie addition to the flock.
The source of inspiration becomes clear during the first few minutes: dark visuals with predominantly grey tones and a familiar HUD. Sinner places you in the cumbrous shoes of Adam, who must atone for his past misdeeds by challenging seven different guardians, or bosses. Each guardian represents one of the cardinal sins from the Christian religion: lust, pride, wrath etc. It is not disclosed exactly what inexcusable crimes Adam has committed and Sinner is very vague in its storytelling. Despite that, it provides enough foundation for a unique and believably grim fictional universe.
As the game begins, it is possible to choose from two different camera modes – free and fixed – the former provides complete control over your perspective, while the latter remains fixed on the opponent at all times. Personally, I found the fixed mode too restrictive, but having options doesn’t hurt. After completing a short introductory section and acclimating to some of the mechanics, you arrive at a depressingly dark hub area surrounded by seven sizeable stones. These stones house the previously mentioned guardians and are where most of the game takes place.
Aside from the brief tutorial, there are no regular combat encounters. Instead, gameplay is based on sequential battles against a diverse cast of bosses, all of whom require a different tactical approach. Guardians can be fought in any order. However, the sequence does have an effect on progression. Upon interacting with a stone, Adam is required to sacrifice some of his power in order to proceed. Depending on the boss, this can mean a reduction of his maximum health and stamina, removal of armor, or dulling of his blades. It is therefore up to the player to decide which boss to contest and which power to give up first.
Adam doesn’t become stronger as he strives to reach the ultimate challenge. In fact, he becomes weaker. After several battles his swords may be rusty and chipped, his shield cracked, and supplies at their lowest. It’s a subtle gesture of giving up something of oneself in order to atone and accurately portrays what Adam has endured for absolution. Once the sacrifice is made, Adam is transported to a remote, uniquely-themed arena. Each boss is preceded by a short cutscene giving some backstory, after which the actual battle begins.
Two sets of weapons are at Adam’s disposal: a sword and shield combo, and a dual-wielded greatsword. The former allows for swifter attacks and movement, as well as effective blocking and parrying, while the latter provides superior attack power. I especially appreciated the trail of sparks left by the greatsword when charging ahead and dragging it along the ground. Weapons have a regular and a heavy attack, as well as a rush attack which, albeit powerful, leaves the hero open and vulnerable. In addition to that, Adam can temporarily cover his blades in flames, throw lightning-imbued spears, and firebombs. Each and every physically demanding ability consumes stamina and managing it is crucial for success.
All bosses are visually imposing and most require numerous exhilarating attempts to defeat. When attempting any battle for the first time, it might seem insurmountable – Sinner creates an impression of being intimidatingly difficult, and it is – but every boss has an exploitable weakness which eventually leads to victory, even though they attack relentlessly and unforgivingly. During a battle, the most important thing is to memorize an opponent’s attack pattern, as Adam can die from only a few hits and restorative items are extremely limited. Incoming attacks can be blocked or dodged, and some can also be parried, opening the foe to a satisfying counter-attack. It’s hard to properly describe the ecstatic sensation of defeating a boss while completely exhausting all available resources and having a mere inch of health remaining.
After coming out victorious, Adam can redeem himself which slightly increases his maximum health; this is just about the only way he becomes stronger throughout the whole game. The stone of a defeated boss lights up brightly and emanates a pleasant sense of hopefulness; all stones must be set alight in order to unlock the final boss. Supplies are automatically replenished in-between encounters and it is possible to retrieve the provided sacrifice as well. However, in the case of retrieval, the corresponding boss is resurrected and has to be fought again. This option is intended for when another boss proves too difficult and extra power might be needed. Surprisingly, Sinner is well balanced and no single ability is mandatory for success. Although, it can be a good idea to begin with the toughest boss, while Adam is still at the peak of his form.
Sinner is quite short in terms of the main storyline, but completion depends greatly on skill. The game has multiple endings, as well as unlockable challenges and secret weapons, which add further to replayability. It’s worth noting that I did experience certain framerate issues, particularly when there were a lot of visual effects on screen, and the game crashed on me twice. Hopefully, these problems will be rectified upon launch, though they didn’t irritate me too much.
In spite of its unforgiving difficulty – or rather due to it – I enjoyed Sinner for its rewarding combat and attention to little details, like the visual deterioration of Adam’s appearance. Sinner draws inspiration from several existing titles, but stands apart with its unique approach to development by incentivizing the player to become better, instead of merely improving a character’s skill set.
This is the game to play for anyone who enjoys challenging combat and the satisfaction of a truly earned victory.