As a general rule, any place name that is preceded or followed by a number always has a horrible story behind it. I present to you Room 101 from the book and film, 1984, the sci-fi film District 9 or the classic Assault on Precinct 13. It’s like an omen of bad things to come. In 7th Sector it’s very much of the same ilk; it isn’t a place full of bunnies jumping through leafy meadows under a golden sun amid cool flowing rivers. It’s far from it in fact. It’s a place of terror, dystopian fear and robots that want to kill you. Welcome to the future.
7th Sector is a very unique game yet it still manages to take you into some very familiar – yet highly unusual – moments of gameplay, all played out across a puzzle platform experience. Set in a future world that isn’t far removed from where we are today, the game begins on a crackling TV monitor in a run-down housing block. From here you play as a shadowy figure on the screen who very quickly transforms into a spark of energy, able to travel down the wires. The questions that emerge are, what does this spark want and why are the authorities chasing it down? Well throughout this intriguing game you will learn the inner secrets and the story it’s trying to tell.
Gameplay-wise and this is a rather tricky little experience to begin to understand, mainly because there is no tutorial or cutscene in place to describe where you are, or what the hell you are doing. In fact, you are left to just move across the wires, working out that by a simple press of a button you can transfer to another wire to carry on your journey. As you would expect though, soon pathways are blocked and it’s up to you to unblock them. This can be done by transferring your spark to, for example, specific machines, and it is here where the puzzling elements of the game take place.
And my word there are many puzzles to solve in 7th Sector; ranging from the “Oh, that makes sense” to the “OH MY GOD HOW WOULD I EVER KNOW TO DO THAT?!”. It starts off relatively simply though and the early puzzles will see you working with things like an electrical box, seeing you play with numbers in order to create 220 volts. Imagine the numbers game in Channel 4’s Countdown and you’re pretty near to what unfolds. On a more difficult level though – and this is without ruining anything – you will find yourself controlling a remote control car and activating doors, before working out how to operate a lift with it. The puzzles are very clever throughout and they certainly manage to test the brain as you progress through the experience. The difficulty spike can be quite high though, yet it is through the innovation where 7th Sector really excels.
There are moments in the game – again, without wishing to spoil anything – that take you into other objects and items that are controlled by electricity. While this is fun and does a good job of shaking up the standard protocol, I have found that controlling some of these objects is hugely unforgiving, with death occurring fairly often, nearly to the point of annoyance. However, that is outweighed slightly by the fact that 7th Sector on Xbox One has consistently surprised me, delivering plenty of interest in the gameplay side of things, and ensuring that at all times I have wanted to push on. That is always a testament to the quality of the development of a game.
As mentioned previously, you will not find any text in 7th Sector to help you move along. And that is where the visual element comes into play; this is the key to this game and the visuals do what is asked of them superbly. The storytelling on show is told through the background of the action as it takes you through an imagined world that has developed a taste of our own existence. There is a definite Orwellian and Terry Gilliam feel to the tech and how the world operates. The robots and electronic apparatus are the stars of the show, with the humans pushed back into the shadows. Are they trying to stop us or are they trying to help overthrow the establishment? Many sequences stand out too – from the moment you arrive in the city via the humble poor apartment blocks, to a sequence where you are travelling through TV monitors as an electronic figure. It’s a brave new world and I love how the development team has made a unique, interesting and complex environment to spend some time in. It’s helped by the audio too; a combination of soundtrack and effects that reflect the dystopian world around it.
At the end of the day, if you like a puzzler then you’re going to like 7th Sector on Xbox One. The puzzles will test your mental abilities to the limit and it will constantly surprise you in its attack and verve. If you prefer something a little different to the norm then the whole concept of playing as a spark of energy travelling through wires is completely unique and compelling. I think it delivers a great journey, but there are moments when the controls and constant deaths get a bit trying, especially in the sections when you take on another form. It’s a game that is priced a bit higher than your usual indie game and that could be a problem, but I can’t wait to see what this developer will do next.