A cyberpunk inspired adventure set in a dystopian future that feels part Bladerunner, part YA fiction and part Short Circuit, 7th Sector isn’t exactly what you’d expect it to be. Coming from one man band Sergey Noskov and published by Sometimes You, it’s a side scrolling platform puzzle game that seems inspired by the likes of Inside and the techno-philosophy of The Matrix. It’s a tricky one to really pin down because it feels so familiar at all times, yet quite different from most other games of its type. After around a year on PC it’s finally coming to all the consoles. Will it spark something within you that resonates with an abstract concept of what self is and the nature of digital existence? Or will it be nothing more than a trudge across a screen solving puzzles as you go?
7th Sector is a side-scrolling puzzle game where the player is, well… I’m not sure what the player is. A ghost in the machine? A lost soul? A program? It feels like it’s left up to you to decide what you are. Whatever it is, it starts as a spark that can traverse electrical cables, jump short distances and interact with control panels and machines. Navigating through a decaying city, riding the wires and solving puzzles to activate equipment is the main focus of the first part of the game. It feels fresh and interesting as the de-focused, but detailed, backgrounds tell an environmental story of an oppressed state and a resistance gearing up to take control. Finding routes through streets and buildings is your task, but the destination isn’t clear, only the imperative to keep moving. Things shift gears throughout as the spark begins to evolve to take control of other machines and the puzzles are punctuated by exploration and combat, though it maintains a pace that keeps it all moving to an openly interpretive conclusion.
Puzzles… you better like puzzles, not least figuring out what the puzzle wants you to do. Aside from the direction controls there’s no guidance in 7th Sector, everything has to be figured out. Some are simple enough like combining symbols to make patterns, or solving number puzzles to hit a required voltage. Others are bit more obtuse like finding hidden patterns in the world, or remembering tonal sequences. If you understand programming languages then there are even a couple that draw on basics of that knowledge. None are impossible to solve, and in fact some of the harder ones can be fluked through, though there are a couple of standout ones where there’s been no build up or hint of solution previously, and these can be real headscratchers. However, the use of them to block access or reveal clues is very nicely done. The progression of them for the most part is logical and with the right degree of ramping difficulty. There’s also no real failure state with most allowing for repeated attempts until they’re solved, and even ones that need restarting are few and far between. Beware though, it seems most are randomly generated, so the exact solution changes each time.
Where the puzzles are designed to let you keep going, the combat breaks this up and you’ll find yourself revisiting checkpoints quite regularly. I don’t know if it’s just the console version, or if I was missing button combo or setting, but the amount of forward visibility isn’t great which hampers anticipating getting shot. There’s a section where mounted machine guns and walking units will attack if you’re in range, and you need to take them out first. You can’t shoot what you can’t see so it becomes trial and error on getting through. It’s not helped by a bug or two that doesn’t clear the old enemies when you spawn at the checkpoint. 7th Sector’s trial and error is apparent in many of the later sections, particularly where timing is concerned. It’s like there’s a very specific tight window to complete an action and that results in a loss of playability at these points. Given the one man dev team it’s not really a weakness, it just highlights tweaks for playtesting to prevent the break up of the flow.
Using the Unity engine, it looks good and runs smoothly for the most part. There’s a style to the visuals that makes it feel permanently sinister, and that builds an atmosphere that’s easy to get drawn into. It’s not a drab game, there’s plenty of colour to it, though palettes are restricted to various stages and that gives almost a theme that runs alongside progress. Audio design is spot on too, and the score suits the mood staying mainly with an industrial future synth sound. The level of detail in the world is impressive and works in with the puzzle elements, so be prepared to really scour the environment for a clue or two. That level of synergy brings an old skool element out too. Since the shift to better physics models, action games will usually resort to light beams or block moving as the main puzzle element, and they’re present here; yet the focus on cerebral conundrums is a refreshing change given they’re rarely seen outside the point-and-click genre.
What 7th Sector does well is imitate some of the finer examples of the 2D platformer we’ve seen in recent years. It holds an intriguing story that’s not narrated or explained, boasts some very impressive visuals, and offers up the chance for multiple endings depending on what’s been done over the 3 hour runtime. On top of that it builds in puzzle elements that make you work for the progress. They aren’t MENSA level, but they’re aren’t a push over, and most importantly, they bring something unique to the game. If Playdead’s gaming style is your thing then you’re going to have to try this. It’s a well crafted sci-fi adventure from a very small team, and brings replayability that you’ll need to help fathom out what’s been going on.
A PS4 review copy of 7th Sector was provided by Sergey Noskov’s PR team, and it’s available now on Xbox One, PC, Switch and PS4 for around £12.99, depending on platform.