Playdead may have unintentionally created a whole new genre of puzzle-platformer when they released Limbo back in 2010. These are the kind of games where the player is placed into mysterious, dangerous situations without any explanation about why they’re there or what they’re doing. All they know is that they have to keep moving forward or else they’ll bear witness to some pretty gruesome death and dismemberment.
The most notable titles that have tried to replicate this complex feeling of wonder, dread and confusion are probably Playdead’s follow-up Inside or the creepy, cruise-ship adventure of Little Nightmares. 7th Sector can be added to that list as it’s just as mysterious as those previous games, if not more so because of how difficult its puzzles become.
Much like Inside or Limbo, 7th Sector’s story is not easy to explain. Even after you beat the game, you likely won’t understand what just happened. There’s not even a real main character at first. The protagonist starts out as a being trapped inside a TV – much like the electric Gremlin from Gremlins 2: The New Batch – before turning into a small electrical spark that moves forward by traveling along various cables and wires. That spark then transfers itself into computer consoles and machinery to solve puzzles and open doors. You then transform into various other mechanical or robotic beings. It’s hard to discern exactly what this thing is supposed to be, but that’s probably just part of the game’s overall mystery.
Meanwhile, in the background, there’s something troublesome brewing under the surface. 7th Sector takes place in a futuristic, dystopian cyber-punk city where robots and humans seem to be living together, although perhaps not by choice. There are posters that imply that the robots are there to protect the humans from themselves. Some loudspeakers spew out messages from what sounds like an oppressive, Orwellian government trying to control the population. Things aren’t looking great for the increasingly paranoid citizens and a revolution seems to be on the horizon. This is all drawn from what’s going on in the background, lending 7th Sector a terrific, tense atmosphere.
Why Is The Future Always So Bleak?
It’s a very immersive setting, although it is slightly derivative of other works of science fiction. The city takes a lot of obvious inspiration from Blade Runner or other cyberpunk stories, and some of the visual design is reminiscent of games like Half-Life 2 or Deus Ex. But it never looks like a flat-out carbon copy. There are some great, original ideas and a ton of little details that make 7th Sector feel unique. I liked the fact that this world utilizes advanced computer technology, yet there are still random CRT television sets strewn about.
The game looks fantastic on the Switch. The lighting effects and textures are beautiful and impressive considering the game’s move from the PC to Nintendo’s less powerful hardware. However, 7th Sector does seem to have a few technical issues, possibly a side effect of the Switch trying to keep up with all the busy action.
There were some moments after completing a puzzle that the game would freeze up in order to load the next part of the level. The framerate would occasionally dip when there was too much happening on screen. The game looks good when played in docked mode, but in handheld mode, some of the text for certain puzzles was very small, which might make it hard for certain far-sighted people to read. There was nothing so bad that it ruined my time with it, but it does appear to overwork the Switch every once in a while.
My Brain Is Overheating
This is a puzzle-platformer, but the emphasis is definitely on the puzzle part of the genre. 7th Sector is stuffed to the gills with puzzles. Nearly every step forward will lead to another dead-end that requires you to put on your thinking cap to progress. Some of these were incredibly clever and surprised me with how they needed to be solved. Sometimes objects in the background would need to manipulated or you would have to scan the walls for hints or clues about how to obtain a password or code. There’s a wide array of puzzles, and people who like to be intellectually challenged should find a lot to love about this game.
However, some puzzles were less of a mental challenge and more of an exercise in frustration. While some require you to perform some serious mental gymnastics, others are dependent upon split-second timing or button mashing. These feel like glorified quick-time events. There are also puzzles where you have to wait for something to pass by or stop, which is probably one of my least favorite kinds of obstacles. Because nothing says fun like having to sit perfectly still, especially when those wait times take too long. So, not every puzzle is a winner. In fact, some of them are just straight-up math quizzes, which feels like someone was running out of ideas.
It’s also very important to point out that there’s almost nothing in the way of a tutorial for most of these puzzles. Aside from briefly explaining some of the controls at the beginning, this game does not under any circumstances hold your hand. Sometimes, what you’re supposed to do to solve a puzzle isn’t even something you knew you could do. Finding out what your abilities are or how they can be utilized is often another piece of the puzzle.
Even when a player does figure it out, it can be frustrating trying to control certain objects. There’s a toy car, in particular, that was a nightmare to move around. 7th Sector is primarily a 2D sidescrolling affair, but that dang car could move all about the screen and was infuriating to drive. There’s also a security robot whose gun could only be aimed using the control pad on the left Joycon, which felt unintuitive. Considering how hard some of these puzzles are already, these occasional annoyingly finicky controls cause the game to drag more than it should.
I’d Hate To See What’s Happening In Sectors 1 Through 6
7th Sector should be a hit among people looking for a challenging, atmospheric puzzle game. The worldbuilding is phenomenal and I found myself wanting to push through the brain-shattering conundrums to find out exactly what the hell was going on. Of course, since this is a game made in the same vein as Limbo or Inside, reaching the ending probably won’t deliver the answers or satisfying closure that one could hope for. But that’s kind of the point of this genre: to leave its players confused and bewildered so they gather together to speculate about what it all means in multiple Reddit posts.
This would be an easy recommendation if not for a lack of directions, some technical foibles, and several cases of unintentional, rage-inducing frustration. But if you can look past those problems, 7th Sector is a solid puzzle-platformer that will draw you into its horrifying, yet mesmerizing futuristic dystopia.
A Nintendo Switch copy of 7th Sector was provided to TheGamer for this review. 7th Sector is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.
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