Impressions: Sagebrush

Sagebrush is an indie game that came out late last year. You play an unknown character who drives out to an abandoned compound in New Mexico. The compound was the location of a cult that ended in a mass suicide. While there you pick up notes, listen to recordings, and generally try to discover what happened at the compound.

The gameplay is straight forward enough, this is a walking simulator. The compound is divided into a few areas, and you’ll have to work your way through them one by one to fill in all of the pieces of the puzzle. So one area will give you keys or other tools needed to open up the next, lather rinse repeat.

Now there is a rather straight forward approach to this game, and the result is you can beat it fairly quickly and easily. However, it really isn’t the way to play this game. There is a decent amount of exploring to be done and extras to find. Working your way through slowly and trying to pick up everything you can is for the best.

The story is not a happy one, although I don’t imagine anyone would think it would be. The story itself unfolds much like the gameplay. You start in one area, the beginnings of the cult, and as you move through the compound, you move through the story.

The story of the game is where it excels. It seems a lot of care was put into making a believable story of an unfolding horror. I think it could have been extended and more fleshed out, but what is there is well done.

The tone of the game is also well-executed. This is not a horror game, but I still felt uncomfortable playing it. It is dark (almost too dark actually), there is a strong foreboding sense that follows you. The game created an unsettling feeling that stuck with me from start to finish. In fact, I kept preparing for a jump scare that never came. I think this was a good choice, had the game been a horror game I think it could have been too cliché. Instead, it managed to be disconcerting and uncomfortable, but different.

The rest of the game, I am more on the fence. The audio is rather tricky for me, there isn’t a lot of it, and what’s there left me wondering. The best example is the doors. Doors automatically close behind you, and the sound is rather jarring when they do. It also doesn’t matter how close or far you are from a door when it closes, it will sound the same. At this point, I can’t honestly say if it was an accident or something intentionally put in. It certainly helped with my discomfort of the game because I never adjusted to it. However, the voice acting is well done.

Graphically it is also just a touch off. I think it was going for a stylistic look, sort of old school and pixelized, but went just a bit too much, so it feels less like a style and more like a limitation. It’s not bad to look at it, nor does it harm the experience, but it is worth noting.

In the end, this is the type of indie game I am likely to recommend. A lot of people have issues with walking simulators being called “games,” but there is enough working out how to advance that I think it might appeal to people. I think the story is compelling, and it’s a game worth supporting. It is short and doesn’t have a great deal of replayability, but if you like these types of games, it’s a good one. I am curious to see what the developer might bring in the future.

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