As sinful as it is deadly.
It might seem unfair and reductive to compare games to one another, but SINNER: Sacrifice for Redemption so unashamedly apes its influences that such a comparison is far from slothful.
It is, quite simply, Dark Souls meets Shadow of the Colossus: the former for its methodical combat and sinister tone, the latter for its single-minded focus on killing bosses. Developer DARK STAR is clearly lusting after the lofty heights of these two phenomenal games, but fails to understand what makes them so magical.
Your hero is tasked with fighting seven bosses who represent the seven deadly sins. So far so cliché. The twist is that – as the name suggests – you must sacrifice your abilities before battling each one in your quest for redemption.
On paper, this sounds like an interesting mechanic, but in practice it’s simply an arbitrary method of imposing additional difficulty. As if the David and Goliath nature of the game wasn’t tricky enough, you’re forced to defeat enemies for the duration of the fight with handicaps like a reduction in health, less attack power, or fewer healing items. As such, it gleefully thrives on thrashing the player through unfair methods – needless impositions in place of strong design.
And that’s on top of bosses who have an annoying habit of killing you in one hit. That might be pushing you off the edge of a high platform, creating gaping bottomless pits in a sea of ice, freezing you into place with an ice arrow before pummelling you, or toppling the ground into bubbling magma. Chipping away at a boss’s health bar only to be unfairly killed at the last moment is enough to have even the calmest person fuming with wrath. Only a perfect run will do.
In their greed to replicate the challenge of Dark Souls, DARK STAR have failed to understand the nuanced learning curve of From Software’s series, or its elegant battle system. Instead, you’re simply thrown into the deep end with the odds stacked against you, likely killed immediately and expected to try, try again with battered pride.
Combat feels sluggish and clunky, your warrior moving like stone compared with the enviable speed and grace of the bosses. As with Dark Souls, a stamina meter determines what moves you can make but as your set of weapons cannot be customised, there’s a lack of variety or personalisation to the play style. That rigidity may have worked for Shadow of the Colossus, but here strategy is reduced to dodge roll, swing one of your two swords, and occasionally use an item. Plus a fair amount of plain hoping for the best.
The bosses themselves, which you can defeat in any order, do have some interesting aesthetics. The arenas are little more than set dressing, but the encounters are tense affairs against a menagerie of enemies. There’s a battle against an icy maiden on a moonlit lake; a hellish demon in a lava-filled underworld; a headless witch on a crumbling marble chequerboard; and more. They may not be the most original ideas, but they’re suitably creepy. Their stature means they tower above the hero, whose oversized weapons and armour make him seem – laughably – like a toddler waddling around the battlefield nagging attention from the adults. The imposing size is intentional, but the humour is not.
Each boss is introduced with an animated cutscene that offers some backstory and a tenuous link to their respective sin. The hero, though, is given no motive. So where Shadow of the Colossus thrives on its minimalist narrative and ambiguity, Sinner just feels empty, soulless and perfunctory. It’s as if the designers came up with a cool concept for the gameplay, but stopped short of an intriguing narrative framework.
Occasionally it all clicks into place. One such boss is that of Pride – a giant warrior sat on his throne before leaping atop a precariously tall platform, oversized sword and shield glinting in sunlight. The character design and predictable pattern of attacks mimic the best of Dark Souls in both intensity and the relief of finally winning.
Yet the sins of DARK STAR’s game far outweigh any of its concepts, leaving it lying in the wake of its influences. Sinner is a game only for those who are a glutton for punishment.