A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sunless Skies is a downloadable action RPG (role-playing game) with a horror/Steampunk visual style for Windows PCs and Macs. It contains mild violence with real-time combat among flying trains, some still images of blood spatter, and an interactive storyline that describes killing people and seeing people die in horrible ways. The game has psychological elements, including player character attributes related to debauchery and mental illness, and a “Terror” meter that affects the well-being of players and their crew. Terror grows when players and their crew are exposed to “Horrors” of the Elder Gods from H.P. Lovecraft stories, and keeping Terror in check involves visiting a bordello-like place and hiring people to “become” whatever players need them to be. Mention is made of alcohol and drunkenness, and players can visit taverns and make money by trading in alcohol.
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What's it about?
SUNLESS SKIES is an Indie action role-playing game (RPG) with a gothic Steampunk storyline in the vein of horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. In a post-apocalyptic Steampunk universe, London (and humanity as a whole) has abandoned an Earthly existence and taken to the stars. You begin by creating a customized captain, choosing from various back stories, attributes, and deciding on a life's Ambition: to be rich, famous, or truth-seeking. After that, gameplay alternates between exploration and interactive story sequences. Exploration means "sailing" into the unknown, encountering hostile raiders (and exchanging cannon fire), and discovering ancient Wonders and Horrors, both of which affect your crew's sanity.
Exploration requires fuel and supplies, and successful captains know how to earn money through trade, scavenging, and dealing with civilian passengers. They should also master the art of resource management and faction infiltration. Story sequences present situations, and success depends on your captain's strengths and weaknesses (which change as you gain experience.) Choices affect how the story unravels, and both story and exploration affect whether you'll live long enough to achieve your Ambition or die among the stars.
Is it any good?
This beautiful Steampunk adventure starts strong, with a fantastic premise and a beautiful intro that promises a rich, atmospheric experience, but sadly, that promise is quickly broken. To be fair, Sunless Skies isn't strictly an adventure game. It's more like a “roguelike,” a kind of game characterized by randomly-generated dungeons and punishing gameplay, where the player can be permanently killed and have to start all over again. To enjoy roguelikes, you must be a patient, hardy soul. Though not set in a dungeon, Sunless Skies takes this unforgiving approach, and little effort is made to let newbies learn and progress. Risk and difficulty are high from the get-go, more or less ensuring failure and frustration for new players. Making things worse, there's no manual Save and auto-saves occur only at major ports. That means you're likely to spend thirty minutes chugging slowly around the map looking for your first objective, get killed by a raider, and have to start all over again.
If repeated restarts aren't enough to discourage you, the tedium of travel likely will be. Locomotives (even upgraded) are so slow that even the hardiest of players will be wishing for auto-pilot after an hour or two. It's a shame the developers went this roguelike route, because the decision's bound to shut out a lot of gamers. Sunless Skies is a beautiful, well-written game, and given a more inclusive approach (or at least broader difficulty settings), gothic horror/adventure fans would no doubt love it. As it is though, only a small subset of gamers will have the grit to withstand the punishment of lost game time and constant restarts. Less accommodating gamers must seek adventure elsewhere.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how books influence video games. Has one of your favorite books inspired a video game?
What is it that you like about playing horror games as opposed to games in other genres? Is it the scary content, the dread of something leaping out at you, or something else?
Do you think games should have difficulty settings, or should less-skilled players just not play? What would make these games accessible for all players?
- Platforms: Linux, Mac, Windows
- Price: $24.99
- Pricing structure: Paid (Bundle including Sunless Skies and previous adventure, Sunless Sea available for $43.99.)
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Failbetter Games
- Release date: January 31, 2019
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Trains
- ESRB rating: NR for No Descriptions
- Last updated: February 24, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.