Developer: Dark Star Game Studios
Publisher: Another Indie
Rating: M for Mature
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Dark Souls is one of the most flattered video game franchises in recent memory. The cult hit series has inspired numerous other games with its challenging combat, dark themes, and oblique approach to storytelling. The most recent imitator is a new indie game called Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption. Sinner borrows heavily from Souls with its stamina-based combat mechanics and gothic art style, and focuses on creating the same kind of thrilling and inventive boss battles. But it also brings an innovation of its own: a “level down” system that hampers your character more and more as you progress through the game.
Violence: You and your enemies fight each other with swords, spears, bombs, flames, ice, poison, and more. Inky blackness spurts out from you and from the bosses when you strike one another, and when you die you fall to the ground and evaporate into thin air.
Spiritual Content: Numerous spiritual references are present throughout the game, most notably the Seven Deadly Sins, which are represented in boss battles. The main character is on a quest for redemption from his sins.
In Sinner, you play as Adam, a man who has lost his memories and must fight against the Avatars of Sin, which represent each of the Seven Deadly Sins: Lust, Greed, Envy, Gluttony, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath. The game’s storytelling leaves much to be desired. When you first encounter each boss, you are given a piece of the story, and after defeating one particular boss, an NPC appears in the hub area and provides a few extra snippets of information. As a result of all this, the story feels disjointed and unnecessarily fragmented; even considering that there isn’t much story overall, I still had trouble keeping track of what the game was presenting to me, particularly in figuring out the chronological order of all the events that take place before the start of the game. Multiple endings can be unlocked, but since I lacked any investment in the story, I also then lacked the desire to replay the game.
Ultimately, though, Sinner’s experience rests not in its narrative, but in its gameplay. Sinner presents the player with eight boss battles, the first seven of which can be fought in any order. The similarities to the Dark Souls series are striking. Each boss has stages, getting harder after you reduce their health a certain amount. You are equipped with two weapon sets—a short sword/shield combo, and a two-handed greatsword—along with a predetermined set of consumables, such as health items, javelins, and firebombs. Victory in combat is achieved by learning enemy attack patterns and carefully managing a regenerating stamina meter that depletes when you sprint, dodge, and attack.
Sinner doesn’t simply copy its inspirations, though; it also introduces a “sacrifice” or “level down” mechanic to add a new layer of challenge. Accessing each boss requires the player to debuff Adam in some specific way. Accessing the Pride boss for example, requires you to lower your damage output, while the Gluttony battle reduces the number of health items you bring into the battle, as well as how quickly they heal you. Upon defeating each boss, you receive a small increase to your maximum health, but the debuff remains, making other boss fights that much harder. You can retrieve your sacrifice if you so choose, but doing so restores the associated boss.
The fights themselves are also interesting and well designed, with each one presenting unique challenges. Some bosses come at you with quick, rapid strikes, while others are slower but more powerful; some threaten to hinder you by inducing negative status effects, and others limit your mobility by destroying parts of the environment. The progression of difficulty within each fight as the boss advances from stage to stage keeps you on your toes while remaining fair. Bosses receive tougher movesets, and some introduce other wrinkles like spawning adds onto the battlefield.
Aesthetically, Sinner is a good-looking game. As a lower budget indie game, it can’t compete with the prettiest of AAA titles, but graphical effects like depth of field, reflections, and particle effects are smartly implemented, drawing your eye away from the game’s visual shortcomings. Sinner’s creepy gothic art style makes a strong impression, particularly in character design.
Character animation are fluid and elaborate, providing plenty of aesthetic style to the rhythm of combat, and allowing you to learn your opponents’ attacks and respond accordingly. The frame rate on the base Xbox One—the system I used to review the game—is admittedly sluggish at times, often failing to hit its 30fps target. This isn’t a game breaker, especially since the most egregious drops occur outside of combat, but it is visually distracting and negatively impacts controller responsiveness, which is a real problem for a game that relies heavily on the proper timing of attacks.
The biggest issue I have with Sinner is its lack of content. The main mode only contains eight boss battles, and while they all take some patience and skill to defeat, the game ends before it gets started. After finishing the main story, a new challenge mode appears that pits you against multiple bosses at the same time in a neutral arena. It puts your skills to the test, but ultimately it recycles the same familiar content. In its promotional materials, Sinner is compared to Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus, and in some ways those comparisons are apt, but both of those games offer far more content than this one. Dark Souls provides you with a full-blown RPG experience along with its boss battles, complete with different classes of characters to choose from featuring different strengths, weaknesses, and approaches to combat; Shadow of the Colossus hides secrets in its desolate but expansive world, and features a whopping sixteen boss battles. Sinner does none of these things, and the end result is an experience that is short-lived and lacking in replay value.
If that sounded harsh, let me be clear: I enjoyed my time with Sinner. The combat is exciting and interesting, throwing a variety of different challenges at you that keep your brain engaged throughout each fight. But this game left me wanting more, not only because what it offers is good, but also because it does not offer enough.