Running for his life from a horde of Icebats and rogue medical droids, only a Sotswich and some scavenged weapons to his name, my Engineer turns a corner and prays there may be a temporary sanctuary to be found.  Damn!  The door is locked, and is obviously booby trapped (a nasty one, too-  it’ll make him go blind for longer than will be healthy.)  There’s no time to try to pick the lock, and he doesn’t want to waste precious ammo trying to blow it open.  Wait!  There’s another opening ahead, and what looks like a weapons locker…  He dives through the opening, right into a nest of Zuul.  He fires wildly, damaging a few of the creatures, maybe he’ll get out of this… CLICK.  Out of ammo.  Drawing a damaged combat knife, he prepares to make his last stand count…

If I had to describe Kerberos Productions’ latest, Sword of the Stars: The Pit in two words, they would be “constant tension.”  The exhilarating feeling of continually playing risk vs reward is an ever present companion during your quest to find a cure for your plague ravaged world in this eponymous Pit built by the Suul’ka.  Don’t worry if that reference or any other SOTS lore escapes you.  The game is quite enjoyable without knowing anything about the greater universe, although there are plenty of nods for those more familiar with it.

Sword of the Stars: The Pit makes use of a simple, yet effective UI, and features responsive default controls.  It took a few minutes of getting used to moving and targeting (it seems easier to target with the mouse than with the arrow keys), but a well done tutorial helps the controls feel second nature.  The game is aesthetically pleasing and the cartoon like nature of the graphics emphasizes the fact that this game doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The turn based nature of roguelikes is elegantly handled here.  When exploring the various levels of the Pit, the turn clock is always ticking.  However, it plays like everything is simply occurring in real time.  When monsters are active, the game continues handling turns in the same manner, only now it feels like a true turn based system (they move, you move, etc).  It’s a great system because it doesn’t slow you down when you’re simply moving from place to place, but allows you time to plan when in combat.  It doubles as a great way to make you use up available resources, since needless running around is still making you consume the oh so difficult to accumulate food.  There are those complaining that food is too scarce, keep in mind that this is a roguelike title (as Martin Cirulis had to remind me here), and playing it like an RPG will get you killed.  Don’t open every locker and fully explore every room.  As I said above, this game is about risk vs reward, and leveling a character intelligently, not power gaming your way through.  The pacing is expertly maintained, and a joy to watch in action.

Even the things I would normally find annoying in a game are somehow charming in Sword of the Stars: The Pit.  In order to craft effectively, you need to locate various recipes hidden in computer consoles scattered throughout the game’s 30 levels.  Just finding the console isn’t enough.  If you successfully mine the data, it still needs to be decrypted, which may only give you PART of the message.  It will take numerous playthroughs to find and decrypt all of the game’s recipes, but for some reason the search for them never seems to get old.  Many have found that starting a run on Easy with the Engineer, maxing out the decryption skill as you progress will let you get a good head start on recipe finding, and since they carry over, you can then play with your preferred class on a more challenging difficulty level with a bit of an advantage.

If I had to level any complaints, it would be that it is sometimes EXTREMELY easy to be completely overwhelmed by enemies, leading to frustrating battles you can’t possibly win.  However, while this is annoying, is it really any different than suddenly warping into a solar flare system in FTL where you are fighting a much more powerful ship, AND your craft is being boarded?  Part of the fun of a roguelike is knowing that sometimes like just ain’t fair.

All in all, Sword of the Stars: The Pit is well worth the asking price.  $9.99 is frankly a steal for a title that gives you so much to do.  There’s a demo available if you don’t want to take my word for it, but trust me, this one is definitely worth your time.