Review: Satellite Reign (PC)
Satellite Reign is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played since Trine 2. Shadowrun has a better plot, but its watercolor backgrounds failed to make an impression, Invisible Inc. has better stealth gameplay, but its cyberpunk vision is so dull it might as well be taking place in the same universe as the movie “Her,” Satellite Reign is the first modern cyberpunk game I’ve played that gets the look and feel right. We really have reached an age where artistic vision trumps engine power in terms of a graphical triumph. I just cleared the Downtown area and gained access to the Industrial sector. My biggest fear was the game would blow its graphical load in the downtown, then industrial would be boring and repetitive. They did not and it is not.
As for the overall product, it’s a simple game in a beautiful setting. The game it most reminds me of is actually the Sega Genesis version of Shadowrun: an open world game of gearing up with a little stealth and a lot of violence. The maps consist of an urban sprawl with several walled corporate compounds scattered around. The compounds usually have multiple points of entry, are patrolled by various guards and robots (who get better gear the more missions you clear), and at the center is a building that you need to get one or more of your dudes into to clear the mission. After you clear the mission the first time, you can return to that center building for an influx of cash that slowly regenerates after each theft. In between missions you’re doing the ubisoft shuffle: tagging respawn points, hacking ATMs to bring income at a trickle, hacking data ports for lore, and doing side missions to get access to new sectors.
This is definitely a game where you will not get a clear impression from professional reviews, because it takes a while after the tutorial to unlock all your agents’ abilities and get a sense for your full tactical options. A common complaint is that there is not pause button. There is, it’s the support agent’s Team Stims skill (activated with D) which slows time to a crawl and recharges so ridiculously quickly it’s functionally identical to pause. Some reviews compare this game to commandos and that really isn’t true because the stealth mechanics are more about controlling the rate of enemy spawning than avoiding fights entirely. Another thing is that the starting guns don’t look or sound impressive, nor do they pump out nearly enough damage to show off the game’s destructible scenery, you won’t get a sense of that until after you unlock the soldier’s explosive expert skill (which unlocks frag grenade tech for free). The first time I equipped my dudes with laser machine pistols and opened fire, it was almost a religious experience in terms of beauty and destruction.
At its core this is still Syndicate, still a game about four remote-controlled cyborgs (and any mind-controlled people they bring along for the ride) getting into pitched firefights and causing massive collateral damage. Each time you break a security camera or allow a guard to give an alert message (indicated by an exclamation mark and filling circle) a new wave is spawned. Each new wave a little larger and better equipped and any patrolling guards in earshot of gunfire home in. You can be overwhelmed quickly if too many guards spawn, but if you manage to kill everyone before any further alerts are made, you’re back in stealthville. Violence is much more efficient than running and hiding in this game.
If you don’t like your starting team’s faces/genders, don’t sweat it. Remember the opening cutscene for Syndicate, where the dude is kidnapped and turned into an agent? That’s a gameplay element, now. You hijack people’s cybernetics, send them back to base for processing, then rewrite their brains with your agents’ memories, giving you stat bonuses for fresh bodies.
The one thing I don’t like that they brought back from Syndicate is the research system. Sometimes when you clear a mission you get a new item (dubbed a prototype) and need to get the agent carrying the item out of the complex and out of danger in order to keep it. Once you have the prototype, you need to research it, which takes around 15 minutes real time and puts a steady drain on your money while you wait for the new piece of gear to become available. It’s boring and frustrating and adds nothing to the experience.
There are still bugs here and there. I’ve had agents and enemies get caught in the scenery from time to time, the “cover” mechanic can be kind of wonky in places, the flying cars routinely get their pathfinding tangled up into gigantic nonviolent pileups, and my attempts to change the keybindings have failed to affect the actual gameplay, so until it’s patched you’re stuck with the awkward “Ctrl-A” to select all agents. Also, I think the research is bugged because I always have enough researchers to do everything, even though there’s a mechanic for spotting researchers on the street and buying them out to work for you.
I would definitely recommend snatching it up on sale. It’s not very deep, but it’s enjoyable and arguably the prettiest cyberpunk game yet made.
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