I’m strangely enamoured with 7th Sector. On the one hand, the atmosphere and puzzles, for the most part, are well executed and drew me in. On the other, I have no idea what’s happening or why. There’s much to enjoy here, but you’ll need to invest yourself in it fully to get the most out of the experience.
From the off things are kept vague. We start as a simple spark of energy traversing the power cables of a futuristic city scape. There’s zero explanation of not only what’s going on, but what you’re expected to do. 7th Sector encourages experimentation in this regard, with each puzzle and area requiring a trial and error approach. The only ability we have is being able to charge up a short burst of energy to hop from one line to another, or into a panel to solve a puzzle allowing us to proceed. Initial impressions are a little underwhelming then, simply following the power lines not really allowing for much challenge. Soon though, we come across the aforementioned puzzles that not only offer no guidance, but sets the tone for the rest of the experience.
We must figure out a number to proceed; to do so, several sums are laid out using shapes in place of direct numbers. Figuring out the value of each shape will in turn allow us to get the correct number needed. Not exactly rocket science, though these still provided enough of a challenge to stop us in our tracks on more than one occasion. It was very satisfying to eventually come across the solutions to these and more, though at times the obtuse nature did have me pulling my hair out – some sort of (optional) in game hint system wouldn’t have gone amiss. Early on, these will form the majority of the challenges on your path. But Noskov Sergey does come up with some neat twists along the way that spice things up a bit. Whether it’s a short segment controlling an RC Car to load an elevator up with weighted items, or fiddling around with a dial on an old record player to discover a hidden message, each new area feels unique with a sense of progression – even if we’re not really sure where we’re going, or why.
One things for sure though; those we do come across on our travels are not having a good time of it. There’s a strong feeling of oppression, depression and out and out sadness that tinges every aspect of 7th Sector. I can’t help but feel that the masterful Inside was a strong source of inspiration. With no dialogue – text or other wise – throughout explaining what’s going on, a lot is left to the player to interpret. Much like Inside though, unless you really get sucked in fully there’s a good chance that some of the impact of the tale will be lost. Which is a shame, as the solid atmosphere and wonderful artwork on display tease something quite interesting, but I never could quite get the jist of why our little spark set off on their journey, or where they are heading. There are several collectable cards to find in each area, offering clues as to what is happening, though again you’ll need to really pay attention if you’re to keep up with the tale.
Our ‘hero’ does gain new abilities along the way mind. At a certain point in the adventure, we gain access to a rotund robotic body, allowing us to leave the cables behind and roll through a newer set of environments. While some of the same puzzle types feature, others feature a more tactile element, such as moving blocks around. There’s are other variations too along the way, though they are better discovered for yourself. Without wanting to spoil too much though, I found myself underwhelmed by a latter transformation that should have felt empowering, but ended up feeling frustrating to use. And it’s here that I’m conflicted. There’s some truly good stuff in 7th Sector. But there are also some maddening sections that had me pulling my hair out that knocked the whole package down. One later puzzle saw me fail many… many… times in a row as the solution seemed non-existent. After one, final retry I attempted a solution previously tried many times – lo and behold, success. This is where a hint system could’ve saved the day, instead I was brought to the brink of turning the game off.
If you’re able to power through the annoyances, there’s a lot to like about 7th Sector. It looks and sounds great, the atmosphere is built wonderfully and it feels like there’s always something new to see as you progress. But some obscure puzzles and a lack of an easily parse-able story may well end up putting more people off than not.