Sagebrush is one of them games that’s hard to review. Not because it’s overly complex or such; quite the opposite. Being a short, narrative based affair, it’d be too easy to just spoil it by mistake. While there’s practically no replay value to speak off, there’s quite the gripping narrative and atmosphere that will absolutely be benefited by going in cold.
Using real world cults and their reputations as inspiration, Sagebrush tasks you with investigating the scene of an horrific mass suicide event that happened at Perfect Heaven, a cult compound based in New Mexico. After a brief bit of expository dialogue from someone apparently familiar with goings on here, you’re set loose to explore.
I’ll not delve any deeper into the story, but suffice to say it had me hooked throughout the hour or so run-time. The drip feed of information as you investigate clues errs on just the right side of vague, telling you where to go next without overtly making it obvious. Even so, make sure you are reading/listening well; once dialogue finishes, you won’t be able to hear it again. And there’s no way to keep notes of what you’ve read or heard, which is a tad annoying if you’re memory is as bad as mine. A couple of times I got myself a bit stuck, having to retread ground in the hopes I could jog the memory. Partly my fault, of course, but it’d have been nice to be able to look back over old notes in your inventory.
But then, Sagebrush doesn’t really utilise many mod-cons we have come to expect these days. The UI is, well; basic is perhaps even too generous. While you can look at your inventory, there’s practically zero benefit to doing so, out side of maybe offering a vague hint of where to look next. Viewing the map simply overlays the screen with a flat picture – no indication of where you are or even which way you’re facing. The areas is small enough to guide yourself by landmarks after a short while, but a little help from the off wouldn’t have gone amiss. The controls were clearly not designed with a pad in mind either; it’s far too fiddly to highlight small objects to interact with, such as the plethora of light switches – and there’s no option to invert the Y-axis… Thankfully, the Xbox Accessories app saved the day here, though it shouldn’t really come to this.
Perhaps the most striking element though, is in the visuals. They are super low resolution, with textures and models that even the trusty old Sega Saturn could top (though there does appear to be a half decent lighting model under all that blur). That’s not to say it’s bad, per se. In fact, I rather like the style. But, when the controls are already making it difficult enough to interact with things, the blurry nature of the visuals can hide something you need to progress too easily. As night looms, even the flash light struggles to adequately help. You’ll likely have a good idea of where you’re headed by then, but it’s more just dull than unplayable – a black, blurry soup that hides any and all detail.
Between these 32-bit visuals, a haunting ambient soundtrack and the depressingly creepy audio logs you collect along the way, there is a really strong, foreboding atmosphere throughout. The blurb states it was influenced by early 90’s survival horror; and it shows. Even though you arrive at the camp knowing everyone died in the mass suicide, it’s still an unnerving place to explore. Doors slam behind you, little creaks and groans of the old wooden buildings come from all angles, and there’s a constant sense of dread. Again though, I wouldn’t want to spoil things, so I’ll leave it there.
Sagebrush offers a short, yet captivating and somewhat glib story that (I imagine) accurately portrays the mindset of people who find themselves within a religious cult. Easily, and best, played in a single sitting, it’ll keep your attention throughout. Some outdated UI and gameplay mechanics bring the package down, but the story will help you get through these hurdles.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.