Search a storm-ridden planet for the cure to a deadly plague.
PC Release: October 21, 2016
By Ian Coppock
The next title in this month’s pack of survival games is Sky Break, a game about staying alive more for the sake of others than the self. Unlike FarSky, a game about tranquil survival, and Adrift, a game about outlasting a disaster of one’s own creation, Sky Break is a game about pegging the fate of millions to the survival of a single person. It presents the need to save others as being just as much of a pressure as finding food or shelter. Where the game goes from that premise is the subject of tonight’s review.
Sky Break is a third-person adventure game and the sophomore effort of FarSky Interactive. With Sky Break, FarSky swaps out the underwater setting of its titular debut with that of an alien world far, far in the future: a future in which humanity has been driven to the brink of extinction by a deadly plague. The player character, an anonymous explorer, is sent to the stormy planet of Arcadia to find and synthesize a cure. If they fail, so too does the human race.
The character starts Sky Break out being one of many explorers sent to Arcadia, but the planet’s aforementioned stormy weather wreaks havoc on the fleet and leaves the player the sole survivor. Bereft of their colleagues and armed only with what they can scavenge from the world around them, it’s up to the player to find a cure, repair their ship, and avoid falling prey to Arcadia’s fierce storms and killer robots.
What’s that? Killer robots?! Yes indeed, Arcadia’s fierce storms are hardly the only obstacle players have to keep an eye out for. The planet is also swarming with animal-like robots that exhibit all the feral ferocity one might expect of actual animals. It turns out that Arcadia was settled by humanity long ago, but had to abandon the planet when these mechs turned on their creators. Before anyone starts screeching that Sky Break is a Horizon Zero Dawn clone, bear in mind that this game released about four months before HZD. Checkmate, fanboys.
Luckily for the player, killer animal robots weren’t the only things the colonists left behind on Arcadia. They also happened to leave behind chests full of supplies and, oh yeah, a fully functional sky base that can move wherever the player needs it to go. This high-tech sky-loft comes packed with a medical room, a greenhouse, and other necessities for surviving on Arcadia. The station also comes with a landing pad for the ship… if players can fix it.
With all of these resources at hand, players are well-equipped to explore Arcadia and find the cure. Sky Break is played from a third-person perspective and outfits players with a laser rifle, a repair tool, and other devices useful for navigating Arcadia’s wilds. Players are also accompanied by a drone that can emit sonar pings and reveal nearby items. Finding the cure is pretty simple: just walk up to a nearby plant, gather a sample, and the let the character’s built-in synthesizer start cracking away at it.
Of course, Sky Break doesn’t actually tell players most of this. The game gives general directives like finding the sky base and locating nearby islands, but doesn’t otherwise inform players how to proceed. It doesn’t divulge that having gathered plant material sit in the inventory is sufficient for making a fraction of the cure. Sky Break‘s abject lack of hints is a needless frustration that can make it difficult to discern what to do next or how best to explore Arcadia.
Apart from its lack of detailed information, the other wearisome element of Sky Break‘s gameplay is, well… its gameplay. The only way to complete the game is to collect plant samples for the cure, but each sample only yields about .20% of the final product. Sky Break attempts to dilute the botany monotony by splitting the world into islands and across wilderness, but the end goal is the same no matter which chunk of rock the player is traversing. Occasionally the player may try to reclaim a signal tower and fight off hordes of robots, but those are by and large the only instances that things shake up.
Not that Sky Break‘s shooter gameplay is all that remarkable either. There are lots of robotic animals prowling the wilds, but they all go down the same way: just shoot until they die. The enemies in Sky Break have rudimentary AI, typically only barreling straight toward the player much as the sharks do in FarSky. Unlike FarSky‘s sharks, though, these enemies can at least be dodged. Far more novel than shooting the robots is the ability to tame and upgrade them, making them valuable wilderness companions.
Sky Break‘s most novel gameplay feature is the weather. As previously mentioned, Arcadia is perpetually rocked by thunderstorms, and the severity of those storms affects finding the cure. Most times the storm is reduced to rain and light wind, which is hardly a bad thing. Other times, though, the storm kicks up to a fever pitch, unleashing deadly tornadoes and frequent lightning strikes. Sometimes the storms can get so bad that the player’s minimap can short out, forcing them to take shelter until it passes. Fortunately, players can usually reduce the storm’s ferocity with a nearby lightning rod.
Sky Break‘s weather gameplay is cool, but its other gameplay elements leave much to be desired. Players can bet that most of their time will be spend gathering plants and shooting any robots that attempt to obstruct them from gathering said plants. Compound this with the fact that players don’t have any resource needs, like food or water, to maintain, and Sky Break feels less like a survival game and more like an adventure demo.
To Sky Break‘s credit, the game attempts to break up the routine of alien gardening by featuring several different biomes. Players start out in a lush forest but can go on to explore a scorching desert and an unforgiving arctic wasteland. Each of these environments is brightly colored, but the game’s object design and graphical rendering are… rudimentary. Likewise, character animations for both the player and the robots are painfully stiff.
Sky Break also suffers from several interesting notions of how to render weather. FarSky Interactive did a good enough job animating wind-rustled tree leaves and grass, but for some reason elected to animate gales of wind that shoot upwards from the ground. It’s a bizarre-looking eyesore, one that suggests either lazy effect implementation or that the wind was animated to flow in the wrong direction. Sky Break does marginally better with its world’s sound design; a lot of the effects are muffled but the music is pretty.
The nail in Sky Break‘s coffin is its large load of bugs. Robot animals will simply glitch through physical obstacles if they charge the player hard enough. The game is subject to random crashes that no amount of tinkering in its options menu seems to fix. Why Sky Break is so prone to this performance issue is a mystery; its graphics constitute a minimal system performance burden.
Finally, Sky Break is also prone to some of the worst character and object pop-in of any game reviewed on this page… even the Ubisoft ones. This problem is at its most dire when players fix their ship, which they can fly around the world much like they could the mini-sub in FarSky. Astoundingly, the ship can fly faster than the world around it can load, meaning that players have to wait for the world to spawn in around them once they reach their destination. If the player is waiting in a space that’s supposed to be occupied by a landmark like a rock formation, that cliff or butte will spawn around the player and trap them (and their ship) inside it. What a farce.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about Sky Break. Its sound design is muted, its world is scattershot… the entire production feels more like an Early Access build than a finished product. The game presents an interesting world and concept, but its execution is slipshod in almost every game design department. As such, it’s better off avoided. Sky Break represents a surprising step back for FarSky, whose eponymous debut was a much better game. Hopefully the studio can recapture FarSky‘s sense of fun with The Free Ones, its upcoming island escape adventure, but until then… skip Sky Break.
You can buy Sky Break here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.