Sagebrush – Xbox One Review
Our Xbox One Review of Sagebrush
Over the past few years, the introduction of games referred to as ‘walking simulators’ has been on the rise. The first time I heard the term was to describe Telltale’s The Walking Dead, though I’m sure it has been used before then. Big hits such as that, and the likes of Gone Home have demonstrated that there is room amongst the blockbuster shooter, sport, RPG and adventure games for gaming to be used as a platform for interactive story telling. Personally, I loved Gone Home, and found it to be a welcome step away from my usual gaming choices. It came with a story I engaged with, and I was compelled to find out where the little clues would lead me.
Enter Sagebrush, a game very much presented in the same way as Gone Home. From a first-person perspective we start with the playback of a recollection tape from a woman who tells us of her introduction to the cult which we will be finding more about as we continue the game. Once the playback ends a car stops outside The Black Sage Ranch. We’re told that we’re 250m NW of Albuquerque, and that it’s the site of the 1993 Perfect Heaven mass suicide.
For those who have experience with similar games, you’ll know what’s next. Time to find out more about this place, the cult which once inhabited it, and what led to the mass suicide of its occupants. You’ll be looking for tools and keys to get access to the number of building across the ranch which will house different parts of the story to piece it all together. Most of Sagebrush’s tale is told through written letters, diaries and audio recordings. There are a few physical and visual hints there that will hint to you at certain events which happened in the run up to the suicide.
Sagebrush won’t take you long to complete, I finished in around an hour and a half, and 10 of those minutes were walking around a corn field trying to find a buried key. The length of the game wouldn’t usually concern me if the story supporting it was strong enough to leave an impression. Unfortunately, for me personally Sagebrush did nothing new. It was a cult by numbers story that manages to tick off most of the cult cliché’s that you’ll almost certainly think about when thinking about them. Unsurprisingly the cult revolves around a religious leader who carries the ‘word of the lord’ and manages to convince his followers that suicide is the answer to all their players. Its difficult to say much more about the content of the story with it being so short. All I’ll say is that the biggest reaction I was able to give to any of it was a shrug of the shoulders, in a ‘yea that makes sense’ sort of way. Yes, there are a few minor swerves in the road on the way to the suicide, but nothing particularly surprising. I think the game would have benefitted from not telling me there was a mass suicide and giving as little information as possible before entering the gates of the ranch. If that was the case, I may have been able to be invested a little more, rather than being able to tick every expectation I had of the story.
Developers Redact Games made the decision to implement very simplified visuals. On the one hand, I can appreciate the intent to make you feel like you’re back in 1993, with graphics akin to a Minecraft creation. And while there is some success to this approach, it does make the darker parts of the game particularly difficult to see exactly what’s going on. There are lights to turn on and a hand torch, but I think the environment becomes a little muddied in these circumstances.
I really wanted to come away from Sagebrush having found a new little gem in the indie game scene. Instead I found a very short, predictable story, that I barely engaged with. While it does only cost £5.99, I’d recommend saving your money and looking elsewhere for your next story driven independent game.