Developer: Redact Games
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Genre: Horror, Adventure
Platform: PlayStation 4
Age Rating: PEGI 16
Release Date: 07/08/2019
Price: £4.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Welcome to Perfect Heaven
Have you ever wondered what goes on inside a Cult?
Welcome to Black Sage Farm, site of the Perfect Heaven Cult mass suicide. Situated in the middle of New Mexico, this fictitious setting and group are about to take you on an intense journey that will horrify you on several different levels.
Inspired by real accounts of various Cults, Sagebrush from the team at RedAct games is essentially a walking simulator that allows you to unravel the truth about what happened some 27 years ago.
A Desert Haven or Sandy Hell
The decision to go for a low-fi look and feel to the game was a great idea stylistically. It works well to give the farm a dated and dilapidated look. It is an indie game, and while I am sure the image choices were partially dictated by budget, I am confident this works to the game’s benefit.
The Black Sage Farm complex itself is large and does flirt with being too expansive given the linear aspect of the gameplay, but at the same time, the distance between everything does help develop the atmosphere of being out in the middle of the desert. Wide-open space and rolling terrain, with buildings placed where the ground allows rather than because the Developer put them there gives an added element of realism to everything.
The audio of the game was sparse, but purposefully so. The subtle soundtrack was suitably tense and fitting to the occasion, and the string instrument segment towards the end was the perfect way to ramp up what was the most intense part of the game.
The creaking floorboards and the subtle sounds of abandonment were a well-used background accompaniment that made sure you never felt truly comfortable. Even though it was apparent very early on that there was no real danger to you as the player, the lingering sense of dread was unmistakable and unavoidable.
There was one moment in the mines where the lighting made me sure that shadow creatures were following me, but that could have been because of my playing Shadows 2: Perfidia just before starting this game.
Explore Until You Learn the Truth
Sagebrush is a short game and is over within a few hours. This is a shame because of how engrossing the atmosphere and story is, but also perfect for the tale being told and the gameplay that supports it.
Essentially a walking simulator, you arrive at the dreary remains of Black Sage Farm knowing nothing much about the place. There is no guidance for what you are supposed to do, or what you are trying to accomplish, yet the narrative takes hold and pulls you along like a strong current.
The gameplay is straightforward. You walk around, and by means of finding notes, reading cult literature extracts and listening to tape deck recordings, you unravel the mystery of what happened in the Perfect Heaven group.
While you have the run of the entire compound, free to explore everything at your leisure, the game is built in a very linear fashion with each clue holding building being locked, and the key can only be found in the former building.
This works well for this game because of the revealing nature of each round of clues; learning something out of turn would spoil the experience.
Another strong part of the game is the writing. In many indie games, the notes and items you find lying around are weak. Filled with errors and often feel as if they have been added but not considered. In Sagebrush, the notes were written to a very high quality. The excellent use of language and words that show the people involved were educated folk. They also struck the right note of encroaching madness and distrust as it spread through the camp.
My favourite line is ‘Sin is out debt and pain is our currency’. Even taken out of the context of the game, that is a killer line.
The game is not perfect. The controls do get a little clunky at times, and once night falls, you have to rely on the map and good positioning to find your way around.
One issue I had with the game, and I’m not sure if it was intentional or a bug, was that you could only listen to the tape decks once, so if you missed anything that was said there was no way of going back and listening to it for a second time.
The biggest problem I had, and one that may sound rather trivial but came close to breaking the illusion of the story, was the voice acting for Father James. The enigmatic Cult leader, a violent and angry man, whose lifestyle is well described in the game. Yet, the two instances where we see and hear the Father talk, his voice is an incredible disappointment. There was nothing charismatic about it. There was nothing in the way the lines were delivered that made me think for one second that anybody would follow this man.
Now, I know this was the games creator, and I understand budget restraints on projects, but a more objective analysis would have easily shown more care was needed in the final delivery of the lines.
As I said, it was only two moments, but given the character and the setting, it was such a jolt to hear that the illusion the game created so well until those points, was broken.
Return to the Flock
While Sagebrush tells a fantastic story and has some excellent writing in it, there is very little in terms of replayability in the game. It is linear and offers no alternate endings or different difficulty settings, and for those on the PS4 and so inclined, a platinum trophy is virtually guaranteed, with the possible exception of the baseball plates, every trophy was gained by following the story.
Some games are made only to be played once, in the way some movies only really have that wow moment for a single viewing. Much like the Sixth Sense the revelation at the end, while not overly shocking, is on that can only really be enjoyed once, and any subsequent playthroughs would be done with that knowledge in place, and therefore a different eye turned towards all of the events that lead up to that moment.
Judgment is at Hand
Sagebrush is an interesting game. It isn’t perfect, but this is very much a game that is about the story and the journey rather than the frills and packaging. It handles its subject matter with truthful respect. Often in games and tv, cults are made either comically evil, or its leaders are glorified and turned into likeable antiheroes.
Redact neither glorify nor make light of cults. Instead, they have created a gripping narrative that leads you on an investigative path of discovery.
The harrowing truth of the Perfect Heaven Cult is revealed one note or tape deck at a time, building up to the final moments, and the actual ending that suddenly introduces and ends a secondary narrative you never knew was there.
Sagebrush is a game I would recommend for those who love a good story.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Sagebrush from the PlayStation Store on the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-GB/product/EP0896-CUSA15133_00-RATAGAMSAGEBRUSH
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.