Editor’s Note: Zero Sievert just released into Early Access over on Steam, and it is still an early build at that. The game has a lot of amazing potential, but it would not be fair to score it just yet. So, this is our impressions of the game right now. GiN will conduct a full and scored review when Zero Sievert officially releases.
I am a big fan of most of the genres that make up Zero Sievert, a new indie game being developed by Cabo Studio. It’s got a post-apocalyptic setting with both bad guys (people) for enemies as well as monsters. The maps are procedurally generated, so every run is going to be at least a little bit different from before. There is a strong crafting component, tons of guns to find and modify, and exploration is highly encouraged. So, let’s dive into the Early Access version of Zero Sievert and see where the series might be taking us.
Zero Sievert is being developed by Cabo Studio, which I believe is made up of a single developer. Knowing that makes this game even more impressive. Yes, it is far from perfect, but what there is to play with so far in Early Access is incredibly impressive. Although it was frustrating to play at times, I did have force myself to stop playing so that I could write this preview feature.
The game is set in Eastern Europe, somewhere around one of those old Soviet bloc countries. The flavor of the game overall is very much like Stalker, Metro, Escape from Tarkov, Chernobylite or many of the other titles with similar settings. But Zero Sievert still sets its own path to become a very unique gaming experience.
In Zero Sievert, you play a hunter, who is basically someone who leaves the safety of a large bunker complex to head out into the broken world to gather supplies or to complete missions and tasks for the various leaders who live in the bunker. Oddly enough, there is an old steam engine pulling a train which transports you to the various levels, which seems like an extremely inefficient way for a single person to travel in a world with dwindling resources, but let’s just go with that. The train drops you off in a random spot on the map, which is in turn procedurally generated, so you get a different experience every time. To leave the map and head back to the bunker, you have to make your way to one of a couple of spots near the edge of the map, which are also randomly placed.
If you die before you can extract, you lose everything you gained on that map, but keep everything you started with. Basically, you warp back to the bunker, and it’s as if the failed run had never happened. Given how difficult the game is to play at times, especially for the first 10 hours or so when players are very weak and have basic gear, eliminating any death penalty is a smart move. Otherwise, the game would likely be too frustrating for a lot of players.
Currently, there are five levels, or maps, to play on. The easiest map right now is called The Forest, while The Mall is arguably the hardest. Some quests that you will get in the bunker require you to travel to a specific map, like if you are asked to find a landmark or target an NPC who lives within that map. Many of the quests are simply “gather X number of things” which can be done anywhere. Maps are procedurally generated, but only partially. For example, on the forest map there will always be a village run by bandits, a cave inhabited by ghouls and a sprawling sawmill, but many of those elements will be in different locations every time you visit. The distribution of most enemies and NPCs are also randomized each time. For example, I was given a mission to kill an NPC living in a small house in the forest, but I let him live instead and even helped him to hunt for meat. In return, he gave me some unique and valuable items that he collected in a small chest every time I visited him – but his cabin moved around each time, which was kind of funny – like he lived in Baba Yaga’s walking hut or something.
Gameplay is shown from a top-down perspective, and the entire world is made of pixel art. The world looks surprisingly good, and it’s easy to tell what everything is. There is a surprising amount of lighting effects when using flashlights or a laser sight at night, and even a night vision mode which is really useful for sneaking around dangerous maps in the dark. The sound is really well done and offers a lot of clues as to what is happening nearby in the level you are traveling through. For example, if you hear a wolf howl, it means that there is a pack nearby. And when you hear guns shooting, it’s not just background noise. NPCs are fighting. Maybe different factions are gunning each other down, or maybe someone is defending themselves against mutants or hostile wildlife. Sometimes, if you are careful, you can sneak up and loot the bodies following a battle without having to fire a shot yourself.
There is a huge variety of guns in the game, from pistols and assault rifles to shotguns and sniper rifles. You can carry two guns at the same time, so a good strategy is to have two complimentary weapons, like a sniper rifle for long-range shooting and then a shotgun or SMG if something gets close. Sniper rifles are pretty powerful in Zero Sievert because once you have a scope, holding the right mouse button will bring up a zoomed in view that can look beyond the edge of your current screen to simulate the extra distance a scope provides.
While you are out in the world hunting or going on missions, you have to keep track of your tiredness, hydration, hunger and radiation levels. Hunger and thirst are fixed by eating and drinking what you find, craft or buy, while tiredness is curbed by sleeping back at the bunker. It would be interesting if you could sleep in the field sometimes too, but that does not yet seem to be an option in the game. Radiation builds up when you get close to a source of it, which is generally pooled around abandoned vehicles and anomalies, with a clicking Geiger counter letting you know when you step too close to something giving off rads. Your rad levels can be brought down by medicine, but also fully resets when you extract from a map and head back to the bunker.
Back at the bunker, you are assigned a quiet corner to be your base of operations. By crafting “modules” you can install features in your new home, like a garden to produce food or a place to craft your own ammunition. You have to collect a lot of materials for each module, so getting enough is quite a challenge, especially early in the game when you don’t have a lot of storage space (more storage space is also a module you can craft). Many of the modules are quite useful, but a few don’t seem very worthwhile, especially considering the cost in resources that you have to invest in them. For example, I created a garden because I thought it would provide me with a steady source of food, you know, like vegetables or something. But all it makes is “junk food” and “junk medical components” which can’t be eaten for whatever reason and are only good for a very limited number of crafting recipes. The garden should really produce eatable food, or the game at least needs to do a better job telling players what advantages each module will provide.
I enjoyed my time with Zero Sievert. If the game keeps developing the way it is now, then it will really be something special when it is officially released. However, there are a few negatives that may hold it back if not modified before that time. First off, the game is really difficult, and there are no level settings. You can eventually plateau over the difficulty, but a lot of players may feel that the curve is too steep. Zero Sievert could be a game that appeals beyond hardcore players if some kind of difficulty slider was introduced. A really good streamer named Oscar Mikey worked with Zero Sievert’s publisher Modern Wolf to produce a nice beginner’s guide video that can help keep players from dying too much when they are just starting out.
Zero Sievert is also overly complex. Even the gun cleaning kits in the game are tied to specific calibers of weapons. For example, if you have a cleaning kit for a gun that shoots 7.62x54R ammo, then you can’t use it to clean one that shoots 9×39 bullets. In real life, at least some gun cleaning kits are universal. Maybe the game could have one for pistols and one for rifles or something. Reducing at least a little bit of the complexity would go a long way to making Zero Sievert more accessible to more players, especially some of those elements that just seem like complexity for the sake of it.
One other thing which might not be a problem for some people but could be for others is the lack of controller support. You have to play with a keyboard and mouse. Some people are comfortable doing that, but controller support could make the game almost like a twin-stick shooter. Plus, some people simply can’t play with a keyboard for long periods of time, so controller support would open things up so that more players could enjoy the game.
None of the drawbacks really affected my enjoyment of this game. I played Zero Sievert nonstop for a long period of time and enjoyed most of my experiences with it. But having the option to make things a little easier and eliminating at least some of the complexity could go a long way in helping to make it a bigger hit whenever it leaves Early Access. Because it’s a really good game, my hope is that as many people as possible are able to play and enjoy Zero Sievert as much as I did.