(In the interests of full disclosure, this review is based on the Gold Edition - which should be considered the best option available).
It's nethack, but not your father or your mother's nethack. This is tried and tested "Get in from the frozen exterior of a planet into a secret underground base that extends downwards further than any greedy dwarf dared dig." model, but brought up to date with a solid lick of paint, high resolution graphics, and a clear and consistent approach to enemies, objects and overall design.
The story, what there is, is much the norm for such roguelikes, it's merely the pretext for getting you to the front of the dungeon, the reality is that this is a true roguelike, you go as far as you can, aiming to reach the bottom of the pit, or die messily along the way. You only have one life, no do-overs. Unlike a lot of "modern" nethacks, this one goes back to roll style checks for skill tests, and gives an extensive list of possible talents to sculpt and model your character. The Gold edition additionally features several extra classes, giving you a respectable pool of choices, both human and nonhuman in nature (playing as an alien ranger is -awesome- ).
Scattered throughout each randomly generated floor is a variety of traps, both tile and door based, locked chests and rooms, and various devices that may help or hinder your ability to progress. Ranging from defunct cookers that need repairing to prepare a simple blandwich (Don't ask what's in one, really, you don't want to know..), to advanced and somewhat dotty security computers that may just as readily electrocute you as deactivate the several heavily armed and armoured droids patrolling the area.
The game operates functionally as a turn based game, with each discrete action you take allowing the AI the opportunity to respond (hint - if the game pauses briefly between moves, there's something nearby, and it's almost certainly unfriendly). You take an action, the AI takes an action, repeat until either you or whatever the AI sent your way has collapsed in a pool of it's own fluids. When dealing with multiple foes, target selection becomes important, you can if you feel confident let the computer handle targetting and it does a sensible enough job, but on occasion you'll want to step in yourself to ensure that the scariest thing dies first. Combat employs a wide variety of melee and projectile weapons, and in keeping with the future sci-fi aesthetic, these can be pretty fantastical, including laser, plasma and other interesting effects.
In such games, death can come in many ways, here is no exception. Simply being impaled is for novices, try being irradiated, choked by a mimic pretending to be a med station, diseased by an out of control experiment, or being melted in acid. It is important to note that in these games - Death is an opportunity to learn, not a signal of failure. Go in expecting to die a lot, and the ultimate victory will be that much sweeter.
This game is not for the faint of heart, but it is well worth the effort, and for an intermediate roguelike player, someone who's cut their teeth on more forgiving entries to the genre (Dungeons of Dredmor is a great place to start), this is the logical progression. Welcome to The Pit. Enjoy your stay.
Posted: November 26th, 2013