Seven: The Days Long Gone has managed to impress me with its dystopian sandbox structure and stealth gameplay mechanics. It’s been too long since I’ve played such a hybrid of themes and genres. As the Steam debut of Fool’s Theory (with help from Humble Bundle and IMGN.PRO), there’s very little to complain about their project and I sincerely admire their bold decision in setting their standards significantly higher than what many indie devs would hope to achieve from the get-go. If starts are meant to be the hardest part, then I’m really looking forward to what this dev team can accomplish in the foreseeable future.
“In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.”
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson
I love it when games explain their fictional worlds through the famous words of writers whose works, I’ve actually read and enjoyed. This wonderful quote is shown at the end of Seven: The Days Long Gone’s introduction. It fits the game’s themes like a glove. Teriel the “master thief” is neither stupid nor entirely guilty for the life and profession that he’s leading. When you live in a semi-primitive dystopia that is literally built in the shadow of war-torn past civilizations, you have a limited choice if you wish to survive, not to mention prosper. Survival and finding a meaning to life, are both central topics which are deeply embedded in Seven’s storyline. This figure, “magic number” and powerful symbol in so many cultures and contexts refers to multiple aspects even in the game’s narrative thread. There are seven strictly monitored districts in the penal colony of Peh. The nearly mandatory pilgrimage of the pseudo-religion present in-game, is called the “Seven Steps of Drugun”. That’s Emperor Drugun, for you and me.
You see, no matter in what kind of post-apocalyptic world you may try to scrape a living in, there will always be enough lunatics to cling on to their twisted definitions of power and submission. The Vetrall Empire is no different. Built on the smoldering ruins of what was left of civilization after a Great War, several tribes were united by a warlord who imposed an “imperial cult” of worshiping himself and his heroic deeds. Emperor Drugun’s rule is absolute and any form of dissidence is met by a swift and violent death. It almost sounds like an equivalent to Warhammer 40K’s God Emperor of Mankind, yet the world of the Vetrall Empire is even bleaker than the Imperium of Man. Our story’s mystical tyrant is also enforcing his will through oppressive factions that are seemingly loyal to him. The Biomancers are self-proclaimed healers which hide their ulterior motives very well. In exchange for their tireless spewing of propaganda, Drugun allows them to conduct all manner of heinous experiments on the commoners within the empire. If you think that these guys are the the worst villains in this tale, let me tell you about the Technomagi.
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“Affectionately” referred to as Tinnies by nearly everyone’s who doesn’t belong to their faction, the Technomagi are a mix between Fallout’s Brotherhood of Steel and a brutally efficient police force. I should probably call them “The Brotherhood of Plastic” since they seem obsessed with securing old world artifacts while sporting polymer weapons and armor sets. There really are no “good guys” in Seven: The Days Long Gone, so stop looking for any and just enjoy the story. A considerable amount of trivia and backstories have been written for characters, factions, locations or the mutant wild life. All this information is stored in a Codex that can be consulted at any point, so I won’t focus too much on minor narrative details. I’ll summarize it as a thief’s journey of self-discovery that will take him from one hellhole to another. You won’t even notice how fast the scenery changes from the neon-lit capital of the Vetrall Empire to the desolate landscapes of the Peh prison colony that mirror Alcatraz’s lethality and impossibility of escape. Teriel shall be spending most of his time sneaking around and infiltrating places that are normally off-limits to prisoners. That’s part of Seven’s charm, that you’ll also be able to blend in via disguises.
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If you never played or even heard of the Planet Alcatraz series, you’re forgiven. They can be found on the Steam Store and while they aren’t very popular titles, they seem to share some elements with the game I’m reviewing today. Isometric RPGs which combine Sci-Fi and post-apocalyptic topics with combat that favors a more stealthy approach, are a rather narrow niche which could always use more representatives. As I mentioned above, Teriel can disguise himself if he obtains the appropriate sets of factional armor. That is one of the first things you should keep in mind once he’s incarcerated on the penal colony. Impersonating his captors, is the only way the “protagonist” will be able to reach heavily defended checkpoints or fortifications. Make it a priority, in silently taking down a lone Technomagi guard and stealing his equipment. Just like in the Hitman series, blending in while disguised won’t be a fail-safe procedure (since officers can see right through your ruse), but it is the only way forward since Teriel won’t be able to fight back and survive encounters with multiple heavily armored foes. Play it smart and patiently. There are no in-game time constraints to accomplishing any of Seven’s many objectives.
Powered by the Unreal Engine 4 and featuring an isometric projection with a healthy dose of cel shading, Seven: The Days Long Gone is a sight to behold. It may strain your GPU depending on the resolution you choose, but I found a nice compromise between beauty (maxed out details, naturally) and stable 60fps, around 2560×1440. There were still minor frame rate drops, but nothing in comparison to the instability found on 4K resolution where I’d witness drops from 60 to 30 far too often for the game to be enjoyable. I like 4K screenshots and especially so if they’re made by me, yet for the sake of stability I settled for 2K. From what I’ve been reading on the game’s Steam Community tab, there were serious frame rate issues at launch, but a quick succession of patches have managed to solve that. You can’t accuse the developer of slow support, at least. Several glitches which involve NPC pathfinding and texture pop-in are still present but I’m certain that in time, they’ll also be eradicated. Other than that, there are many landmarks to visit, climb around or sneak into. Cut-scenes are divided between skilled drawings and rendered by the game’s engine. I really enjoyed Seven’s art style. From retro-futurism to bleak realism.
The sounds are also complementing the visuals quite nicely. A discrete soundtrack, ample supply of sound effects and skilled voice acting, all ensure that Seven: The Days Long Gone is regarded as a quality experience, capable of conveying the much needed identity to its oppressive game world. Of course, with the amount of dialogue and side quest complexity, not all NPCs feature voice acting, yet the crucial missions and objectives are properly explained and voiced through different English dialects. No typos were found so far and I do hope it shall remain that way.
The aforementioned seven districts of Peh Island, require visas in the form of consumable pills. Getting Matrix/ Equilibrium vibes from this gameplay mechanic and as you can imagine, players can circumvent this procedure whose role is to further enforce crowd control. Being a master infiltrator and thief, Teriel can illegally hitch rides on the monorail system which connects the entire map. Or he can temporarily clone the visas from subdued Tinnies or Biomancers. Even buying those pills from grey market vendors, instead of paying the full price to the official Visa “ATMs”.
Freedom of choice and movement define Seven: The Days Long Gone. From the game’s second act that invariably lands Teriel on Peh, players can pretty much pickpocket anyone, steal anything which isn’t bolted down, travel wherever they please and complete side quests at their own pace and without touching the main storyline missions. Any respectable open world format should have these features and Seven doesn’t disappoint one bit, from this perspective.
The inventory system is sadly quite lacking and from a very weirdly specific reason. You can gain the in-game currency (Auryte crystals) quite easily but players don’t have that many options about spending it on better gear. The best gear can be obtained by stealing it, naturally. Also, you won’t find many decent “fences” for those stolen goods. Merchants literally have next to no Auryte to pay you, for those extra weapons and pieces of armor you loot off the enemies you vanquished. In a way, it might make sense that you’ll resort to bartering. Trading your stolen goods to selected merchants for items they posses and might be of interest. Then again, I am fondly remembering the times I could trade in Skyrim or Stalker for hard currency that was always replenished at the in-game stores. It might be a minor issue which won’t bother you at all. I won’t consider it a weak point for that very reason.
No video game about stealing and sneaking would be complete without lockpicking, pickpocketing or hacking, in this Sci-Fi case. All these activities have a corresponding mini-game and they’re fairly easy to master after a few tries. I especially enjoyed how pilfering through an NPC’s inventory can attract unwanted attention from bystanders which can even report Teriel to the authorities. And unfortunately, there’s no fine to pay or extra jail time for you on Peh. If you’re caught while trespassing or stealing from someone, it’s a swifty carried death sentence unless you can escape from the scene of the crime. Can’t really blame the Technomagi for wishing to avoid overpopulation. Penal colony or not, Peh’s settlements are also home to scavengers and smugglers, all seeking to score enough loot for a chance at a decent life. As expected, very few manage to leave the island.
Teriel’s incarceration wasn’t just random punishment though. Without spoiling anything, our “hero” shall get possessed by a cyber-demon that orders him around while also providing both useful intel and a series of supernatural powers that represent a further advantage to the master thief’s skills. Artanak is the ethereal entity’s name and I consider him at least partially an Artificial Intelligence, since Teriel has a cybernetically enhanced sight that allows him to enter Sense Mode. Once toggled, you’ll be able to see hidden loot, enemy vision cones and other points of interest you may interact with. You can’t really ask for more assistance to a stealth-focused video game.
Combat isn’t neglected either and by using traps and evasive tactics such as hit & run, you can pick off even the strongest foes without becoming outnumbered or outgunned. The Vetrall Empire is home to both energy weapons and conventional projectiles, such as crossbows bolts. The melee options feature more diversity and you’ll also be relying on them, since a backstab is the only efficient method of dispatching unsuspecting targets, one by one. Direct confrontation should only be used as a last resort, when escaping is not possible or when facing mutants that aren’t susceptible to stealth attacks. Lastly, item crafting through workbenches and alchemy stations can offer a viable alternative to buying/bartering for those same goods from poorly-stocked traders.
There’s a Steam Achievement in Seven: The Days Long Gone which unlocks after players have completed 40 side quests. That should give you a rough estimate of the game’s scope and scale. A fairly large map which is opened to exploration early on, really deserves to be packed with things to see and accomplish. I’ve yet to discover every single secret within Seven, but I know that I shall reach that point since the game’s still captivating even after a dozen hours of just roaming around. Teriel’s tale is one which shouldn’t be missed by any RPG fan, regardless if they have experience with the stealth subgenre or not.
All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.