Escape From New York is a 1981 action film set in the far-off world of 1997, where former Special Forces badass Snake Plissken is sent into a Manhattan Island that’s been converted into a prison island to rescue the President of the United States. In the film, Snake must employ stealth and his razor-sharp wit to find el Presidente and return him safely. Along the way, he gains allies that help him save the day. It’s John Carpenter’s most enjoyably pulp film by far, and is a must-watch for anybody who loves 80s film. Seven: The Days Long Gone is a stealth RPG where master thief Teriel is sent to a prison island called Peh after attempting to steal a priceless artefact. He must employ stealth and his razor-sharp wit to discover his true purpose on Peh. Along the way, he makes a ghost friend who’s just as snappy as he is! The similarities are there, but there’s one major difference between John Carpenter’s masterpiece of budget action and developer Fool Theory’s love letter to isometric RPGs: I can recommend Escape From New York to anybody.
If you’ve played games on a PC for a little longer than a decade, you’ll remember a neat little genre called the CRPG. It literally stands for Computer Role-Playing Game. It’s what games like Baldur’s Gate and Diablo II used to be called before console RPGs matched the scale of their PC counterparts. Seven: The Days Long Gone is a game set firmly in this grand old tradition. It harkens back to the glory days of RPGs, to a time where Planescape: Torment ruled the roost. The asymmetric perspective is the first giveaway, but beneath the blatant boner for the (wicked) nasty 90s, Seven attempts to bring the genre into the modern age. However, its old-school gameplay and modern design choices inevitably clash.
One thing this game has going for it is its great scenery
The variety of player options without prompt encourages experimentation. The first mission I played was a breeze because I put a kill’s uniform on as a disguise! Weapons have plenty of variety and each has its own unique style. Using a lance, for example, is a much different kettle of fish than swinging a sword. The neo-medieval cyberpunk world is a masterstroke in this regard. It allows the game to have just as large a variety in its ranged weapons as well. Laser rifles, crossbows, longbows, oh my! The variety, unfortunately, is let down by the balancing. It’s possible to keep the same weapon in your entire playthrough, with upgrades replacing the need for replacement. If there’s no need for replacement, why bother with weapon deterioration at all? The biggest crime that Seven commits against its awesome cavalcade of weaponry is its small inventory size. It’s too small to allow you to grab new weapons and give them a whirl without discarding your current one. Fair warning: Seven is full of ‘mechanics holes’ like this.
Selling your gear and the crafting system is a great way to practice your “awh whaaaaaaaaat”. You get bugger all for selling gear to vendors, so the crafting system is seemingly here to save the day. Random crap you collect in Seven’s world can be crafted into useful items, but the UI won’t let you do it easily. You need to break down some items but not break down others. If you’re not keeping track 26 hours a day and eight days a week, you’re going to get easily buttblasted. Awh, whaaaaaaaat. I gathered that this was down to Seven’s love affair with 90s RPGs, where a game’s mechanics were firmly on a ‘figure it out yourself’ basis. Dipping your toes in the deep end, away from the handholding of the shallow end, is great! But Seven forgot that it doesn’t know how to swim, and jumped right in.
Public executions: Fun for all the family
Perfect addition to any vacation album
Playing as a stealthy thief who’s more adept at backstabbing than a lady-killing Frenchman in an Italian suit, movement is imperative to success. Thankfully, Seven’s movement feels solid and nicely weighted – outside of combat. When Peh’s police force decide that it was you who spilled their pint, it’s awfully repetitive. Attack, block or dodge attack, use ability to counter the many bullshit stun locks they have, attack, block or dodge attack…you get the point. This comes back to my previous point about the weapons; there’s variety, but no reason to take advantage of it. Using an axe as opposed to a laser baton won’t shake up the combat enough, so you’re stuck back to your tried-and-tested longsword. So, if combat’s dull then stealth must be the way to go. You’re playing as video game Kurt Russel, after all! But again, the choices in this regard boggle the mind. There’s very little consistency in an enemy’s detection of you hiding in a bush or behind a curtain, which is the most important thing in a stealth game. Worst still, backstabs and the like don’t always guarantee a kill.
If you’re not keeping track 26 hours a day and eight days a week, you’re going to get easily buttblasted
Even outside of combat, the movement has its pratfalls. Climbing is a pain in parts, especially when the game’s camera doesn’t indicate properly what’s climbable and what isn’t. But this is probably an intentional design choice: In Tomb Raider, for example, manual climbing works to its advantage. If you’re not sure if you can climb a ledge, you can give it a try using a button input. After a while, you’ll figure out when you can and can’t climb or jump far enough just by looking at an obstacle. The camera angle worked for Lara Croft because it provided the player with a good understanding of their surroundings. In Seven, climbing is an absolute chore because the game’s isometric perspective doesn’t allow the player to instantly recognise when something can be ascended. Running away from enemies is often the best solution in Seven, but the camera is not your friend. At best, it’ll turn or pivot when you don’t expect it to. At worse, objects preventing you climbing a wall will be hidden until the last moment – providing your enemies with their punching bag. It’s upsetting that such a finely weighted player movement system is hindered by a UI and the map.
I miss the CRPG. There are many others who do too. In an RPG landscape dominated by third-person political thrillers, it’s a relief to sit down and play a game that takes us back to the golden age of video games. Seven: The Days Long Gone certainly holds that charm and appeal, thanks to its wonderful aesthetic. Unfortunately, its poor design consistency and frustrating mechanics make it unrecommendable for anybody but those starved for another game in a beloved genre.
Reviewed on Windows // Review code supplied by publisher