Some games wear their inspiration on their sleeve. Some on the other hand think the sleeve too restrained and go full-body giant-booted cosplay replete with latex body parts, 3D printed attachments, and handmade foam battle-armour. Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption sits firmly in that comic-con booth with flashing signage broadcasting its desire to be all things “SoulsBorne”. This is a dangerous thing to highlight because if you’re advertising your plan to emulate a series as iconic and beloved as From Software’s serial frustration generators, you better be able to back it up, or at least dodge-roll out of the way.
The first thing you will notice is that Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption looks like Dark Souls. The atmosphere is oppressive, the lighting muted and moody, and the armour our protagonist is wearing looks like it was taken wholesale from the Souls asset library. This put me off initially not because I do not like the style but because it fails to make Sinner feel like its own thing, instead it feels like a Dark Souls proof of concept demo. This is a feeling that would be repeated throughout my time with the game. Sinner does very little to distinguish itself from its inspiration, it certainly never elevates itself above it, and more than once it stumbles because of it.
Sinner is essentially a boss rush Souls-lite, there is no exploration, environmental storytelling, and certainly no back-tracking to access previously inaccessible locations and enemies. From the outset you can access every one of the games bosses. Themed on each of the deadly sins they are massive nightmarish creations that provide a unique challenge to the player. And I mean challenge, Sinner is hard, punishingly so. Unlike the SoulsBorne titles it bases itself on there is no easing into things by hacking up a few mobs, creeps, or lone critters. You’re given a basic intro and then straight into the meat-grinder. As a fan of boss battler games, I generally like this approach, but Sinner misses the mark in a couple of core areas because it leans so heavily on the SoulsBorne properties. Correction, it leans too heavily on them.
Generally speaking boss rush/battler titles ramp up the difficulty not only with each subsequent enemy, but those enemies tend to evolve and become more difficult across multiple forms, phases, or evolutions giving the player time to learn the mechanics, as well as patterns, tells, and various animation timings. Sinner does this to a degree but smashes you in the face pretty quickly with each of the bosses. Heavily leveraging the fight, die, try again game loop we’ve come to love from a game series I may have mentioned once or twice previously. It adds an extra level of frustration early on that I simply did not feel the game had earned. Had I known beforehand just how difficult the game was to start with I likely would have found the initial wall of death a little easier to contend with and gotten into the swing (and dodge) of things a lot earlier, and truth be told if I had not been reviewing the game I would have given up well before giving it a chance.
Adding to my initial frustrations was the camera control, or in this case the complete lack of it. While you’re generally dealing with single enemies there were quite a few times where being able to shift the camera would have been useful to locate or avoid a spawned minion or hazard or allow me to better position myself against an attack or ranged barrage. But the core issue once again is due to the game’s inspirations. Because of how it looks and is presented I kept expecting to be able to move the camera. After four Souls games, Bloodborne, and more than a few Souls-like titles I had become trained to use the right stick in this way. It’s a minor issue, but one that constantly annoyed me.
The real strength of any of the Souls-like game is the combat and thankfully Sinner is no different. Each of the weapons, moves, and combos feel responsive, and most importantly repeatably predicable. Even in handheld mode on my Switch I never felt I was battling the controls. The combat is by far the best aspect of the game, and that is likely because it’s basically From’s system with no real changes. Hits feel weighty and powerful; blocks and dodges work exactly as you would expect, and the timing is even a little more forgiving than From’s Soul’s titles. Where Sinner is less forgiving is in its leveling system. While it’s certainly unique it’s a bit of a dick and immediately so. Despite my reputation even I require an introduction and a drink before being willing take that on, even if it is just a bit.
The name says it all really - Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption. That sacrifice will kill you, repeatedly. Each of the games bosses requires you to sacrifice something in order to face them. What that is varies from boss to boss. You will give up health, healing rates, attack power, and defence abilities to name but a few. Each boss weakens you, and the loss is permanent. Each subsequent boss will cause you to level down again making the next boss all the more difficult as a result. And herein lies my core complaint with the game. This system feels awful. Rather than rewarding the player it feels like you are being punished for moving forward. It’s all in the delivery, this system in no way makes Sinner any harder than any other game of ilk, but how its presented left a bad taste in my mouth. Where other games power you up, and increase the lethality of your enemies, Sinner instead leaves the power level of the enemies static and makes you weaker. The result is the same as far as a difficulty curve goes, but it removes the power fantasy and feeling of progression from the experience. I was not improving and fighting greater foes, I was being beaten down to make me an easier meal for those I faced next. Feels bad man.
This system however is not inherently bad, in fact, if handled differently it could have been great. The issue here is in the delivery and limited scope of the story-telling and world building. Some text on screen in between fights does little to immerse you in the world, especially when that world is a small hub and a few portals. Sinner was made by a small team, and I give them all the credit in the world for what they’ve been able to create, but in order to paint this world and sell the fiction they needed a bigger canvas, or more of them. Some transitional areas with narrative hooks to give better context would have helped to sell why the sacrifices were important to the player and made sense from the game-world perspective. Instead they feel gamey and worst of all cheap, something SoulsBorne games seldom if ever do.