Review: Sector Six

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Even in the grim darkness of 2019, there are countless permutations of game systems that haven’t been fully explored. Just start mashing words together and you’ll get concepts like deck-building arcade racer, retro RPG metroidvania, or city-builder visual novel. The folks who made Sector Six decided to smash together Defender-style shmups and ARPG-style procedural loot, and came up with something pretty engrossing on the customization side. If the action was a bit more involving this could have potentially been the basis of a whole new sub-genre, but as it stands it’ll take another attempt at the concept to really bring out the magic in it.

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Your space-faring civilization has been brought to the brink of annihilation by the machine armadas. The only hope of survival lies in ancient artifacts of legend, said to have been crafted by an empire long since gone. Turns out the legends are true, but the history behind them is more dire than you could ever imagine. Against the backdrop of a universe being utterly destroyed, you must race to assemble the collection of artifacts and turn them against the machines before they accomplish their goal of wiping you and all you know out. You’re not going to get there in your rinky-dink starter spaceship, though, and fortunately there’s a whole galaxy of parts to build real warships out of.

The story is pretty decent for a shmup of modest scope, but it’s definitely the customization system that steals the show. Your ship is comprised of squarish parts that you find or earn from missions. These parts can be weapons, engines, power cores, or all kinds of connectors and enhancers, each with their own randomized stats. Stats are determined by the level and quality of the part, and can boost anything from weapon power to armor to skill cooldowns, and add new effects like deflection chances. You can build your little vessel out in any direction, though the number of parts and weapons you can add is limited by the level of your ship.

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This is where the game stumbles a bit, because as enticing as the customization system is, it’s surrounded by a lot of cruft that detracts from the appeal of building cool ships. Until you level up your ship by doing missions, you’ll be very restricted in what you can attach and experiment with. Leveling can go quickly but you must be in the appropriate sector for your level; staying in an area even one level below your own will earn you no experience. Sectors contain the different missions you can take on, but outside of the plot missions (one per sector, around a dozen sectors total) they’re mostly just clearing out enemies or destroying one specific one. The map UI is pretty unintuitive and I’m still not 100% clear on how all the locations work, which again detracts from what should be the core appeal: making and flying cool ships.

Sadly the actual use of your ships is perhaps the weakest part of the game. Designing this title as a Defender-style shmup where you can freely scroll forward and back feels terribly odd, especially since everything seems like it should be moving forward. Levels have almost no features at all, leaving them empty corridors for you to blast enemy ships in. Foes have a bit of variety to them, requiring the use of a spread of your impressive special powers like beam cannons and missile salvos. But it’s all bound to feel a bit samey after a few missions, with the only variety being the kind of ship you bring to the fight. And the art style really does not help here, with flat black ships against fuzzy tan backdrops, without even a nebula or starscape in sight.

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If you can focus on the heart of the game, collecting parts and building ships, it can be a fair bit of fun seeing what kind of chaos you can wreak. But you have to look past a lot of uninspired or confusing bits to get there, and that’s a big ask considering the spread of shmups on Steam. I’d love to see this concept given more room to flourish and a flashier style, because it feels so restrained here in Sector Six. It’s not a bad game, just one that doesn’t do as much as it should with its core mechanics, and hopefully we’ll get to see the full potential of a looter shmup explored someday. Until then, you’ll still get some fun out of this one, just under the right conditions.

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