The first thing you see after firing up the current build of SBTF is a high score table in the ugliest 90s neon font plastered over the ugliest 90s 3D rendering of a space station corridor. What follows is the most harrowing, thrilling FPS I’ve played in years.
With a name so on the nose even Ronseal would be jealous, SBTF does exactly what it says on the tin. Playing as a lone marine (or split screen with a squad of up to 4) you blunder your way through a deserted space station trying to overload the facility reactor all the while being stalked by, well, space beasts. There’s no point beating around the bush, SBTF is Space Hulk. It’s Aliens. It’s James Cameron to Alien Isolation’s Ridley Scott and the purest distillation of its inspirations you could hope for.
Your helmet visor and the massive gun that sits at the side of your screen totally obscure your peripheral vision. The corridors are narrow and labyrinthine and you’re expected to memorise the station’s procedurally generated layouts on the fly. It’s an oppressive, claustrophobic game where getting disoriented is as dangerous as the creatures hunting you down. Faced head on, the aliens are cannon fodder but if one gets the drop on you then it’s instant death. Luckily there are sentry guns to activate and data terminals granting you power-ups ranging from gun upgrades to heat vision, turning combat into a glorious mess of Technicolor vomit. Each short lived game has a natural curve of escalation. The marines establish their defences and power up while the beasts create more hull breaches to spawn from. It takes just enough time for a favourable situation to turn sour for creeping dread to set in before near inevitable rout and carnage.
I emerged from my first play session brutalised and clinging to a single thought, “I hope they leave this just how it is”. Since then developer Nornware have wasted no time in adding an easy mode and navigation power ups. While they do make for a better, arguably saner game, I can’t help pining for that first horrific experience. There’s potential here for adding all the trappings of a modern FPS but apart from online multiplayer and LAN support there really isn’t anything else the game needs. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a massive old school list of game settings that let me drop out all the unnecessary extras leaving the core experience intact.
For the bare bones of a production in the earliest stages of early access SBTF is already worthy of your time. It’s a tense, bleak experience where survival is a rare occurrence and your frequent death offers some of the best jump scares gaming has to offer.