Cults are nothing new in the world of video games, but instead of throwaway fodder for our overpowered protagonists to cleave through, we’re now starting to explore them in more depth. This is mainly thanks to niche indie thrillers, but there’s also been more mainstream representations of cults through the twentieth century right up to the current day (hello, Far Cry 5).
Some of these games have leaned heavily on real world examples. We recently reviewed The Church in the Darkness which was obviously inspired by Jonestown and Peoples Temple, and now we have Sagebrush – a first person narrative adventure game that partly mirrors a well known American saga: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and the 1993 siege at Mount Carmel.
That isn’t to say Sagebrush doesn’t have its own original story to tell because it does. You don’t need to know anything about the game’s inspirations to find yourself embroiled in the mystery as it begins to unspool.
It’s dusk as you drive up to the gates of the Black Sage Ranch, popping your trunk to find some wire cutters and break in. Sagebrush is best described as a first person adventure game, using objects you find with other parts of the environment to drive the story forward. It won’t take you long to snip a hole in the compound fence and find a way in.
From there, you’re free to explore the ranch, although many of its buildings are sealed off, forcing your onto a linear track as you search for clues as to just what’s going on.
Even without the pretext, you get an immediate sense that something terrible has happened here. For the next couple of hours you’ll try and piece together the fate of the Perfect Heaven cult through a combination of environmental storytelling, as well as the inner thoughts of its members through scrawled notes, diary entries, and tape deck recordings.
Sagebrush doesn’t have any deep gameplay systems at work – you’ll wander about reading text and interacting with objects in a ‘walking simulator’ style. Just as simple is the way the game presents itself, adopting a fuzzy pixelated look. It definitely helps add some style though can appear strange in first person, making certain visuals hard to detect. Having completely missed the equippable torch, there was one section of the game so dark we were almost forced to start from the beginning.