There’s always been something very relaxing about games in the sandbox style of Minecraft. Just exploring at your leisure, building as you wish and the reward of adventure… that is, at least, until you bump into enemies. Salt emanates that surreal, transcendent spirit of those titles that came before it. Though the player is not alone in the world, it does feel as though that which waits beyond the water is a prize worth having.
This game, for all intents and purposes, is a Minecraft clone with regards to its crafting, building and general dynamics. However, what stands out in Salt is the environment, which is tropical, lush and bursting with colour. The world presents itself as a true wonder to pirates yearning to see what may lay beyond the horizon. The true beauty of the art and environment lends itself to the feeling of freedom Salt offers. Furthermore, due to the game being procedurally generated, the exploration possibilities are unlimited.
Freedom is the key word here. The enemies are not vast in number but aren’t exactly weak, either. You’ll run into them on occasion, and on certain islands, and they help to keep the game from falling into a total dream-like state of adventure. Their thin dispersal helps the player feel as though they can take their time, gather supplies and build in relative peace – though a bit of caution is always wise, however.
The general aim of the game is exploration versus fortification. Enemies will not be constantly drawn to you – aside from in their own territory – so players can focus on the experience as opposed to scrambling for survival. The relaxed atmosphere adds to the overall ambience, which this game has in droves.
Musically, Salt is exceptional in its placating, docile tones. It emulates the dreamy feeling of a tropical paradise perfectly, steering clear of more generic island musical styles, relying instead on faster, drum-based rhythms. Even in the heat of danger, the music is very neutral and subtle. That said, the game had us nervous at night, as every good exploration game should.
Continuing on that train of thought, Salt bears a talent for invoking emotion. We’ve talked about the feeling of wonder and appreciation for the beauty of environment and the desire to explore already. What sets it apart from other sandbox, open world-style games is that it balances both a relaxing play style – leaving players feeling safe enough to explore at their leisure – and a feeling of dread when it comes to facing the night or being unprepared for what may come.
Sailing is a notable inclusion. Players can initially try to swim to other islands, but crafting a boat or raft is highly recommended. Once on the water, players will actually have to command the direction of the vessel instead of simply pointing and clicking towards an island. Waves can also throw off the direction, which makes the game feel a bit more realistic.
Salt has a lovely art design that pops with colours. The downside is that a lot of the islands do have repetitive textures and generally the same design. It would be quite nice, in the future, to see a bit more variation; however, for what it is, Salt looks great. The foliage of the trees and the water look especially pretty here, as does the lighting. The sun shining through the trees is gorgeous in and of itself. The only downside to the environment being so lovely is that when pirates or enemies appear as blocky figures, it can be a bit jarring.
The design of the enemies is fairly standard. Spiders look like your everyday man-eating spiders (with adorable, angry faces), while pirates grunt unintelligibly and swing their arms about. Despite their straightforward appearance, fighting either of them is comical, unnerving and fun. Plus, you get neat stuff off of looting their bodies. Hooray for pillaging!
Overall, it takes a bit of creativity to keep Salt from being just another Minecraft rip-off. Plenty of game designers have taken the formula and attempted to repeat it; some successfully and others not so much. Salt is, as an understatement, a refreshing take on that formula. It’s surreal, engaging and allows for the freedom that players have come to love from open world, sandbox games. The idea of just being a pirate floating about, pillaging folks and enjoying the seas by itself is a great concept and executed effectiely. Though it is not fully realized just yet, we look forward to seeing what may come when it sees its full release.