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Dark Devotion Review — Dying In Darkness

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Among indie developers, exploring the Metroidvania subgenre is very popular. In a crowded market, developers need something special to truly stand out. Hibernian Workshop has chosen to blend two popular design philosophies to create Dark Devotion: Souls-like combat and roguelike elements.

The player takes the role of a female Templar, who is drawn to explore a mysterious temple complex. As soon as the player enters the temple, the door locks behind them with a clang, leaving them trapped in a labyrinthine structure crawling with monsters that want the Templar very dead.

Starting equipment is actually fairly decent, but do not expect this situation to last very long. Like Dark Souls, Dark Devotion is brutal. Deadly traps wait around every corner, and the player often ends up falling into deadly spike traps, being sliced to bits by swinging blades, or eaten by some massive, terrifying abomination. Upon inevitable death, the player is returned to the hub area, the evocatively-named Filthblood Shelter.

Curiously, unlike most roguelikes, players keep their accumulated experience and skills while losing any collected items and equipment: say goodbye to that cool starting armour, and say hello to scavenging for any armour or weapons from the randomised loot drops.

The graphical style owes a great deal to the 16-bit aesthetic, calling to mind classic titles such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The sprite-based artwork is quite appealing, with smooth animation. The only major visual problem is that the lighting matches the title’s name, being so dark that players may struggle to see what is going on. The flickering candlelight is poignantly atmospheric, but, in places, the poor lighting can make things harder than they need to be.

Aesthetics is not the only area where Dark Devotion pays homage to retro design. Similar to many 8-bit-era action platformers, every hit the player character takes inflicts the same amount of damage, whether it comes from a skeleton or being sliced by an axe trap.

As a result, players will spend a lot of time trying to block or dodge-roll to avoid traps and enemy attacks. Continuing the obvious Dark Souls influence, a stamina bar is used up when blocking or dodging. Both mechanics are smooth and responsive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of attacks. A number of different weapon types are available, which are said to have a varying balance depending on the type, such as big, two-handed swords being slower than light, one-handed swords. In reality, all attacks feel slow and cumbersome. The combat is held back by the monotonous attacks, and equipment choice usually boils down to the biggest sword that does the most damage, as the speed advantage of lighter weapons is negligible.

Fans of Dark Souls are usually happy to explain that, though the combat in Dark Souls is difficult, it is never unfair, with any deaths being the result of player error. The same cannot be said for Dark Devotion, as the sluggish attacks and murky lighting means that quite a few deaths can be directly attributed to design choices.

Progression is also tricky. To buy or upgrade new skills, players need to collect experience from enemies. However, not every enemy drops XP, often making progression frustrating, as gathering enough to do anything significant can be difficult. Another means of progression involves collecting Runes, which are also scattered around, helpfully displayed on the map screen. Runes can increase one of the player character’s stats, such as damage, stamina, faith, or critical damage.

The map screen itself is excellent, expansive, and detailed, which makes traversal easier by enabling players home in on new areas or track down runes after yet another death.

If players need to return to the hub area for whatever reason, it is possible to do so by using the teleportation statues placed throughout the temple. Only one of these statues can be active at once, and their placement is often awkward.

Dark Devotion has buckets of atmosphere and a polished gothic visual style. Some of the controls feel smooth and comfortable, while others are awkward and unresponsive, such as the attack option. The dingy lighting makes the surroundings difficult to appreciate as well as interfering with combat and navigation. The result is interesting, but ultimately unbalanced. Dark Devotion has some good ideas, but feels unfinished; ultimately, the game’s dinginess needs more polish to truly shine.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC.

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Review

American Fugitive Review — A Grand Tale of Theft and Auto

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American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 1

The original Grand Theft Auto rocked the virtual world with its violent gameplay from a birds-eye view perspective back in 1997. Once the series moved to a third-person, 3D perspective with Grand Theft Auto III, few gamers looked back and few developers attempted to replicate the original style. More than 20 years later, Fallen Tree Games has become of those few with American Fugitive.

Players control Will Riley, a man convicted for a crime he did not commit and filled with the desire for revenge. Once he has escaped from prison, Will must find old friends—and meet some new ones—to run errands and discover the person who killed his father.

The game is played from a top-down perspective in a 3D open world. More reminiscent of Chinatown Wars than the original Grand Theft Auto, the camera adds a level of complexity to American Fugitive, as players often will not see what lies beyond the edges of the screen. While a behind-the-character perspective would, at times, not go amiss, players will eventually grow to familiarise themselves with the camera, respecting the callback to classic open world titles.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 2

The open world itself is also reminiscent of classic titles, with simplified designs regularly complimented by the detailed art style. The game’s animated, cartoon design scheme is fitting of its fast-paced action gameplay, always managing to keep the player on their toes and keen to discover more. Technically, the game plays almost flawlessly, with no significant performance issues to disrupt the player while they explore the map.

Players can explore the rural open world of Redrock County on foot or in a vehicle. The vehicular gameplay may take some time for players to familiarise themselves with, with some overly slippery mechanics leading to some unfortunate collisions, though fitting to the game’s tone. Thankfully, most environments in the game are destructible, so sliding off the road—if the player follows the road to begin with—does not often lead to disaster.

Despite beginning the game as a seemingly innocent man, Will doubles down on his criminal actions once he escapes from prison. Akin to Grand Theft Auto, the player can hijack cars, kill civilians, and attract the attention of police. Most residential buildings in the game can be robbed by the player, often leading to tense confrontations with the homeowners or police, so players must continue at their own risk.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 3

The ‘wanted’ system in the game works similarly to Grand Theft Auto games, with players accumulating up to five stars depending on their behaviour. The stars often accumulate a little too quickly, however, with additional stars regularly added simply for evading police. Oftentimes, the player may possess a full wanted level—complete with large police vans and circling helicopters—within a minute of committing a minor offense. While this over-the-top gameplay design is fitting to the pace of the game, it may lead to frustrations within the main story missions by bringing the player’s progress to a halt.

The missions are also reminiscent of those in Grand Theft Auto, tasking the player with a wide variety of tasks to keep them busy while the story evolves. While many of these missions may seem disconnected to the main narrative structure, they are unique and regularly keep the player entertained, ranging from simple fetch quests and car robberies to full-scale shootouts. The game’s fast-paced gameplay and lack of loading screens also make the poorly-placed checkpoints bearable, especially when the beginning of missions require the player to drive to a certain location.

American Fugitive‘s storyline is simple in design but entertaining enough to keep the player engaged. The game’s ‘cutscenes’ exist in the form of text atop character designs; while some simple voice acting would elevate these scenes with more dramatic tension, they are short enough to maintain the player’s attention and continue the missions at a fast pace. Players will find themselves surprisingly engrossed in the story, wanting to see it through to its full conclusion.

American Fugitive gameplay screenshot 4

Accompanying the fast-paced gameplay and narrative is the game’s music. From slow, explorative themes to fast-paced tracks, American Fugitive‘s original score is reminiscent of some of the best soundtracks across different media—from television’s True Detective to video gaming’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us. Each song accompanies the gameplay nicely, ramping up and down as the player makes the appropriate actions, and, along with the expert sound design, add the auditory sprinkles atop a visual and narrative treat.

American Fugitive, simply put, is fun. Fallen Tree Games has added its own unique twist to a classic gameplay formula, and utilised a simple but engaging narrative and a beautiful original score to maintain the player’s interest until the very end. Despite a few minor flaws in gameplay, the game stands strong against its competition. Players looking for a fast, fun, and mature sandbox game should not miss American Fugitive.

OnlySP Review Score 4 Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

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