The gaming industry has been impossible to imagine without cinematography for three decades. While some developers make games for the sake of games where the gameplay just works (from “Mario” to “Civilization”), others are trying to turn their works into interactive (or not so) cinema. This direction can be divided into two more: some limit themselves to videos and cutscenes with a generous pinch of QTE, while others hone the gameplay itself “like in a movie”. Max Payne, Call of Duty, FEAR – all of them, in one way or another, refer us to the impressions of our favorite works of cinema, or, in the case of Devil May Cry, anime (is it “animegraphic”?). But how far can you go if your inspiration comes from the best action scenes in The Matrix?
Imagine a game that is as similar as possible to all of your most beloved and insane action scenes in the cinema. Well, those where the heroes famously place headshots during the race on the walls and fire from pistols while jumping. The ones where everything explodes and debris falls into slow motion. In which hypertrophied cool characters do not just crush enemies – no, they do it deliberately stylishly, and the whole game exists only for the sake of this. Have you presented? This is it.
▍ All You Need Is Kill
Severed Steel is a first-person action game weighing a ridiculous 3.7 gigabytes and the cost of an indie horror, cobbled together from a couple of assets and bought at a sale, gives this incredible feeling. The rules are extremely simple – you have extremely fast running, sliding, wall running, jumping, a few mechanics and slow motion. The heroine’s movements are so fast that inertia simply does not allow her to quickly stop. Health points and time dilation melt in a matter of seconds, but are restored only when you hit enemies and kills. Therefore, you simply cannot stay put.
You are not sitting behind the columns and looking for a first aid kit – you rush through the level, making decisions on the go and killing at a speed of one frag every five seconds. Stopping is death. Movement and violence is life, and endless at that. You won’t lose as long as you keep killing. The issue of the rate sagging has been radically resolved, because it cannot sag within the framework of such a mechanics. You still can’t turn off your brain completely, as in some meat shooters – to win here you need to constantly make tactical decisions, especially at high difficulty levels.
Steele, the heroine of Severed Steel, has no backstory, long story cutscenes, dialogue, or even a left hand. Reloading or storing weapons is impossible – after releasing the clip, you throw the current weapon (of course, at the enemy) and pick up a new one. You won’t be able to play the game with your favorite gun, no matter how much you want. All of them are just temporary fellow travelers. The arsenal has to be juggled every ten seconds, grabbing weapons from both the dead and the living on the go. As soon as the heroine is next to the enemy, she will be able to grab a pistol from his holster. At the same time, there are no frankly useless barrels – you do not lose from the fact that you grabbed not what you wanted from the floor, but simply slightly change tactics and the optimal fighting distance. At the same time, the arsenal has samples that are pleasing to the eye: a shotgun with a silencer in the spirit of “No Country for Old Men”, a plasma rifle that pierces through half the level, many automatic weapons, grenade launchers, a flamethrower and, of course, an energy cannon replacing our left hand.
The plot is generally sparse here – comics, which minimally explain the Tarantino situation on the screen, consist of a couple of frames (after all, they distract us from the hurricane action!). Of these, it is only clear that the heroine was filled with her knowledge, and she did not like something in the surrounding reality. There is an evil corporation that threw us in a trash machine, cutting off our arm, which is kind of bad, but in general, when a blaster appears, even for the best. It’s a sin to complain if instead of a dull prosthesis you were given a plasmagun. In general, what kind of questions? Slide, grab your weapon and go!
▍ Voxel cheese
How did it happen that in a project with a modest budget, you managed to create a fairly flexible destructible environment? The point is that the graphics and physics of the game are made using voxels. Voxel levels are interactive – bullets pierce walls, explosions leave natural holes, and the laser on our stump can cut a hole in any wall. The latter looks especially good when the wall interferes with the current maneuver – for example, flying head down through several floors with the Uzi trigger held in place. And when there are especially many heavily armed enemies, interactivity turns into natural terraforming. Especially when a walking tank crawls out to the location in all its glory over your soul.
All mechanics are extremely simple. There are no QTEs, no animated finishing moves, complex melee combat, crafting rare weapons or a branchy tree of abilities. In this regard, the game resembles the cult shooter Super Hot, although, of course, it does not reach this level of minimalism – although the game does curtsy to the inspirer every time our current goal is described with lightning-fast titles in full screen. Actually, the goal of the game itself is similar and extremely niche – to make fans of cinematic action happy, and nothing more.
Visually, Severed Steel exudes absurd, hypertrophied coolness. The levels are reminiscent of the sterile whiteness of Mirrors Edge, curtsy to TRON’s neon madness, or even reminiscent of Hotline Miami. Level designer (who is also a game designer and producer here – made the game one man, for whom this is a dream project) did not deny himself anything – office corridors are replaced by ventilation pipes with obligatory levitation, intricate labyrinths – spacious arenas, and the notorious verticality of gameplay is solved here as follows: at one of the levels, the floor is a teleport to a hundred-meter ceiling. Due to the fact that the author worked alone for a long time, the game managed to change its style several times. Someone will be repelled by the futuristic and monotonousness of the levels, but in the short time of the campaign it does not have time to become boring.
All this kaleidoscope of madness flies in the story mode in four dashing hours. Of course, this is not enough even by the standards of modern action games, which many players note in their reviews, but the game is rich and never wastes time. Moreover, the developer intends to expand it and announced about collecting wishes… If you want more (and if you have completed the game, you will not be able to resist and want to) – at your service is a shootout mode and a level editor. I’m sure the fan community will quickly recreate scenes from your favorite movies and games in Severed Steel.
▍ Fly like a butterfly
The correct sound design also works for the general dynamism: after death, the music does not interrupt even for a second. And if you, flying upside down, hit the enemy in the head, you will also hear a pleasant sound, like in an arcade machine. The techno and trance electronics playing against the background can be calm and even relaxing in contrast to the gameplay. Over time, you stop perceiving enemies as a threat and begin to see only temporary obstacles, which can be neutralized with graceful somersaults and combos. Fortunately, tricks take bullets away from you and are combined, and, say, from running on a wall, you can jump to another wall or go sliding on the floor.
The average level flies by in a minute or two and, with the exception of the final, is devoid of checkpoints. No scripted scenes, wandering through empty labyrinths and voice-overs – just one big shootout. It happens that from the invasion of a particularly large crowd of opponents, the game crashes, but this happens quite rarely and does not greatly interfere with playing. Until now, a funny bug has not been removed, when, with an unsuccessful rotation of the camera, you can see how the heroine’s body folds in half. But the FPS pleases with stability even at moments when everything explodes, and a uniform orgy is going on.
Despite the minor flaws, what might be cool in other games looks cool here on steroids. In principle, even without Severed Steel there are games where the hero can jump sideways in slow motion. But here you can jump into slow motion from the train window into the window of a nearby train, while not stopping shooting for a moment.
Beautifully crumbling glass? Let’s make it at levels just a crazy amount. Interactivity? Let’s have a level where the heroine needs to literally burn through steel walls with a laser of twenty meters thick, like ghee, forming a natural fire tunnel, and where it is convenient for the player. You can burn almost any surface, even holes in the floor to a certain depth, in which enemies immediately equip firing points. The levels can be transformed both for your strategy and for the most unexpected and random conditions, which, of course, adds replay value. At the same time, all the absurdity of what is happening on the screen does not slip into Bollywood – everything is very stylish and almost always out of place.
The opponents are clearly inspired by the iconic FEAR. First, they scream heart-rendingly in the walkie-talkie and swear, and their emotions correspond to the intensity of the situation. Secondly, they group themselves, take positions, actively move around the level and tend to surround Steele. Thirdly, they do not hesitate to shoot a lot and actively, even blindly, even through walls. The assortment of enemies is not the largest, but pleasant – there are fighters with shields, and flying opponents, and guys with rocket cannons blowing up everything around, and an armored flamethrower, and a huge walking spider tank, crushing columns and perforating walls at the level. The fight with him is reminiscent of both the duel of Gray Fox and Metal Gear Ray and the final fight of Major Kusanagi in the classic “Ghost in the Shell” of ’95. The all-destroying (but at the same time very mobile), covered with armor, breaking through the walls of the death machine is set against the agility and speed of the fragile heroine. It is impossible for him and other enemies to chop off extra limbs, although we would very much like to. Unfortunately, the traditional boss-helicopter was not delivered. We are waiting for the coming renewal, fortunately, the first portions of content have already been promised.
▍ Recharge, Neo
Severed Steel is not the first and, I hope, not the last story about how a tiny independent game turns out to be many times fresher and more fun than the tasteless game-containing products of large studios. It does what much more expensive projects could not – it gives a sense of stylish coolness of what you create on the screen with your own hands, putting your impressions and gaming experience at the forefront. If you miss the fast-paced gameplay and shooting without rules, buy it at incentive, support its only developer – in the era of gaudy outposts from Yubisoft, we need such dashing action games like air.