On this, the second installment of a series that I did not conceptualize as a series until literally as I was posting the previous one and didn't have a good title for the blog, I'm writing about Severed Steel. Basically it's an excuse for me to write about games that aren't quite new releases, and where I get the feeling not as many people played as they should have.
So, what is Severed Steel? I'd call it a “stylish action shooter,” because at its core it's not just about fighting through levels filled with dozens of goons, it's about doing that with styyyle. Severed Steel has individual buttons dedicated to sliding, diving through the air, and entering slow motion. These aren't just for show, because while she's doing Stunts, main character Steel can't get hit by enemy attacks, and naturally sliding and diving count as Stunts. So does wall running, and I think double jumping, though that might be more temporary than the others. To add to that, slow motion is limited while just walking around, but unlimited during Stunts, so it's pretty easy to see how these are supposed to work together.
To balance that out though, Steel only has one hand (thus the Severed in Severed Steel), so she can't reload guns. Meaning once one runs out of ammo, she chucks it, and has to get another. There's almost always plenty to go around, all the enemies drop them after death, and even before that, a good kick will often loosen their grips (or just kill them).
Regular weapons and kicks aren't Steel's only weapons though, because she also gets an arm cannon a few levels in. It's not actually as useful for directly fighting as one might think, because the ammo for it is pretty limited, and I'm still not entirely sure what causes it to get ammo back. I know there's an animation for when it happens, but I don't know if it's defeating certain enemies, a number of enemies, or what.
What it is good for, is blasting holes in walls. Through the power of (I assume) voxels, all the walls and floors are destructible, and the arm cannon does a great job of tearing through them like butter. To be clear, I mean “all” figuratively, because there are limits, but the levels can get torn up and blown apart really well, and it helps convey that a big shootout happened better than most games do. In most other games any environmental damage is superficial. It's just objects placed in the levels that can get wrecked, and then they usually disappear, but the core of the level geometry remains untouched. Maybe there will be bullet hole decals and a few scorch mark textures added to things, but it's all surface level.
All this comes together to make a game one hundred percent about movement. Moving to avoid enemies, moving to replace an empty gun, and blasting holes in walls to find faster ways to move through the levels. In keeping with that, Severed Steel moves at an incredible pace, just level after level, with nothing in the way of filler, or really even that much for narrative. That does also result in a game that's fairly short. I finished the campaign in a single sitting (like three and a half-ish hours?), but that opened up other modes for more replay value, to use that old chestnut. Not that I think a game that can be finished in an afternoon is a bad thing when it's, to steal another phrase, all killer, no filler.
One of the other modes is a rogue-like-like, with levels selected randomly from the campaign, and various perks (or debuffs) that appear between levels. Thrown guns explode, all enemies have big heads (easier headshots), or ones that affect how the basic moves work (like faster sliding or wall running) are just a few examples. There's also debuffs that do things like increase the number of tougher special enemies, affect mechanics in ways that make things more difficult (no more infinite slow mo during Stunts, Steel can take fewer hits before dying, etc), but increase the score multiplier. It's also, by default, not a perma-death mode, so a good run can't be ruined by doing something dumb like falling into a bottomless pit (which I've definitely done on some levels). Of course, perma-death is a modifier from the start that increases the multiplier, and runs are only eight to ten levels, so what's the harm in spicing things up with a little risk?
There's also a challenge mode that goes through every level, and each has a couple objectives that are usually things like get X number of headshots, or kill enemies during specific Stunts. The ones for wall running or sliding are easy, but the ones for getting kills while upside down, not so much. And anyone that can do that without using the slow mo is playing on a level that I never will! For those curious, unlike most games where looking down will eventually stop the camera when facing the ground, while airborne, Steel will keep turning, until she's facing the opposite of where she started, now completely upside down, and the game tracks this. Actually I think she could keep spinning forever, but I can't say I tried.
The challenge mode also has various modifiers, a lot of which are unlocked by getting high scores, completing objectives, etc. They range from cosmetic, like different colors for Steel's outfit (her legs and torso are visible when sliding) or visual effects in the levels (like making the voxels look boxier or giving the game “spooky lighting”), or game play relevant, like starting with different weapons and arm cannons. The gravity gun one is great for ripping shields out of enemies' hands, and the melee one can be a lot of fun too. There's a bunch that can either make the levels easier or harder as well, but those tend to invalidate scores for the leaderboards (but not for unlocks, I think?).
Now, I've more or less gone over the entirety of what Severed Steel has to offer. And to be honest, it kind of is a game that even I, who really enjoys it, might call a one trick pony. But is that necessarily a bad thing? I feel like that phrase is almost always used in a negative sense, even if it isn't always meant to be mean, but have we ever really thought about that phrase?
Like, think about an actual one trick pony. Frankly, I would already be impressed if someone had a pony, even if it didn't know any tricks! But then this small horse knows a trick? That would be rad! I think it's cool when dogs are trained well enough to sit on command, let alone a horse of any size knowing a trick.
My point being that even if Severed Steel is limited in what it does, it does what it does extremely well. Yes, I finished the campaign in an afternoon, but I had a big dumb grin across my face during the bulk of it. It's one of those games that once I grasped how to play it properly (and remapped a few inputs so jump was on a shoulder button), it just felt right. It's a thrill to move through the levels, taking out goons from wild angles, jumping and leaping about, and just feeling incredibly cool during all of it. Running up along a wall, diving over the enemies' heads, and then sliding around them after hitting the ground, all the while dodging shots, and taking the enemies down. In the moment, it feels incredible. Combined with the game's surprisingly good soundtrack, it almost evokes a zen-like feeling. Just...a murderous zen-like feeling.
When I write about games, I tend to focus on story, or maybe how story and game design work in tandem to convey...whatever it is they're trying to convey. But something I don't often convey enough is that nebulous “game feel.” It's one of those things that when a game nails it, like really, really nails it, I can't stop thinking about it. I'm being serious, there are specific mechanics in games that even if I forget about other aspects of the game, I keep thinking about those specific, physical feelings.
Here's a specific one that's very different from Severed Steel, as an example: The feel of moving from a crouch into a crawl, or vice versa in MGSV. No, seriously, that's something that just feels right in a way that I can't quite convey in text. The whole game feels great to move around, but something about that really stuck with me. Something about the way Snake moves, and that it takes just the right amount of time to do it, it just feels good to move through that game.
Or, another example would be timing a perfect parry and going straight into a death blow in Sekiro. This is one where the sound design is key to making it work, because the incredible clang of metal against metal, and paired with going straight for the death blow, the fountain of blood that spews from the enemy, it's just a perfect mechanic. It's honestly even better when the enemy requires multiple parries in a row, because what could have been a cacophony of steel against steel almost starts to feel musical.
Recalling the axe in either of the Norse God of Wars, that's one that I don't think I need to explain, because everyone who's played those games knows how perfect that feels too. Or basically anything related to movement in Titanfall 2, as that game is about as close to perfect as a game can be. Devil May Cry 5 has a ton of different incredible feeling things, but there's this one uppercut that Dante does with the flaming gauntlets, and the way it pauses for a split second on impact, is just one of those feels that stuck.
Kicking into slow motion as I run onto a wall, picking my shots, taking the enemies out one by one, running out of ammo, diving into the crowd, grabbing a new gun as I transition into a slide, then almost circle strafing the slide around them I keep the assault going, the driving beat of the music propelling me forward, stopping for no one, stopping for nothing as I blast my way through...it all gives me those same feelings. It's been a couple months now since I played that campaign, but I just keep thinking about that feel. And I keep going back and replaying levels. I haven't done a full run through the campaign again, but between the other modes, I've certainly revisited most of the levels. It's still a ton of fun! And it still gives me that joyous feeling as I give into it, and let myself be absorbed in.
So yes, Severed Steel is kind of a one trick pony, but I don't think that's a bad thing at all. If anything, it has a focus, and by focusing on a small selection of things, it's one of the best feeling games I've played in a good while. It's a heck of a lot of fun, and it deserves to be played by more people.
Severed Steel gets a big thumbs up from me; it's well worth playing.