Every month, the industry pleases the audience with dozens of different news – sequels , prequels , remasters , rethinking of the classics , just have time to read the editorials. And although many premieres look curious, a rare announcement can evoke a strong response in a soul spoiled by masterpieces: after so many years everything looks familiar, beaten, as if the most interesting is over. Over time, the suspicion arises that only a miracle can get rid of gaming apathy – but in fact, sometimes just one shock trailer of a no less shock action movie is enough.
Nothing extra. No CG orgy instead of real gameplay. Only one and a half minutes of brutal action, spectacular acrobatics and viscous “slow-mo”. Who shoots at whom, why, and why the heroine has a blaster instead of a hand – it doesn’t matter. What is happening looks terribly impressive. And this is the main point.
Some games are born in spite of. Contrary to the available technologies, budget, common sense – it’s scary to think how many small teams with sweat and blood brought an ambitious idea to release in the hope that it will someday find its viewer. However, hits are not only born out of a blind pursuit of a dream.
A few years ago, Matt Larrabee dreamed of making history with open-world action. The founder of Greylock Studio wanted to conquer gamers with scale, spectacle, voxel decorations that can be broken, a whole bunch of amazing mechanics – but it is difficult to make revolutions when your company consists of one person. Reflecting on the failed opening, Larrabi asked the question that sooner or later any novice creator faces: “What can I pull in that case?” The answer was not long in coming – a chamber first-person shooter.
The starting point was that very destructible environment – at first it should have become the main “feature” of the newly-minted FPS. However, this was not enough. As the development progressed, the project was overgrown with other important details: the FEAR and Superhot – inspired effect of time dilation, the now popular cyberpunk setting, and acrobatic manners worthy of Mirror’s Edge . And in the center of everything stood a stern heroine – a one-armed mercenary who, in the best traditions of John Wick, instead of reloading, prefers to change weapons on the go.
Severed Steel sometimes seems like an unofficial offshoot of Ghost in the Shell due to its music and central character.
This collection of borrowings and the complex background of its creation give rise to the idea that the project is doomed to be forgotten soon. Like, behind a beautiful wrapper is an ordinary low-budget dummy, of which there are so many in the vastness of Steam. But no. With the rest of the world, the small studio Greylock has managed to put together an extremely curious piece – to say the least.
To the mercy of fate
Severed Steel is about … something. It is difficult to clearly outline a synopsis when the story in an action movie is given at most five minutes. A girl named Steele wakes up in a mountain of garbage, discovers that she has become a cripple, and goes to war against the offenders – this is the beginning, and until the very last shot, the script will no longer throw food for the mind. No notes and audio diaries explaining the essence of the conflict were also delivered: the warrior has no time for such trifles, she needs to punish insolent corporations.
The avenger is not able to reload – after shooting all the bullets, she sends an empty barrel in the face of the nearest opponent and automatically picks up a replacement if she is lying nearby.
Fortunately, the loss of a limb practically did not affect the fighting spirit of the main character – even without the second hand, she is fast, cold-blooded and deadly if there is a pistol in her right hand or something worse. However, her main weapon is not an automatic machine taken from the floor or someone’s belt, but incredible, almost supernatural dexterity: running along the walls, doing crazy somersaults and pirouettes, the mercenary is absolutely invulnerable – the warriors standing in her way, fortunately, about this almost magic conventions have not been heard.
This is, perhaps, all that can be said in terms of the gameplay: Steele rushes through office buildings and penthouses, jumps, mows various soldiers like grass and slowly approaches the main villain while bullets whistle past her head. The scenery alternates, new types of opponents appear on the way to the finale, and over time, a blaster in the spirit of Megamen appears at the place of the stump, but the essence remains the same. Straightforward, you will not say anything. And this, if anything, is only a plus, because the local shootings are a miracle as good.
Each enemy killed restores the girl’s health (which is called luck here) – this is how designers motivate to climb into the heat and trick like Neo.
Despite the fact that Severed Steel is very laconic conceptually (run-fly-shoot-kick), and the vast majority of levels are easy to overcome in just a minute, any action movie scene is endlessly replayable. Yes, each segment has entry and exit points, but what happens between them, in what order the corpses fall and where, is up to the gamer-director to decide. Break down the door, fly into the room like Max Payne and snap the bastards in flight before they even have time to turn around? Or blow up the wall and sweep past the hole, pouring lead on everything and everyone in the room? How about luring the bastards into the big hall and re-creating the lobby scene from The Matrix? Do what you want – this is not so much a linear FPS as a sandbox, in which instead of paddles and buckets you have to have fun with the help of rifles and machine guns of different stripes.
Interestingly, however, something else. Although the shooter does not have a clear system of ranks (a sad omission), and points are taken into account only in the side mode “Shootout”, the authors skillfully motivate to experiment with the environment and opponents, to take risks, even if it is pointless. This is partly due to the incredible abilities of the heroine, but in fact, the reason for everything is the competent design of each level – countless windows, loopholes and balconies excite imagination, inspire acrobatic feats. You can, of course, sit in the corner and wait for each villain to come for his portion of lead, but how tempting that inconspicuous ventilation hatch looks – that the soldiers were surprised when a Valkyrie with a shotgun in his right hand would slip out of it at full speed!
After particularly hot battles, locations begin to resemble Swiss cheese – destruction sometimes dictates the course of battles very strongly.
Oddly enough, the budget makes its contribution to the fascination of the chaos that is happening on the screen. Severed Steel is designed on the basis of Unreal Engine 4, it does not slow down, does not crash, but outside of the special effects and stylistics it looks rather poor, and the physical model is completely reminiscent of the European trash of the late 2000s. The doors are falling apart, as if they were made of cardboard, the corpses are ridiculously flying off after being hit, the heroine’s head now and then gets stuck in the window frames … But here’s the paradox: all these crazy, indefinable flights of Steele, her talent to change the direction of the jump right in the air and immediately slow down head (yes, it happens) make the cyberpunk FPS only better. They add a touch of unpredictability to him and make him akin to the Hong Kong action films of the 80s, the madness of which (coupled with contempt for the laws of physics ) have long been legendary. Even when the mercenary dies due to the fact that she accidentally flew into the abyss between two trains rushing through an endless tunnel, it is only fun. It would be because of what to get annoyed – the levels are short.
All this goodness is enough in the story campaign, but it feels more like a warm-up – delicious in its own way, but a little rustic. All the genius of the novelty is concentrated in the “Firefight”, where on the already familiar maps they give not only to polish their skills in killing hostile warriors, but also to include a dozen modifiers, each other brighter. “Big Heads”, “Low Gravity”, “Triple Threat” … Larrabi even envisioned outright perversions like the “Floor is Lava” mutator, which serves as an excellent excuse to practice in virtual parkour. Nothing beats the adrenaline rush you experience as a grasshopper jumps around an armory and maneuvers between bullets, grenades and rockets in search of an unused barrel.
Tumbling over a soldier with a shield, stealing a spare pistol from him and putting a headshot upside down in slowdown – even FEAR never dreamed of such a thing.
And against the background of the above, the claim “There is nothing else here except shooting”, which arises at first, after an hour or two, it seems frankly sucked out of the finger. Yes, theoretically, the Greylock Studio team could throw mini-games, collectibles, stealth segments, and other tinsel, familiar by the standards of the industry, into the campaign, but all these, no doubt, superfluous elements would inevitably begin to pull the blanket over themselves, distract from the main sights of a futuristic action movie. Diversity just for the sake of diversity does not lead to good – and Larrabi understood this perfectly.
Naturally, Severed Steel is far from ideal – a rare budget FPS from a little-known team does without annoying blunders. However, even here with the new product, everything is not so simple: bugs are bugs, but there are surprisingly few really serious shortcomings.
To access the most interesting modifiers, you have to grind a little.
Among them, for example, the script – or rather, its almost complete absence. The heroine got up from the mountain of garbage, the heroine went, the heroine nailed everyone and left – even the original Doom at least offered walls of text describing what is happening in Hell and Doomgai’s head during his incredible adventure. Yes, there was no scent of high art either, but some kind of narrative, you can’t argue. And then there is even a plot outside the beaten “They wanted to kill her, now she is going to take revenge” as if shrouded in the fog of war. Who is she anyway, this Steele? What kind of corporation left her to fend for herself? Who helps her and what is the mysterious Wall through which the heroine breaks through in the finale?
On the other hand, the unexpected dash-and-dot pattern also has a kind of plus: like other underlined “B-shny” action films, here the story never rises across the main thing – action and acrobatics. There is a beginning, there are conventional villains, but you don’t need more for immersion: if you wish, you can weave the plot threads in your head. In this regard, Severed Steel easily outperforms, say, Superhot, with its weird narrative pretensions – really let the designers focus on combat.
Out of context, many shots seem completely unreadable. Where is the floor, where is the ceiling? What’s going on and why does the staircase look so comical? Fortunately, there are no problems in movement: no one even bothers to remove / correct many visual effects if they distract.
But what the shooter really lacks is additional modes. “Single” is completed in two hours, all content of “Shootout” opens in three – and nothing else Greylock’s creation is able to offer. Which, I must admit, is a little surprising: just one mode with endless hordes of villains would be enough for the eyes. The problem over time will surely recede into the background (talented craftsmen will find use for a very sensible level editor), but so far the content is a little disappointing. Everything that is is fine, but I want more. Yet!
As for the gameplay, it is almost perfect – the mechanics complement each other perfectly, nothing superfluous, the amenities just right. The only thing to find fault with is the arsenal: there are a lot of guns, but many of them feel like “repetitions”. Submachine guns shoot plus or minus the same, two types of heavy pistols finish off almost any enemy from a pair, a maximum of three hits and differ only in design. This would be a nail gun from FEAR
In a word, the game with shortcomings is sparse. Severed Steel works well (the frame rate sags only during battles with hordes of enemies and monstrous destruction), looks good, offers a lot of settings for everything – if you find fault, then to sheer trifles. Quite good, especially since this is not a long-term blockbuster, but “just” someone’s ticket to the big league.
There are many games on Steam (and on any platform) with a unique or at least interesting concept. Their pages are full of beautiful screenshots, the descriptions promise unprecedented gameplay, but in reality, alas, they turn out to be a zilch, a curious, but unsuccessful experiment. Many aspiring teams fall into the trap of their own ambition – fortunately, Greylock Studio has successfully avoided it.
Spectacular, addictive, easy to learn and stylistically refined, Severed Steel is absolutely mind blowing: it’s the same shooter that fans of Max Payne , FEAR and Vanquish have dreamed of for years. Yes, technically it is far from perfect, and the plot with the script was written as if on a napkin during lunchtime, but Matt Larrabi managed the main thing – to capture the spirit of “Hard Boiled” , “John Wick” , “Raid” and carefully reproduce it in the cyberpunk-FPS format … Dozens of much more experienced designers have tried to achieve this – but not everyone succeeded so brilliantly.
Pros: great gameplay; good visual style; excellent and complementary mechanics; variety of game situations and decorations; well-balanced levels of difficulty; sensible soundtrack; accessible management; an abundance of settings; built-in level editor with great potential; translating to Russian language.
Cons: missing plot; slight lack of content; budget; small technical roughness.