As I step out onto the dancefloor, I encounter nothing but silence. I think I’ve lost the guards that have been hunting me down, but I can’t let my guard down. The DJ booth is empty, but seems to be still loaded with music – I guess it wouldn’t hurt to jam out to some high octane electro beats.
As the thunderously loud music kicks in, footsteps start approaching. I take a deep breath: here we go again. Readying the arm cannon strapped to the stump of my severed arm, I slide across the floor as my hunters hurry towards me on the floor above. One blast of my cannon blows the floor beneath their feet, giving me time to steal one of their guns and take them out with ease.
I can’t relax. More are approaching.
I know that they’re no match for me.
Many thanks to Digerati for the review code.
SAPPHIRE AND STEEL
To say that Severed Steel is one hell of a ride would be underselling the game. All the things mentioned above can be pulled off – and more – and it feels absolutely badass. It’s a good job too, since there’s absolutely no narrative to keep you going.
You play as Steel, a woman who lost her arm in an accident whilst in the cyberpunk EdenSys corporation. Seeking revenge, she then works her way through the building systematically slaughtering everything in her wake. The game features occasional brief cutscenes between chapters (which are curiously named after levels from the original Half-Life for whatever reason), but don’t expect any kind of plot progression or philosophical twists here.
The lack of plot works to the games advantage, since the games arcade-like gameplay benefits from never really letting up. You’re given just enough context to keep you going, and then you do it until the end credits hit.
ARM CANNON FUEL CAN MELT STEEL BEAMS
If I had to describe the gameplay, I’d say it’s essentially a cross between Superhot and the vastly underrated WET. Parkour is the name of the game, with Steel being able to run along walls, slide along the floor, and dive in the air much like WET’s Rubi Malone. However, instead of the slow motion triggering automatically during these acrobatic manoeuvres, you hold the left trigger instead to use it when you want. There’s a generous amount of bullet time at your disposal, and killing enemies will help recharge it. Overall, the movement in the game feels fantastic, although it does take some time to get used to. Starting out the game, I was forced into a crab-like hand gesture to pull off aiming, parkour, and shooting all at the same time; something that is near impossible given the games glaring and unfortunate lack of gyro. However, once you realise that the game wants you to use the slow-mo as much as possible, things become far easier to handle. Steel avoids all incoming fire when pulling off crazy tricks, so chaining dives, wallruns, and slides together with the aid of the slow motion ability is essential for survival.
Whilst the parkour is awesome, it isn’t even the coolest thing the game has to offer: early on, Steel will obtain an arm cannon that fits onto her stump of an arm – this allows her to blast holes through pretty much everything. There are some surfaces that can’t be damaged, but these are surprisingly few and far between. It’s satisfying creating shortcuts through the stages by simply ripping open the walls, and it really helps set the game apart from other arena shooters. Whether it’s reaching objectives faster than intended, shooting holes in the outer walls and kicking enemies out of it, or just laughing at shielded enemies as you blow them into oblivion, the arm cannon is an absolute delight. Even though it does have limited ammunition that can only be refilled by killing certain types of enemies, it’s frequent enough to feel like an important part of your arsenal rather than just a sparingly-used gimmick.
If all of this makes the game sound easy, you’re going to be in for a shock – even on the normal difficulty, the game offers a pretty fair challenge. What makes the game challenging is that you need to acquire weapons from the enemies scattered around the stage. You can give them a swift taste of your boot to disarm them, or collect it from their corpse. There are no reloads, so using the remaining ammunition and throwing the empty gun will be how you spend your combat encounters. It’s reminiscent of Superhot and means that you always have to be on the move and paying close attention to both your remaining ammo and enemy positions. Failure is never too much of an issue, however, since the stages are usually quite short meaning that you’ll never really get frustrated by losing progress.
Steel has a great arsenal at her disposal, even if there’s not a huge amount of variety compared to some other shooters. Probably the craziest thing you’ll obtain is an [overpowered] flamethrower that makes short work of everything, but all the other weapons are a little bit more grounded. Where they all truly shine is with just how impactful they all feel: every single weapon packs a one hell of a punch. The desert eagle and shotguns stand out as personal favourites, but even the basic pistols and machine guns are all immensely satisfying to use.
With such an emphasis on fast-paced action, performance is absolutely vital and I am pleased to say that Severed Steel runs like hot butter through knife. I rarely encountered any dips in performance, even when there were tons of enemies on screen. To achieve this, the game has some relatively simple graphics that rarely impress. Textures are simple, and enemies aren’t especially detailed, but it’s also extremely stylised in a very Tron-like cyberpunk way, so it doesn’t seem off-putting whilst playing the game. That’s not to say that the game isn’t impressive at times: the animation when you kick or slide is really cool, and I never tire of blowing through walls with my arm cannon; they’ve really focused on making the game stylish rather than graphically gorgeous, and I think they made the right choice. There are some unfortunate visual bugs that crop up from time to time, such as Steel’s body clipping in front of the camera momentarily, but these issues are minor and will hopefully be resolved in a later patch.
The Story mode is a well-paced, yet relatively brief, four hour jaunt to reach its hectic conclusion – but things don’t end there. After hitting the credits, you’ll unlock a harder New Game + mode that not only adds random extra enemies, but makes them respawn for a much harder experience. To counter this difficulty, you’ll also be able to equip different Arm Cannons and Mutators to modify your experience. These can make things easier, such as making Steel invisible when performing tricks – or they can make things tougher, like giving you guns with only a single bullet. These are unlocked completing challenges and levelling up in the game’s other game mode: Firefight. This arcade mode sees you taking down enemies and racking up points in one of the mode’s 42 stages. There’s a fair bit here to keep you going outside of the campaign, and the exhilarating parkour shooting really gels well with this arcade style gameplay.
Severed Steel captures the feeling of being a badass acrobat perfectly; it’s a rollercoaster of action as you parkour your way around the arena blasting everyone and everything around you. There may be some minor bugs that can sour the experience, and the lack of gyro certainly is a disappointment – but these are both issues that could be easily rectified in a future patch. If you like your shooters fast and hard, you owe yourself a night with Steel.