The FPS genre is one that I personally feel is more than a bit oversaturated. That’s not to say that you can’t find a good FPS these days, because you can. However, they can feel very ‘samey’, can’t they? What is needed is a FPS title that gives you something a bit different, a bit not Call of Duty. This is where developer Greylock Studio and publisher Digerati step forwards and throws Severed Steel at your face in super slow-motion.
“Severed Steel is a single-player FPS featuring a fluid stunt system, destructible voxel environments, loads of bullet time, and a unique one-armed protagonist. It’s you, your trigger finger, and a steel-toed boot against a superstructure full of bad guys. Chain together wall runs, dives, flips, and slides to take every last enemy down.”
I think the best way to sum up Severed Steel is, take a portion of Stranglehold, throw in a few helpings of Mirror’s Edge, a smattering of Superhot and mix in a blender until the blender explodes in an orgy of flying shrapnel and then do you best to doge it all via some deft movements. This is a non-stop action romp that packs in loads of fun. There isn’t really a story, well there is but it is really used as a backdrop to the main fun of the game… the shooting the crap out of everyone. You play as Steel and only have one arm as the other has been removed, or severed… Severed Steel. You are just thrown into the action pretty much from the start. There is a short tutorial to get you used to the controls and the many moves at your disposal and after that, it’s utter chaos.
Steel is pretty damn nifty on her feet. She can slide, wall-run, double jump, dive and more. Wherever you do break into one of the many moves, the game enters slow-motion and you become impossible to hit, while you pick off the enemies one by one. Chain moves together and you can clear out a room in seconds and before the bad guys even have time to react. The levels are small and offer plenty of chances to show off your acrobatic skills. If there’s a window between you and a room of enemies, just dive through it and start blasting. Slide under tables and shoot someone in the balls. Is there an enemy hiding behind a shield? Jump over him do a backflip in the air and put a bullet in the back of his head… while you are upside-down.
The gunplay here is amazing and everything feels very smooth as you jump, dive, slide and wall-run all over the place. I never once got bored with throwing myself around and shooting people in increasingly more acrobatic ways. The gameplay loop really does feel very satisfying. Each level will have an objective like just killing everyone, or maybe having to destroy some equipment… while killing everyone. Once you finish your objective, you find the exit and move on to the next level. Severed Steel never gets complex, it keeps things simple, and I mean that in a good way. There is some variety in the levels too. One instance comes to mind where you have to stop a speeding train by starting at the back and making your way to the front to destroy the controls. Still, the basics and acrobatic slaughter of the levels never change. This is a game about shooting loads of people in very stylistic ways. It doesn’t slow itself down with a story and it doesn’t try to pretend that it is anything more than a frantic shooter.
Weapons are easy to come by as every enemy has one. However, they have very limited ammo and once it is empty, the gun is no good… so throw it at someone, slide across the floor and take their gun, to then jump in the air and shoot them in the face with their own weapon and all in slow-motion. Seriously, the game is wonderfully slick and the gunplay feels very cinematic. You’ll feel like the love child of a John Woo hero and Max Payne.
Pretty early in the game, you’ll find a prototype arm cannon game and yup, Steel slaps that bastard on her severed arm. Now she has a rather handy cannon that can blow holes in walls. The scenery here is very destructive and it’s not just there ‘because’, it can play into the gameplay quite a lot. See an enemy on a floor above you? Blow a hole in the ceiling and watch him fall down as you shoot to take him out. Is there an objective that is tricky to get to? Just shoot a hole in the wall and away you go. The level of destruction is pretty impressive and just walking around after the carnage and admiring your handiwork does put a smile on your face.
In terms of looks, Severed Steel has a Tron-like visual style, very cyberpunk-ish. A lot of bright neon colours are used as edging around darker objects and scenery and so on. The graphics are not remarkable, but they never need to be. You get speed lines when you go into slow-motion and it looks really damn good, giving you a sense of speed, even though you are moving slowly. The music is (as described by the devs) ‘dark electronic’. It certainly is some frantic music to go along with the frantic action of the game. Though between you and me, I found myself turning the music volume down in the options. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but mainly because the music (by default) was just too loud and it was washing the sound effects out.
So then, the big question. Is Severed Steel worth the money? Well, it comes with a £20 price tag (depending on the format) and that’s an average for a small indie game. But, I did get to the end credits in 2 and a bit hours on normal difficulty and that does make that £20 a bit more tricky to swallow. Some levels in the game can be completed in just a few seconds. In terms of the core gameplay, I really thought that Severed Steel was amazing. It is fast-paced, action-packed and immense fun, but it is very, very short and I am all about value for money when I review a game. I don’t think you get that value for money here. There’s more to do outside of the short campaign, there’s a game+ mode and then there is the Firefight Mode. This is basically you on a single map and you have various sub-challenges to complete. There are also several ‘mutators’ to unlock. These are fun little additions like big head mode, etc. This only took me just under 2 hours to finish all of the levels and unlock all of the mutators. So all in, about a 4-5 hour game.
Then there are multiple difficulties to play too. To be honest with you, even on the hardest setting, Severed Steel never really felt ‘difficult’. A bit more challenging yes, but never difficult. This is because you are invincible when doing your acrobatic moves and because you can trigger slow-motion every time you do a move (which is 90% of the game), you are pretty much unstoppable as long as you keep killing to top up your slo-mo meter and stringing together moves. I don’t really have a problem with the length of the campaign and there is nothing wrong with a short blast of a title either. Severed Steel is a game that feels like it may outstay its welcome if it got into double figures. But still, a just over 2 hours campaign for £20 (and around 4-5 hours to unlock everything)? If this had a lower price point, I’d be telling you to grab a copy right now. Instead, I’m going to suggest you wait and get it in a sale. Severed Steel is great, it is immense fun and well worth playing. It just feels a bit too expensive for what you do get.
Just going back to Superhot for a second. That was a very similar FPS title with similar mechanics only in reverse. With Superhot, it was all about going slow and planning your attack. Moving could prove deadly if not properly prepared. With Severed Steel, the opposite is true as standing still is a surefire way to get you killed and constant movement is key. They both had small arena-like levels to play in that could only last a few seconds too. Both are frantic and both are relatively short games. However, Superhot featured a rather splendid meta and clever story, it was also crammed with loads of extras and bonus features. Severed Steel, as good as it is, lacks that and it ends up being a wonderfully creative FPS that just needed a bit more meat on its bones.
Severed Steel is available on everything right now.