Sponsored by: Me
Time Played: 59 Minutes
Hasp and Staple Review
When Death has to use the toilet, you'd best finish up.
I recall reading that Jamiroquai was once criticized for sounding too much like Stevie Wonder. My response was "Why wouldn't you want to sound like Stevie Wonder?"
Do be sure, there's a fine line between being influenced by something and being derivative of it. Usually the term a person uses depends on whether the person likes the thing they're describing. If they enjoy something that's like something else, it's inspired by or influenced by that thing. If they don't like it, it's derivative.
Which brings me to Deadbolt, the latest in a long line of two-dimensional pixel-art stealth/action games that cropped up after Gunpoint showed up and captured the world's imagination in a whirlwind of shattered glass and super pants.
Deadbolt doesn't have super pants, but it does have some great stealth mechanics and a light noir-inspired sensibility. You play as Death, or rather as Death as he would have been anthropomorphized in the post industrial era. The gritty, Tarantino-directed reboot of Death, if you will.
Death is a hitman, in other words, and he's taking all of his jobs from a talking fireplace. It seems that a gang of drug dealers managed to escape the reaper, and are continuing to ply their trade as zombies. Your jobs generally revolve around inhuming the zombies patrolling a level, or otherwise destroying their drug operation, or both. You get paid in Souls.
I mentioned it's a stealth game, and you might be wondering why Death needs to sneak around. Well, it is a video game, after all, so that means that Death is as vulnerable to getting shot, stabbed, or otherwise dispatched as his contracts are. If you get spotted and fail to take cover, well, let's just say that Death takes a holiday. So you want to stay out of sight, and in the dark, as much as possible.
Fortunately, the rebooted Death may not be invulnerable, but he is still supernatural. You have some abilities that make things easier. If you come across a sewer grate, or an air vent, The New Death can transform into a cloud of smoke and zip across the level to another grate, vent or toilet. This leads to some pretty amusing achievements, such as the Dethroned achievement that you get for materializing out of a toilet that someone is using, resulting in a rather explosive takedown.
So let's pause a moment to talk weapons, because weapon use is strategic in Deadbolt. It's early in the new Death's career, and he hasn't earned the scythe yet. You start the game with a revolver and six bullets, but as you collect more souls you can buy additional weapons with various attributes. The scythe is the most expensive item in the store, and I'm not sure what it does yet. I hope it's as bad-arse as it sounds. It almost certainly will be quieter than the other weapons available, as most of the firearms bring unwanted attention from nearby enemies – though not as much as you'd think. There seems to be a unique sonic radius for the various weapons, and they're all surprisingly small. Shooting someone will almost always attract the attention of someone else in the same room, but not necessarily in the next room over. This can be a blessing and a curse as you try to peel one enemy away from the pack so you can deal with them one at a time, as gunshots seem to either attract everyone or no one. Fortunately, you can play the game like a cover-based shooter if you really want to, ducking behind a couch and stepping out to pick off your enemies as they reload. Ammunition is scarce, so I wouldn't recommend trying to play a whole level like that, but if you happen upon a weapons cache in the level and want to go to town, that's up to you. You might as well, since you can't keep the weapons you pick up from one level to the next.
As I said earlier, the graphical style is reminiscent of Gunpoint, and it works. I like this style, which I wouldn't call "retro" so much as I'd call it minimalist. It evokes the maximum amount of atmosphere with the minimum number of pixels.
For those of you keeping track, that's the second time I've ventured into the "what I think words mean" territory this review. I look forward to spirited debate in the comments.
Will Death Stalk On?
I finished Gunpoint because the game grabbed me by the lips and yanked. Deadbolt has a similar vibe about it. I'm enjoying the stealth puzzles, and I love the graphical style. The only thing it's missing is the Gunpoint humor, but with gameplay this solid I can give that a bye.
Is it the Dark Souls of pixelly stealth games?
There's a lot of challenge to this game, and a lot of it is in figuring out how everything works. What's the sound-radius of the weapon you're holding? Is it quieter to shoot an enemy, or to beat him to death with a hammer? The mission briefing does give you some level-specific tips, but they don't always seem particularly useful.
So, taking into account all of the factors that make a game Dark Souls-esque (challenge, opacity, contempt for the player and meme potential) I have to give this one a ten. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to apply that math to Dark Souls itself, because my calculation spreadsheet keeps giving me a circular reference error.