Should You Check Out Dead Cells?

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Have you ever played a game called “Rogue Legacy” by Cellar Door Games? It was a roguelike action platformer that came out a few years ago. I put a few dozen hours into the game after seeing it on some youtube channel and I rather enjoyed my time with it. It was an aesthetically cute game with an interesting progression system where when you die, that character is gone -BUT- you keep your gold on a “descendant” of said character. You’d use this gold to progressively make a better and better character via skill trees and purchased equipment until eventually you have died enough times to clear the randomly generated castle.

Now; what if you took that game, stripped it down, then filled in the blanks with Dark Souls and Bloodbourne? Then you would get Dead Cells by Motion Twin.

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Dead Cells came out on Steam early access a little over a week ago and since then has received quite a lot of praise, and rightly so. The game is very well executed both mechanically and artistically. Like Rogue Legacy, you steadily upgrade your character every time you play. You do this by spending “Cells” you get from enemies to acquire new weapons, perks, and upgrade already unlocked equipment. This means that every few runs you will have completely new equipment that can drop.

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The gameplay is very fast and fluid. Your character feels powerful even with just the starting equipment and no upgrades. After only a few hours of play time I am already at the point where I never feel afraid to take a risk because I know if I just play well enough, any risk will pay off.

This risk-reward is a key component to the gameplay in Dead Cells. Do I want to fully clear out a level to gain the maximum number of cells, or do I want to just run to the exit because I am out of potions and I don’t want to lose everything? Do I take the easy path of levels, or do I go after the more challenging zones which drop more of everything? Every run is different because the answers to these questions aren’t always the same.

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The game features equipment such as turrets, bombs, a teleportation ability (the equivalent of shadow-step in World of Warcraft), traps, etc. You can equip two of these items at any one time. All the items -including the weapons and shields- can have randomly added bonuses on them such as “throw a bomb on use” or “poison enemies on hit” among many others.

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One balancing issue I have found is that some of the equipment are far too powerful. For instance, the turret I mentioned earlier. I was lucky enough to acquire two of these turrets at the same time during a run, which allowed me to basically skip every fight. All I had to do to win was drop two turrets and then wait while the enemies died helplessly. While fun and very useful for gaining cells, this is clearly not how the game is meant to be played.

Anyway, this Is by no means a review. It wouldn’t be fair to review a game that is very clearly sold as a not finished product. I am merely writing this to help spread the word and let people know that this is a game possibly worth keeping an eye on. I may review the game once it has exited early access, but it is too soon for me to decide that now.

If this article has helped you decide whether Dead Cells is for you, feel free to leave a comment. It is always nice to hear that I have helped with a purchasing decision- especially when it comes to indie games.

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Review: Prey (2017)

Game: Prey (2017) for PC
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Copy purchased at full retail price.

Many years ago, I purchased one of my first ever single player games for the PC; the original Bioshock. In fact, per steam, it was the second game I ever acquired on the service. I played through that game in one sitting and was simply blown away by nearly every aspect of it. The immersion, the detailed city of rapture, the now iconic story, and the gameplay all combined to create an experience that I trust most people would agree is damn near perfect.

Prey is not Bioshock.

However, Prey borrows a lot of elements of Bioshock and Dishonored (obviously considering the latter made by the same developer). The game has some themes I could easily see in the two Dead Space games because there are only two games in that series (check steam if you don’t believe me). If you enjoyed the story of Bioshock, the gameplay of Dishonored (to an extent), and the atmosphere of Dead Space, then the less-than-perfect melding of these aspects seen in Prey may be right up your alley.

Enough of the preamble; let’s get to the heart of the matter.

I went into Prey knowing virtually nothing aside from what can be seen in the preview video posted by Jesse Cox . When I booted up Prey for the first time I was greeted with the logo of Arkane Studios and immediately regretted my purchase decision. Dishonored 2 was a horribly optimized game that completely stopped working on my computer after the first 30 hours. The game would not open without crashing. It is fixed now but that still seriously soured my opinion of both Arkane and Bethesda. Luckily Prey appears to be extremely well optimized, so maybe Dishonored 2 was a learning experience. Only time will tell.

The Narrative

I like Prey a lot. Let’s get that out of the way. The story and the characters are engaging; in fact, I found myself getting heavily invested in the outcomes of some of the story elements concerning certain NPCs. Genuine remorse, worry, and relief were all felt several times. I tend not to care about NPCs often so that must say something about the writing.

Even so, they kind of ruin the story by quite literally telling you the ending about a third of the way through if you complete the side quest “Who is December?” Sure, they give you hints at the ending throughout the main storyline, but they are at least a bit subtle. They get you thinking and theorycrafting about the story rather than beating you over the head with it out of nowhere. If you don’t want to have the story ruined for you then maybe skip that quest. I knew how the game ended before I even got halfway through. That should never happen.

Gameplay and Mechanics

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The gameplay is good. I for some reason received the pre-order bonus for Prey even though I did not pre-order it, which allowed me to get the shotgun a little bit earlier. This shotgun gives you no statistical advantage but looks prettier than the standard model. The standard mimic enemies serve as a very effective tool to keep the tension high at all times. You never know when a chair or a coffee cup is going to try and murder you, and that is a wonderful thing.

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The game features a basic crafting system where you break down anything you can pick up into four different types of crafting material. You shove your garbage into a recycling machine and you get back building material which is basically just a form of currency that you use to craft(Or basically purchase) pretty much everything useful in the game. You can get ammo, health and repair kits, upgrade kits for weapons, replacement weapons for some reason even though I don’t see why you would ever need that, etc.

To make the game progress faster I exploited a very commonly known glitch that allows you to gain an unlimited amount of crafting materials. Even so, I still found myself constantly low on ammo. I can’t imagine how anyone would get through this game normally without simply running away from almost every enemy. And that’s on normal difficulty!

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There is a decent amount of gun variety and they all feel quite powerful. I can’t remember the last shooter I played where I was perfectly happy using every weapon in the game. I feel certain other developers could learn from this.

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After a certain point in the story, you unlock an item called a Psychoscope which allows you to scan enemies to learn their strengths and weaknesses. You also acquire new abilities you may purchase in the skill tree when you scan a certain number of different types. This skill tree includes a wide range of both passive and active abilities that usually feel hard to choose between. Most of the skills in the 3 skill trees you can unlock before the psychoscope are passive, and most of the alien skills are active abilities. The active skills are basically much less interesting plasmids.

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Visuals and Immersion

The graphics and environments in prey are decent. It certainly isn’t the new Crysis or anything but it is particularly pretty in some places. One aspect of a certain glass-based technology in the game seriously blew my mind the first time I saw it. I won’t be specific because that reveal is awesome, and unlike the game I don’t want to throw spoilers at you. Unfortunately, the creature design in Prey is basically nonexistent. They all look the same aesthetically. That may seem like common sense, but when that aesthetic is “black mass completely void of detail” … just no. You can do better than that. Almost everything else about the enemies in this game is wonderful and well thought out, but they all look just terrible and boring.

The music is wonderful at times though. It reflects the atmosphere nicely.

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Prey allows you to choose the sex of Morgan which I found cool. It’s always nice to have that option regardless of what a certain subset of gamers would like you to believe. I chose female because I generally prefer female voices and I wanted to see if the developers cared enough to have that choice matter. In some ways, they failed in this. Most of the time the game recognized that I was playing a female character, but sometimes it used male pronouns to describe Morgan and that broke my immersion whenever It happened. Very disappointing.

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All around I put about 40 hours into Prey and I must say that I enjoyed my experience. I posted on Twitter after a few hours saying that so far the game is a “B” and I still stand by that. The game never dipped below that level of “good but not amazing” but also never managed to soar above it and do something that defied my expectations. As such I believe the game to be about an 8/10

Score: 8/10
If you care about that sort of thing.