Sev­ered

Vita

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher DrinkBox Stu­dios For­mat Vita Re­lease Out now

Sev­ered es­tab­lishes its setup with devastating econ­omy. A thin plume of smoke draws you down a wind-buf­feted, twilit path to­wards its source, a small fire amid the ru­ins of a col­lapsed home. Head­ing inside, you catch your re­flec­tion in the mir­ror. A young wo­man, Sasha, gasps as she sees the bloody stump where her right arm once was, spark­ing a dis­turb­ing vi­sion. Sud­denly a tall, cloaked fig­ure is stand­ing be­hind you. He hands you a sword and a mis­sion: find your fam­ily, and bring them home. A minute in and you’re ready for what­ever awaits. Eight hours later, as you list­lessly swipe at what feels like the 50th gi­ant bat you’ve faced, you’ll won­der how it all went so wrong.

There’s one good rea­son to keep plug­ging away. This uni­verse is ex­tra­or­di­nary, a des­o­late nether­world painted in lurid pur­ples, pinks and greens, and pop­u­lated by Dia De Los Muer­tos en­e­mies, from ragged crows to chat­ter­ing skulls with jagged pro­tru­sions pok­ing through their sock­ets. Ev­ery­thing else has too many arms, ten­drils, claws or eyes; some­times all four. Your only ally in this place ap­pears to be a bird with two necks, each sup­port­ing a toothy maw in lieu of a head.

Though a hand­ful lie down op­tional routes, you can’t avoid the rest. At first, you won’t want to, as en­coun­ters present an en­joy­ably hec­tic plate-spin­ning act: with sim­ple swipes, you’ll parry in­com­ing at­tacks and re­spond in kind, slash­ing at weak points. Tells and vul­ner­a­ble parts are eas­ily read, so the chal­lenge comes from pri­ori­tis­ing threats when sur­rounded. Icons will alert you when a poi­sonous growth is about to pop, or the swing of a club is im­mi­nent, and un­lock­able abil­i­ties let you freeze en­e­mies, de­buff later vari­ants, and trig­ger a rage mode that em­pow­ers every swipe but ren­ders you in­ert if overused. Alas, DrinkBox strug­gles to de­velop it; bat­tles never get deeper, sim­ply more at­tri­tional. It gets shal­lower as you progress, with strict time lim­its pro­mot­ing rapid scrub­bing rather than pre­cise strikes.

With the com­bat los­ing its al­lure, the fo­cus shifts to­ward ex­plo­ration, and the sense of dis­ap­point­ment grows. The map presents the il­lu­sion of in­tri­cacy, but nav­i­ga­tional puz­zles are sim­plis­tic. Ques­tion marks let you know where se­crets are, and with your in­ter­ac­tions lim­ited to rudi­men­tary swipes and taps, the so­lu­tions present them­selves in sec­onds. Gat­ing is some­how even less sub­tle than in DrinkBox’s pre­vi­ous game, Gua­camelee, which had colour-coded blocks ob­struct­ing your path. There’s some­thing in the vivid strokes of a sparse, sin­gle-minded nar­ra­tive that com­pels you to see Sasha’s mis­sion through to its strik­ingly bit­ter end. Oth­er­wise, this is a frus­trat­ing step back­wards for a stu­dio that can do bet­ter.

Three op­tional me­men­tos are the only se­crets re­quir­ing any real thought to lo­cate; col­lect­ing them short­ens the fi­nal battle and makes a mi­nor cos­metic dif­fer­ence to the end­ing. Which is as worth­while as it sounds

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