dead cells

Death is just an­other op­por­tu­nity

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Daniella Lu­cas

Where do we go when we die? Do we stay in the ground to rot, burn in hell­fire or party it up with the big G in the sky? If you’re the name­less pris­oner in

Dead Cells then your an­swer is right back where you started, doomed to re­peat your day end­lessly in a de­crepit dun­geon fight­ing hor­ri­ble beasts. It may sound even worse than hang­ing out with Lu­cifer, but for us gamers it makes for one hell of an ac­tion game.

As a head­less pris­oner you try to nav­i­gate an ever-chang­ing prison is­land labyrinth of dingy hall­ways full of tor­ture de­vices and dis­gust­ing sew­ers in your at­tempts to es­cape. Ev­ery time you die you start back from the be­gin­ning by tak­ing over an­other corpse, but you can carry over a few up­grades and runes to make your next at­tempts eas­ier. It’s harsh but fair so you never feel like your time is wasted even if you fail. The story is lim­ited, but you don’t need much,

Dead Cells is all about its move­ment and com­bat – both of which are bril­liantly smooth and re­ac­tive. It’s a bit like Dark Souls in that it’s all about mas­ter­ing what you have in an en­vi­ron­ment that has chal­leng­ing but per­fectly bal­anced en­e­mies.

End­less run­ning

As you fight your way through a range of hor­ri­ble crea­tures you’ll col­lect cells that you can spend in sanc­tu­ar­ies be­tween each area of the is­land to un­lock per­ma­nent perks such as health po­tions and bet­ter weapons to ac­cess in fu­ture runs. You can also un­lock mu­ta­tions that will do things like give you 3HP ev­ery time you kill some­one or give you a sec­ond life if you die, but these will dis­ap­pear on death. There’s also a chance to up­grade your strength and health pool as pow­er­ful scrolls are gen­er­ously spread around each area, you just need to spend some time fer­ret­ing them out to make the most of each at­tempt. Even­tu­ally you’ll be quickly blast­ing through the ear­lier zones to work your way through the later ones.

Ev­ery run is dif­fer­ent – the is­land com­pletely changes so you’ll never be travers­ing the same paths, and you’ll also en­counter dif­fer­ent boosts at vary­ing points. Some­times that means there’s a cer­tain amount of luck in­volved: your path on one run might have eas­ier-to-ac­cess chests and scrolls to tem­po­rar­ily boost your dam­age and HP set­ting for you to beat bosses faster. On one run we en­coun­tered an over­abun­dance of spike pits at dif­fi­cult jump­ing an­gles so we died far faster through clum­si­ness than we had done in pre­vi­ous playthroughs. It’s never too grim though, there’s never a sen­sa­tion that the game is be­ing un­fair with its ran­domi­sa­tion as it stitches pieces to­gether in­cred­i­bly well – some­times you just get slightly more of the one as­pect you might per­son­ally be weaker with, like us with spikes.

How­ever, the more you play the more con­fi­dent you be­come – you get faster and braver as you cut through en­e­mies you’ve be­come fa­mil­iar with. You al­most be­come zen-like as you

look past what’s on the screen and start do­ing things by in­stinct. Timed gates that only open if you reach them within a cer­tain time limit sud­denly seem more reach­able. Even if you’re ter­ri­ble at the game (like this re­viewer) there’s still a sense of pro­gres­sion thanks to be­ing able to chip away at up­grades. De­spite dy­ing con­stantly the com­bat feels so good that it doesn’t ever feel un­fair – you’ll learn to get there even­tu­ally, even if you’re a lit­tle slower than your peers.

Dig deep

The prison may be bleak but it’s also full of se­crets. Some­times you’ll find rooms with books or corpses that will hint to­wards the lore of the place, or hid­den paths that can only be ac­cessed if you have the right key. Keep a sharp eye and you could even find se­cret cakes buried within the walls marked by sub­tle runes – use­ful when you need a health boost. It’s these hid­den el­e­ments that keep you com­ing back – you never know what you’ll find. Oc­ca­sion­ally you’ll come to a dead end in your path but that only ever hap­pens if you don’t have the tools to over­come it yet. By de­feat­ing bosses you un­lock per­ma­nent runes that can af­fect the en­vi­ron­ment. For ex­am­ple, some­times you run into green masses of cells that can be tickled, but come back later af­ter get­ting a rune and they’ll burst into tow­er­ing vines which open up new paths to you. It gives you an in­cen­tive to keep play­ing, as ear­lier stages can lead to new places en­tirely with the right runes – those early stages stay fresh through mul­ti­ple playthroughs. Which is mas­sively im­por­tant when you’ll be spend­ing a lot of your time dy­ing and respawn­ing at the start.

With so many nooks and cran­nies to un­cover, con­stantly chang­ing en­vi­ron­ments and loads of weapon types to ex­per­i­ment with, the game­play con­stantly feels fresh. It also looks beau­ti­ful – the sprite work is grimly dark yet won­der­fully clear with some cheeky an­i­ma­tions thrown in that give ev­ery­thing some per­son­al­ity. All of this, wrapped around pre­cise and sat­is­fy­ing ac­tion com­bat, makes this a game worth in­vest­ing in. Your pris­oner may be go­ing through hell, but Dead Cells is heav­enly.

“Hid­den el­e­ments keep you com­ing back – you never know what you’ll find”

Far Left Even­tu­ally all of these jars will be filled with the up­grades you’ve un­locked.

right It may be a hor­ri­ble prison but the world can still be beau­ti­ful.

Left Shop­keep­ers will sell you bet­ter weapons, but you’ll lose them when you die later.

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