PUBLISHER MOTION TWIN / DEVELOPER MOTION TWIN / FORMAT XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE 7 AUGUST 2018
I don’t know what it is that makes Dead Cells so fun. It might be the crazily tight combat. It could be the smart level design. Perhaps it’s just the fact I want to kick the Hand Of The King’s ass into next week a few more times. Whatever it is, it’s made me sink 60 hours into the game in just over a month.
For some sprawling, triple-A titles – games like AC: Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II – you could understand it. But Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, 2D side-scrolling platformer with a set number of areas and a final boss. If you die, you go back to the start with a little more knowledge, a couple of extra weapons in your arsenal, and you begin from scratch again. So why am I not bored yet?
It all comes down to the procedurally generated levels that mean you can follow the same path through the game and experience new levels every time. It’s hard to get your head around until you play it, but the team at Motion Twin has built a system that makes every playthrough fresh, and constantly challenging.
“It’s a very unique way to create a game world because we mostly create handcrafted content for the global perspective – by shaping the level layout – then we leave it to the random generator,” explains Sebastien Bérnard, game designer at Motion Twin. “Then we again create handcrafted content for the very low-level – ie the actual room level designs.”
It means that, while you might see familiar landmarks, or recognise a room, it will be surrounded by platforms, doors and item drops in an order you’ve never experienced. You can’t learn the perfect route through the game, or take the easy path. You’ve just got to git gud. That’s why I’ve been playing for 60 hours. I’m getting better, but I’m still nowhere near good enough. Sure, I’ve beaten the Hand Of The King a few times on the easiest mode, but once you beat him once, you can push the difficulty up a notch. On ‘Hard’ I’ve reached the Hand maybe four times, and he’s embarrassed me every time. I’ve got four more difficulty levels to master before the game is ‘complete’. Bugger. Thankfully, the weapons also keep things fresh. As you progress you’ll discover blueprints for new melee and long-range weapons, as well as abilities and throwables like grenades. Later levels hold more powerful weapons, so you’ll need to think tactically about when to switch and what to keep. Finding a powerful combo feels awesome, and every now and then I get a loadout that I know will take me to the final boss. And then I die because I forget to take a health potion and a bomb-chucking asshole literally blows my head off.
The best part is that, even after 60 hours, there are whole areas I’m yet to discover. I’m currently fighting my way towards the Cavern, a new area added as part of the free DLC a few months ago. On my way there I’ll need to pass through the Graveyard, which I’m sure will be full of pretty flowers, a couple of friendly groundskeepers and the occasional sombre relative. Along the way I’ve spotted at least three doors or areas I can’t access yet, because I haven’t beaten the Hand enough times, or I just don’t know how to reach them. And I’ve barely even attempted to explore all the challenges on offer. Actually, I better get back to it…
“You can’t learn the perfect route through the game, or take the easy path. You’ve just got to git gud”