The Trav­eller

Dani ex­plores the con­stantly chang­ing world of Dead Cells

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - INSIDER - You can see more of Dani’s gam­ing trav­els on In­sta­gram: @daniel­lam­lu­cas.

How do you con­sis­tently ex­plore an area when it changes ev­ery sin­gle time you reach it? When ev­ery time you en­ter the traps, en­e­mies and paths shift en­tirely? Is it even pos­si­ble to do so? That’s what I wanted to try af­ter get­ting my hands on the achingly pretty pix­e­lated prison that is Dead Cells. There’s also the added chal­lenge of ac­tu­ally hav­ing the skill to reach a cer­tain area as you restart from the be­gin­ning ev­ery time you die. But in­ves­ti­gat­ing this cap­ti­vat­ing ac­tion­plat­former for all of its hid­den se­crets is well worth the ex­tra chal­lenge.

Start­ing in the Pris­oner’s Quar­ters is rather bleak. It may be pix­e­lated but the whole place feels damp and cold thanks to to the choice of colour and the way the brick­work of­ten has patches of mould hang­ing off of it. Ev­ery­thing is dimly lit in shades of green, giv­ing the whole place a sickly pal­lor. The sense of con­fined dread makes it all the more re­ward­ing when you es­cape it for the first time… into a for­est full of hang­ing corpses. Lovely.

While the Prom­e­nade of the Dead may stink of death it feels like a peace­ful wood­land com­pared to the dun­geon that came be­fore it. Sure, your path is of­ten cov­ered in spikes and you’re fre­quently dive-bombed by fe­ro­cious bat things, but some­how that tran­si­tion from aw­ful to slightly less aw­ful feels like par­adise. Per­haps it’s be­cause the tri­als you’ve un­der­gone to get there make ev­ery­thing feel a lit­tle shinier – you bask in a brief after­glow of vic­tory be­fore you in­evitably suc­cumb to some pink bas­tard lob­bing things at you. That feel­ing in­creases as you reach ev­ery new lo­ca­tion, no mat­ter how many piles of fly-rid­dled corpses you en­counter along the way.

The Ram­parts show off the game’s world de­sign at its best – as the sun sets in the back­ground it drenches ev­ery­thing in fiery shades of red and orange. It’s breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful while also giv­ing the im­pres­sion that ev­ery­thing is burn­ing around you as you cut your way through in an at­tempt to find the next exit. The cas­tle walls are dark and harsh like the world you’re run­ning through – it’s a per­fect bal­ance of pretty and hor­ri­bly op­pres­sive, which is what makes Dead

Cells’ at­mos­phere so spe­cial.

Hide and seek

While the plea­sure of find­ing some­where new may be brief, as an un­timely death throws you back to the start, the jour­ney back is filled with con­stant lit­tle se­crets to un­cover along the way. Thanks to the way the world ran­domly re­sets it­self you never be­come bored of your sur­round­ings – there’s al­ways a new off­shoot to ex­plore that can lead to trea­sure or even a peek be­hind the cur­tain of what led the is­land to fall into such dis­gust­ing dis­ar­ray. Oc­ca­sion­ally you’ll stum­ble across ‘lore rooms’ that give you a lit­tle in­sight into the story, such as the desk of a cor­rupt prison guard com­plete with bribes, signs de­pict­ing un­fair or­ders that have come down from the King and paths of es­cape at­tempts made by other pris­on­ers.

Even the walls them­selves are filled with hidey-holes – keep your eyes open and you may spot small runes that re­veal hid­den gems or per­haps a long-for­got­ten slice of cake if you’re lucky. You might also come across paths to a to­tally new area al­to­gether. Bosses can leave runes that grant you pow­ers to in­ter­act with the world in new ways, open­ing up branch­ing paths and places to ex­plore.

While the game ap­pears to be fairly lin­ear on the sur­face, there’s ac­tu­ally a lot of space to forge your own path in un­ex­pected ways. Yes, it’s a sidescroller with flat back­grounds but those branch­ing and ever-chang­ing paths grant you a huge range to ex­plore. Add all of the se­cret spots and some­times it feels like a proper ad­ven­ture game that ri­vals larger, open-world af­fairs. There’s a lot to dis­cover here for any fel­low trav­el­ling en­thu­si­asts, you just need to per­se­vere to reach them.

“The world is a per­fect bal­ance of pretty and hor­ri­bly op­pres­sive”

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