Developer: Toadman Interactive
Publisher: Toadman Interactive
High-budget, independently produced video games, typically referred to as AA development, haven’t had much of a presence since the PS2 days, but with the advent of titles like Hellblade, Darksiders 3, Killer Instinct and now Immortal: Unchained, they seem to be making a tremendous comeback. This middle ground is one I wholeheartedly support and I was interested to see what Immortal was bringing to that category.
Violence: Immortal is a shooter, but not a particularly graphic one. Enemies bleed green or black blood when shot. They can also be dismembered, but the blood effects are minimal and any actual gore is non-existent.
Spiritual Themes: The entire plot revolves around an undead scourge so everyone, including the player, is ostensibly a walking corpse. The player character is, very early on, revealed to be a dangerous individual and is later involved in a plot-related twist that shows (not explicitly) that there was a very good reason they were locked up in prison.
After a cryptically narrated cut-scene explaining the lore of the world, your character wakes up weaponless in a prison. Having fought through your place of capture, you are greeted by a mysterious stranger, who tells you of your quest. A plague of undeath curses the land, and you are the only one who can stop it.
Now, if you thought I was describing the opening to Dark Souls, then you’d be 100% correct. However, Immortal: Unchained shares this very introduction, along with many other artifacts from the “Hardcore Action RPG” progenitor. Somewhere at Toadman Interactive, someone asked “What if Dark Souls was in space with guns?” That is pretty much the elevator pitch for Immortal. Tough-as-nails combat, maze-like level design filled with shortcuts that make traversal that much easier for the next time you die, stamina management, and any From Software staple you can think of is in this game too.
This is, by no means, a bad thing, since taking inspiration from other games to help fuel your own happens all the time and if you’re going to pinch ideas, pinch them from the best. However, swapping out swords and shields for shotguns and sci-fi switches the entire gameplay loop up to be something completely new, while still oddly familiar. There are some clear growing pains in the design but Immortal‘s developers have the right idea.
As the player progresses through the tutorial level, they will eventually stumble upon “The Core”, the game’s central hub from which the player is able to access the various worlds that are in dire need of an undead fixer-upper. In this regard, the game’s layout becomes more comparable to that of Demon’s Souls’ Nexus and its structure. Each world the player visits is an entirely separate environment from the last and there’s no interconnectivity between them. Given the variety in the locations you visit, this isn’t surprising and works better for how the game is set up. It would definitely take the player out of the experience to go from a snowy tundra to a swampy forest just by walking a few feet. Being able to teleport down to different planets opens up the game to have more level diversity and stops the game from getting too repetitive to look at.
Combat in Immortal is a major part of the game; it’s pretty much everything you do and is a mostly positive mixed bag. The immediate impression I had of the system was one of a juggler trying to keep their balls in the air with one hand while also spinning plates with the other—it’s impressive at first, but unfocused, trying to do too many things at the same time and now there are bits of plate on the floor. The Souls games have never been all that complex in terms of combat; Nioh did a great job of showcasing what depths those mechanics could reach when they’re pushed beyond the tradition. Immortal is, however, a third-person shooter, meaning there’s equal opportunity for the game to do something new or to fall back on the shallow, cover-based systems of most. The greatest gun games I’ve played have had accuracy act as the start of high-level game play as opposed to the skill ceiling. Vanquish and Resident Evil 6 are two such games, letting the player have access to crazy techniques that, when used skillfully, will dramatically increase the effectiveness of the player while also making them look slick. Immortal has some unique combat, but ultimately feels held back by some questionable design decisions.
Immortal‘s combat has some surprising strategy to it. The player can choose to aim independently or lock-on to enemies. Locking-on guarantees hits, but foes will react differently based on where they are shot. Focusing fire on a limb might cut it off or at the head and especially the back will cause extra damage, places that locking-on won’t let the player target specifically. This gives the player a risk/reward scenario to play with and really adds a benefit for having both free-aim and lock-on. The problems start to arise with the fact that the game doesn’t feel built to fully take advantage of this. Quite often, level design is comprised of narrow platforms that make dodging borderline suicidal since the move is rather enthusiastic and might just throw you off the ledge instead. Similarly, some levels are riddled with floor traps that annoyingly become almost invisible once the player starts aiming.
Another problem the combat has lies in its enemy design and placement. Most enemies are fine, fun to fight in a lot of scenarios, but range and enemy count become problems that the game doesn’t really equip the player to deal with. There has been a lot of points where enemies outstripped whatever range I had and opened fire when I couldn’t see them. Most of the time, I could read the enemy’s ranged attacks well enough to dodge and evade in time. One particular enemy, however, had a lot more health, little to no telegraphing and tracking shots that were practically impossible to avoid all of. It wasn’t impossible, but it was certainly frustrating. The second level is packed with these, often as support for even bigger hordes of small, rushing enemies so much that the whole planet just became exasperating to traverse.
Immortal’s repertoire of defensive options are limited exclusively to a stamina-draining dodge roll or slide if the player is locked-on. When facing the tremendous amount of gun-toting undead with level design that takes away the option to evade, it really doesn’t feel like enough. Rolling is an essential part to Souls combat, but those games also have shields and techniques like parrying. Even Bloodborne, though it mostly dropped shields, had a riposte that could be used to open up enemies for enormous damage and shift momentum in the player’s favor. Immortal awards players for careful aiming but the damage bonuses are minimal anywhere other than the back. This combined with the fact that melee is borderline useless and getting overwhelmed by sheer numbers and massive enemies can cause a very fatal outcome. Even with one extra protective maneuver I think Immortal could get around the problem of dodging on narrow platforms, stopping a lot of unnecessary damage. It’s weird since the game feels like it’s balanced with being able to block, given how dodging can become so fatally dangerous in certain circumstances.
Outside of some choice moments, Immortal does feature some fantastic level design. It’s a small thing, but looping back around to earlier points and opening up shortcuts to previous locations gives me joy every time. Not every level is perfect though, as the second planet Veridian demonstrates in particular. One segment involved walking down a completely linear river covered in traps and being assaulted by constantly exploding enemies, each one leaving behind a cloud of gas that the player can’t get past because of the lack of space. The whole section felt like it dragged on forever, legitimately exasperating to playthrough. However, the environments themselves are well-done as far as design and visual presentation are concerned. Each world contains varied, unique locales that, while slightly cliche, are still interesting to look at. The colors are a little flat; there’s a heavy emphasis on icy blues and steel, but I believe that was intentional. The universe the player inhabits is dying, overrun with zombie cyborgs; it is no wonder everything is cold and lifeless.
There are a handful of stumbles when it comes to animation. For the most part, the game is done well, movement in particular has a very believable quality to it. Unfortunately, Immortal is not perfect, and some actions look very obviously melodramatic. It’s nothing horrendous, but it can take the player out of the mood. The most egregious are the melee attacks, which seem to lack any anticipation or impact. The weapons are swung (a little too slow to be useful) at a constant speed, making them look weightless. This combined with how the weapons themselves don’t do much damage or interrupt enemy attacks, even if timed correctly, makes melee a thoroughly underwhelming inclusion to the character’s tool-kit and a rather crippling hindrance to the player’s defense.
Immortal: Unchained feels like an experiment in concept, but upon execution, is a game with a surprising amount of variety and depth to it. It’s a solid adventure with some very noticeable flaws and, frustrating as it can be at times, I think I would still recommend it to someone who wants a new take on the From Software style. It’s certainly not the most interesting shooter I’ve ever played mechanically and fans of that particular genre might be a little disappointed, but there’s more strategy to unpack than your average waist-high-wall-athon.
Review code generously provided by Toadman Interactive.
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