Dead Cells Review

Dead Cells is a simulator of an insect and rodent exterminator in the dungeons of a prison island, which the developers are trying to pass off as a roguelike with metroidvania elements. The game was clearly developed for the use of turrets and traps - this is a tower defense with procedurally generated rooms and corridors instead of the usual paths with monsters for the genre. All other elements were screwed onto this basic mechanic retroactively - they are completely unnecessary in the game.

Firstly, during the year the game was in Early Access, the developers from Motion Twin were only engaged in fan service for hardcore lovers of roguelikes. According to the chief designer , 50% of the content in Dead Cells is influenced by user feedback. As a result, I find it difficult to name another game of any genre, into which the authors managed to squeeze such a huge number of combat mechanics for extremely narrow categories of players.

Secondly, Dead Cells can be guaranteed to be completed "inside and out" for the 20-30 hours allotted for acquaintance with the game and writing a review - an extremely rare quality for a full-scale roguelike.

At first glance, Dead Cells contains everything that the game is so praised for: retro pixel art with modern special effects, music stylized for all your favorite fantasy games at once, a huge combat mechanism adjusted to the last pixel and incredible complexity that can crush even a veteran of the genre. I will talk about art and music at the very end, as about the least controversial (but also not representing anything outstanding) elements. First, let's deal with the local pseudo-combat and, as it were, the difficulty of passing.

The spread of weapons and combat mechanics is striking - in addition to the usual swords-axes and firearms (which here is disguised as "shotgun crossbows" and "machine-guns") there are shields "like in Dark Souls", whips straight from Castlevania and even the ability to kick enemies with spiked boots like the iconic 1992 eight-bit hit Kick Master.

Weapons can be upgraded and weighted with random effects, as a result of which the opposition dies for a reason, but in agony. Bleeding, suffering from poisoning and being eaten by predatory worms - and also on fire, ice and under the effect of slowing down. Each sword, bow or whip is endowed with its own style of combat - we have not yet begun to deal with the return of arrows and the system of blocks and parries.

All this pile of weapons junk clearly came into play "by popular demand." Nothing is balanced. Something works great from the first level, something requires an immediate upgrade or a long training, and without a number of mechanics (the same shields or magic) in Dead Cells everyone would do just fine, except for the most stubborn fans of this type of passage. But that in itself is not so bad - at least the developers have done a tremendous amount of work on the animations and physics of using combat junk. Tactilely in the game it is equally pleasant to use both the smallest bow and the huge war hammer.

The first suspicions creep in when you reach the final boss without ever using the fire button. They are strengthened when you repeat the entire process without ever touching the hit button. And when you reach the last boss, NEVER touching either one or the other button ... You can't get anywhere: despite all the praise from grateful players, there is something fundamentally wrong with the game's combat system.

The thing is that the weapon arsenal of the hero of Dead Cells is not limited. It has two slots for auxiliary means - traps or grenades. Grenades with various effects are another absolutely superfluous mechanic in the game for a narrow category of players, so we will not consider them and focus on traps.

These are classic turrets and traps, circular saws and other devices from mobile games that delay or tear the enemy apart, in which a long line of leisurely zombies is walking towards you along the path. I hate tower defense and didn't even think about using traps - I was going to play Dead Cells like Bloodborne, with rolls and lightest weapons. But after one or two hundred shameful deaths, I nevertheless tried to put an automatic disc thrower from a circular saw and did not have time to look back, as I completely stopped using the weapon.

This is not a passing style - this is a universal tactic that works always and everywhere except for the very last battle, where you are deliberately locked in a cramped room with an army of elite enemies. In the fight against ordinary opponents, you jump into a room, set up two traps, roll back and calmly wait while the flamethrower with circulars process the contents of the room. In a boss fight, throw an automatic crossbow and a saw in a strategically advantageous position and fully focus on dodging enemy attacks while traps are damaging.

It all boils down to an existential dilemma: if you fight yourself, sooner or later you will be killed, and this is permadeath and a rather long (10 minutes per boss) replay of the whole game. If you use traps, then you can die only in the event of a gross violation of safety precautions when using dungeon cleaners.

We also worked hard on the enemies in Dead Cells, planning unpleasant surprises for various categories of players. Do you like to run through the level as quickly as possible - there are teleporting opponents who will catch up and hack you in the back. You weigh every action and study the routes of enemies for a long time - sooner or later a grenade or a small phasing leech will arrive.

The damage from the smallest blow in Dead Cells is so monstrous, and the special means for restoring life are opening so long and painfully that hand-to-hand combat, and indeed combat in general, is an unacceptable risk.

If you have mastered jumping-rolls and you can competently jump in and jump out from the site filled with evil spirits, setting a trap there, 90% of the dangers come to naught. There remains a teleporting beast (mostly elite opponents), but they can also be “accepted” competently by moving traps to a new corridor and dragging monsters along it to and fro to no avail.

The very concept of permadeath, and the rogue genre in general, was invented in order to arouse maximum adrenaline in the player. The feeling of flying on the crest of a wave, balancing on a razor blade in those few minutes or even seconds when you managed to pump, find normal weapons, armor, amulets and feel like the coolest in the whole maze.

It won't last long - you will be killed or you will complete the game. Everything will have to start from scratch (in roguelike - practically from scratch). But these seconds of survival in a world where everything wants and can finish you off with one or two blows cannot be compared in intensity with anything in video games, this is the reason for the popularity of the genre among both veterans and beginners. What difference does it make if you were killed on the first level or on the last boss ... you got the charge.

In Dead Cells, such emotions arise only in one case - when you first come to an unfamiliar level and do not know what local enemies are capable of. Designers throw up quite pleasantly dastardly tricks: somewhere levels are generated horizontally, somewhere - vertically, somewhere there are always huge honeycombs in which nothing awaits except enemies and death, somewhere you need to enter others by accident generated layers and look for the key to the door in the original maze there.

But all this works until you draw a map of the level and understand the principle of its generation. When you know where the exit, secrets and the most dangerous "elites" will be, passing the level turns into a monotonous, safe sweeping with traps. Moreover, if you suddenly have to enter the battle due to some unforeseen circumstances, it turns out that even the basic skills of using a sword and a bow have already atrophied!

In the second half of any passage, the infrastructure of Dead Cells turns into a dead city of shops in which you have nothing to buy, NPCs issuing mutations and upgrades that you don't need, and health restoration stations, which you already have full. A couple of good traps and good effects to them are enough. I don't know what better symbolizes the fundamental flaws of the game design than a health regeneration station at one of the later levels, the sight of which does not cause any emotion in the player.

And the last thing: the creators of Dead Cells completely flunked the main fork in the mechanics of roguelike games: "risk vs reward". Because after each level and before each boss, the game gives a chance to fully restore health. There is no incentive not to swing and take risks, go through the levels as quickly as possible to face the boss or a more difficult dungeon in good shape.

In Dead Cells, you just need to methodically swing, for the hundredth time without any risk, go through the same tired levels, collecting upgrades in order to reach the final boss with a long enough lifebar and powerful weapons or protection.

Probably, you can complicate the passage of Dead Cells, basically playing without traps and for an hour reaching the final boss for the sake of death in those very seconds of chaotic flickering. But what is it for?

You have already seen the combat mechanics of the game, and apart from it Dead Cells is not able to offer anything. Pixel art is cute, but it seems to me that in 2018 it is foolish to praise artists for more or less reasonably able to draw such typical fantasy locations as “forest”, “castle” and “sewer”. Music, too, will quickly start to cut the ear with its impudent borrowings from Diablo (this guitar) and Dark Souls (this chorus).

The exception is the level on the clock tower, which, both in design and in the picture with the moon shining through the window, is a phenomenal sight. Even musically - a real work of art, and not just a stylization under Castlevania. But he's alone here.

There is no plot in the game, only scraps from the work of George RR Martin (one of the bosses is called The Hand of the King) with very stupid and inappropriate violations of the "fourth wall". When the main character drops something like: “Well, how am I going to upgrade my crossbow on a grindstone? What a crooked game design! ”, This violates immersion, immersion in the atmosphere and world of the game, and testifies not so much to the advancement and irony of the authors as to the complete absence of text editing.

Actually, there is not even the main character here - only the player's alter-ego in baggy pants and a red tunic, showing the NPC fakies. Platformer elements and metroidvania proper are so rare here that they don't deserve a mention at all.

Games like The Binding of Isaac have shown that amazing stories can be told in the roguelike genre. Enter the Gungeon proved that even with a minimal storyline, you can create an ingenious game through uncompromising difficulty and smart, creative and honest boss designs. So there is no need to make Dead Cells discounts on the genre, on "roguelikes". Nothing like this. The developers just spent a lot of time on the most insignificant aspects of the game, without making or abandoning the elements halfway through which would make the weapon interesting to use on enemies and bosses.

If you buy Dead Cells on Steam, then after the initial excitement it will be lost in your library. Everything may seem addictive at first, but if you don't launch the game for a couple of days, you most likely will have no reason or desire to return to it. Dead Cells is not intriguing with its history or gradual exploration of the world, it does not offer an interesting progression of levels and bosses for which you would like to "once again go to Conjunctivitus." This is just another, not the worst, but absolutely passable "roguelike" with an exaggerated reputation.

It's not that simple on Switch. Despite the high price in the Nintendo store, Dead Cells is quite playable in handheld mode - in cases where you need to kill 10-20 minutes for something that does not require any mental or physical effort. In this case, this mousetrap simulator is perfect - and you will find yourself holding a real mobile casual game that the developers have carefully disguised.