The rise of the Early Access publishing model has brought about a rather troublesome change in the industry: it altered our perception, both as consumers and as producers, of what a saleable game should be. Namely, not necessarily a finished article.
While this is fine for smaller games participating in that particular Steam program (and has long been the case with deadline-obsessing AAA titles), the tenet is, worryingly, starting to seep through elsewhere. I’ve had two games to review this week, both designed around a brilliantly conceived set of central mechanics and both clearly in need of much work to be regarded as completed. However, while the flaws of a title like Blacksea Odyssey can be – temporarily – overlooked, the game being offered on Early Access, Blood Alloy: Reborn is marketed as a full release, and will be judged accordingly.
A twin-stick shooter built around combo-based scoring, Blood Alloy: Reborn plays with all the flair and intensity of a 2D Vanquish, their similarities running much deeper than the shared narrative premise of cyborg vs. robots. Like Platinum’s underrated symphony of chrome-plated violence, this game is all about frantic mechanical combat, revolving around an ultra-cool slide’n’shoot ability and requiring rapid shifts between longer and short-range combat options to keep both your health intact and the multipliers rising.
With the focus on scoring, Suppressive Fire Games has wisely opted for two independent combo bars to pile on the complexity of an otherwise perfectly straightforward affair: reducing a host of darting metal mosquitoes, swaying live wires and robotic hounds into piles of pixelated bolts and gears. The first combo bar simply strings successive kills up to a maximum multiplier of ten: rapid kills raise up the count; fail to dispatch an enemy within a set amount of time and it resets. Nothing more than a tried and true convention of bullet hell shooters since time immemorial (the ’90s, that is), but still an effective way to nudge the player into a more exciting, faster-paced approach.
The second bar – much slower to advance – is vaguely tied to the variety of your offensive moves, though the rules governing its ebb and flow are much more opaque. Nevertheless, for players chasing a high-score (and I can hardly imagine anyone else interested in such a bare-essentials game) it proves incentive enough to explore the intricacies of its deep combat system and mix up their attack patterns in order to exploit the point-amassing potential offered by combining both multipliers.
This is where the game shines, in these moments of different fighting skills merging seamlessly into each other, of dodge followed by slash, followed by vertical wall-slide as you unleash homing-missile hell on your pursuers and land deftly on top for a split-second respite while the world explodes to smithereens below. That feeling of flow, of a difficulty curve constantly rising to meet (and push) your skill limit, a sense of going outside yourself, one half performing on-screen magic, the other observing in awe, is the precious core of Blood Alloy: Reborn. Sadly, beyond that there is trouble.
The presentation of Blood Alloy: Reborn is not just bad; it actively works against the type of game Supressive Fire set out to create. I’m not referring to the unexceptional but helpfully crisp NES-era graphics or the, actually rather excellent, synth-based soundtrack. I’m not even bothered by the woeful menus (inexplicably lacking mouse support) and remain mildly optimistic that the bugs I’ve encountered (including a game-breaking save-corruption) will, eventually, be fixed.
It’s the fact that a game designed explicitly as a score-based title, purportedly inspired by the likes of Geometry Wars and Luftrausers, gets a full release without any kind of leaderboards, online or otherwise. This is simply mind-boggling. I have no idea what we’re supposed to do with our high scores if not compare them to our friends’ – perhaps in keeping with the ’80s aesthetic they should be printed out as posters and put on display next to power-ballad mixtapes and Police Academy VHS collections?
If lack of leaderboards is the felony, there are several misdemeanors as well. The tutorial is half-baked and there are no challenge levels to help players familiarize with the game’s demanding combat system – not to mention providing the opportunity for the timed trials so beloved by the hardcore audience. A set of objectives that provide extra experience at the end of each playthrough is never elucidated so that true experts can incorporate those into their combat styles – let alone that they often appear inaccurately, rewarding you for feats never performed.
In short, it’s almost as if the developers completely lost track of the type of game they were making and the type of audience they should be targeting, improbably omitting even the most basic of features – the ones essential to tie the whole experience together and give it some meaning.
Blood Alloy: Reborn comes with an interesting background. It started as a Kickstarter for an ambitious metroidvania title and, after the failure of that campaign, transformed into a bare-bones game of pure combat, intended to act as proving ground for mechanics to be incorporated into a later game that would match the original vision. In this sense, given its tight, exciting combat system it should be considered an unambiguous success.
Games, however, are not judged on potential or intentions and, as a game, Blood Alloy: Reborn fails spectacularly. Not because it’s so irredeemably bad – I’ll still play it just for the sheer joy of its balletic violence – but because Suppressive Fire had the fundamentals of an excellent debut in their hands, yet they somehow screwed up the easy part.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
With an exhilarating combat system and all the right intentions, Blood Alloy: Reborn had the potential to become an excellent score-based title. As it stands, however, its glaring omissions mark it as a missed opportunity.