During the early-year drought of new game releases, I find myself genre-hopping more than usual. Trying to scratch an itch for big action, I recently played the original Devil May Cry for the first time, along with tons of retro-style shooters like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, AMID EVIL, and DUSK. All good games, all good times. But what if I told you, dear reader, that you could have all the stylish score-system goodness of a character action game mixed with the texture-warped chunkiness of a pseudo-retro shooter. Well, get ready, because it’s ULTRAKILL season.

ULTRAKILL has a familiar art style –tf so much so that I initially overlooked it as just another of the recent batch of Unity shooters made to look as jaggy and bloody as possible. To be fair, it is one of those, and those are all great (so far), but I had just had my fill. Alas, manic game-hopping got the better of me, and I ended up downloading the demo from itch.io.

Oh man.

It’s good, ya’ll. Like, really good. I’ve put a lot of restraint into how much hyperbole to inject into this preview but it isn’t gonna stop me: it’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played.

ULTRAKILL has flavor, it has impact, and most of all, it has hit-stop. For the uninitiated, hit-stop is what games use to make your really big attacks feel meatier. By freezing the action at the moment of impact, the moment is given tension and release. I’ve never seen it used in a shooter, until now, and it does marvels for how ULTRAKILL feels to play.

You play as a robot in a world filled with robots, and you’re all fueled by blood, healing yourself with the warm ambrosia that spews from thine enemies. There’s some cool religious iconography and theming, something about ascending through the levels of Hell a la Dante’s Inferno, and it grants the grandeur needed in a good action game. The first moments ooze cool, as you traverse narrow and sparsely-lit hallways as the title sequence blares across the screen.

There’s no ammo to deal with, so your only incentive to using each weapon is their functionality and score-boosting capabilities. Luckily, each of the four available in the demo is both useful and fun to use. The basic pistol has a piercing shot, and its alternative comes with four gold coins. Are you ready for the next sentence? You flip a coin in the air, and if you manage to shoot it your bullet ricochets into the nearest enemy. Alright, let’s all calm down a little.

The one place I feel ULTRAKILL could use some love is enemy design. The enemies are mostly vaguely humanoid. Some chase you, others shoot big balls of fire at you (that you can parry back at them by punching, by the way), but none of them are particularly interesting looking. Not that this really matters, considering they’re reduced to red stains on the walls pretty quickly once you know what you’re doing, but it would still be nice to have something a little more iconic.

Score-chasing is addicting. There’s quite a bit of tech to learn, from sliding to slam-jumping, and each one increases your multiplier. Killing enemies with traps or freshly-swapped weapons also gives a bonus, emphasizing movement and improvisation. The game isn’t hard, but it pushes the player to get better through its ever-present style meter, taken straight from Devil May Cry. Sliding from arena to arena and liquifying enemies to chain together big globs of points really put me in the zone in a way I haven’t experienced since Devil Daggers.

There are four stages in the current build, culminating in a hype-as-hell boss fight that I won’t spoil, but am genuinely proud to have beaten before the recent nerf. For the low low price of free, you just can’t miss this, especially as an action and/or shooter fan.

ULTRAKILL is coming to Steam Early Access this Summer, with new levels, enemies and weapons. For now, you can download the demo right here on itch.io.

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