Dead Cells Preview
The beauty of playing lesser known games, watching lesser known movies, and reading lesser known books is that sometimes they’ll surprise you and blow your expectations away. Playing an early access Metroidvania roguelike probably wasn’t the place I’d have expected to find the most immersive and addicting experience I’ve had all year – yes, I’ve played Horizon: Zero Dawn – but that’s just how good Dead Cells is. Developed by the small French-based team at Motion Twin, Dead Cells is an exhilarating and challenging adventure that will have you hitting the replay button over and over again.
The game starts you off in a mysterious dungeon and slowly reveals more about its world and humorous characters. Each time the player dies, the world changes a little bit, and the developers use this as an opportunity to tease more of the unique story. Functionally, the player dashes across some great looking environments and attacks foes with a plethora of weaponry. The twist here is that players can spend cells taken from fallen foes to then use at a merchant to unlock abilities, hence the name of the game. However, these abilities are not additive to a set of abilities the player already has, rather they all have to be earned from scratch. By that I mean, you actually have to purchase the abilities like health flasks and the like. At first, I thought of it as of an odd decision, but it makes you feel like you really are starting from a zero state each time you die and get sent back to the start. It only drives the addictive nature of the game and forced me to experiment with different playstyles and purchased abilities.
“Dead Cells is a masterstroke of combat and map design, and a visual spectacle that continually blew me away.”
And yes, you read that correctly. You will get sent back to the very start a lot, and it’s better to accept it quickly and focus on which strategies will keep you alive the longest rather than screaming at the game like I did. But the rage came from a fair challenge rather than the feeling of being cheated. Equip different weapons, which can be found lying around or simply purchased from merchants, to take down a wide range of enemies in a plethora of combat and environmental situations. What Dead Cells gets right is the combination of its weapons, all with their own particular uses, alongside its enemy variants and map design to make it feel like every firefight is a puzzle. It’s hard to describe with text, but having to deal with an enemy that throws bombs who is located on a platform above you as well as an archer on the same level as you on top of a few close combat melee enemies provides quite the challenge. Players must be aware of their surroundings and use the map’s design to their advantage. Unfortunately, the developers contradict themselves wherein enemy bombs can’t hurt other enemies caught in the radius of the blast. If the game wants to focus on this aspect of its battle system, it needs to be consistent and reward players for using the enemy’s weapons against their allies, especially in tight situations where there isn’t much escape.
But that’s about all that Dead Cells gets wrong in its meaty early access offering. The combat just feels so good and the swiftness of it all is just astounding. The developers mention the game’s fluid combat on their Steam page, but the statement doesn’t do the reality justice. I was rolling, smashing, looting, diving, jumping, and dodging almost at the same time. I’ve never played a game with such swift changes of combat. In the blink of an eye, you can pull three or four moves together, and the importance of this swift combat is compounded by the sheer variety of enemies. If you don’t fancy getting sent back to square one, it would be wise to practice firing different weapons immediately after one another and using the movement mechanics in quick succession.
“What Dead Cells gets right is the combination of its weapons, all with their own particular uses, alongside its enemy variants and map design to make it feel like every firefight is a puzzle.”
But the glory of Dead Cells doesn’t stop there. Technically, the game has some absolutely astounding environments. A rainbow of colors litters the screen while still being able to pick out enemies clearly. It’s sort of like the graphical filter that was used in Inside, but this time with some Guardians of the Galaxy inspired explosions of colors. I kept wondering how such a small team was able to pull off such high production values, and this seeps into the audio score as well. Booming drums and silent whispers accompany you on your ascent and I found myself sitting on the menu for a few minutes and just taking it all in.
Dead Cells is a masterstroke of combat and map design, and a visual spectacle that continually blew me away. The game is currently in early access, with the developers looking to add a bunch of content for the official release. If Motion Twin can consistently keep up the poetic balance of combat, map design, and enemy variety, Dead Cells may be one of my games of the year, and it should be on your watch list too.
*** PC key provided by the publisher ***