Severed Review

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Posted April 26, 2016 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Severed

Developer : Drinkbox Studios

Publisher: Drinkbox Studios

Release Date: April 26, 2016

Platforms:  PS Vita

It’s late at night. My wife and I are in bed. Without notice or precedent, I begin frantically shaking my hand. Back and forth. A vein bulges under my hairline as my intensity increases. It’s ridiculous, really. So furious in my motions, I am now causing the entire bed to shake. The glow from my OLED PlayStation Vita illuminates our bedroom as my wife, audibly concerned, asks “what are you doing!?”

Of course, I was playing Severed, an engrossing, touch-based, first-person dungeon-crawler from Guacamelee‘s Drinkbox Studios.

Severed Screen 1

Seems trustworthy

You play Sasha, a one-armed warrior searching for her brother, father, and mother in a strange, corridor-based world. Little back story is given and is hardly needed. Sasha’s family has been taken and she must find them. She is handed a giant, blood-red sword and sent on to slice her way to begin a vicious rescue mission. There’s no way around it, Severed is insanely violent. The setting is unsettling and even Sasha’s allies give me the creeps. It’s odd because the art style is far from Gothic per se but if Guacamelee had an underworld, it would probably look a lot like Severed. 

Powered by the PS Vita, the controls are equal parts D-Pad and touch-screen. Traversal is logically handled by the D-Pad and the touch screen morphs your index finger into a razor-sharp warrior’s sword. The direction, speed, and length of each swipe dictates the damage dealt and provide for a huge variety of aggressive tactics. The fundamentals are simple but Severed evolves with each passing objective. Any moment I thought there was nothing left to discover, the game presented something new. Any time I thought a painting or piece of level design seemed out of place, I discovered its purpose later and let out an “ooooh! Nice.”

From the beginning, Severed presents an panicked sense of urgency which caught me off guard. When I hear dungeon-crawler, I think slow, plodding movement through scalp-scratching mazes. Instead, I had Sasha racing up and down the the claustrophobic hallways, slashing through enemies as quickly as possible. Indeed, killing efficiency becomes imperative to progress further in the game. Combat begins simply enough, single-enemy encounters are easily conquered by exploiting a few glaring weak points. Gradually, Severed taught me to swipe longer for more damage and avoid blocks to build up Focus – a power meter that builds up with successful combos. With a maxed Focus meter, Sasha’s final blow will momentarily freeze the demon in place giving just enough time to surgically removes its gangly extremities, dangling jaws, or vulnerable eyeballs. It’s not just for shock value. Body parts are a currency for the skill tree and the key to mastering the more challenging battles up ahead.

 

Severed Screen 2

At a fundamental level, Focus is the key to the level-up system. Sasha wears the severed limbs and monster parts to become more powerful. It’s freakishly primal and I was enthralled by the loop of defeating enemies with skill to become more skilled. There’s a compounding effect that occurs where the player and Sasha become gifted killing machines and it’s incredibly rewarding.

The difficulty ramps up quickly but not overly so. Drinkbox does well to introduce new variables at a graduated pace. One enemy turns to two, to four, and suddenly your presented with a multitasking challenge. Facing one monster at a time, the other enemies will take point to the left, right, or behind – each with its own cool down and attack timers. The panic sets in when the small icons at the bottom of the screen indicate all four enemies are attacking at once! Keeping enemies at bay and prioritizing which enemies to kill first will depend on your preference but, without question, battles play out different depending on how you whittle them down. Some enemies will retaliate quickly if you provoke them while others can be put in their place while you deal with the more aggressive ones.

The level design progresses in parallel with the difficulty. The introductory areas are fairly linear but by the end, well, they get less-than-linear. Exploration proved to be just as rewarding as the combat. Uncovering secrets to unlock new paths or gaining abilities to pass through previously impassable obstacles are a staple of the genre and I thoroughly enjoyed these aspects of the game. Once I started getting the hang of it, I felt compelled to fully explore each area to discover every secret – resulting in more battles, resulting in more unlocked skills, resulting in further progression and getting you within reach of another objective. The “five-more-minutes” phenomenon is real and aside from a point I’ll get to in a moment, I had a difficult time separating myself from this game.

Severed Screen 3

I’m gonna cut ya!

Vita owners will be particularly pleased with Severed because it manages to blend the use of the touchscreen and D-Pad without feeling too gimmicky. For the most part, the swiping motions works perfectly. If anything, I wish Drinkbox took it a step further and mapped Sasha’s abilities or her block to the cross/triangle/square/circle buttons. When battles get crazy, a missed Blind or a “bad angle” can mean immediate death. And as much as I wanted to throw my controller at these moments, I quickly remembered the “controller” cost me $200. There is little worse than thinking you blocked an attack with a panicked swipe but it doesn’t register.

The physical act of holding the Vita with one hand and swiping with the other can induce some hand-cramping. Over a 10-hour playthrough, I had contorted my hand into a five-fingered easel, with my pinky bearing most of the weight and supporting the underside of the handheld. In short bursts it totally works but Severed had me addicted early and fighting through the pain (which is pretty meta, come to think of it). Also, the enemy icons at the bottom of the screen display crucial information that can be difficult to see at times, with your hand in the way and all.

Final Verdict

When I came to the final boss battle, I turned around and went in the other direction. I didn’t want it to be over. Severed made me abandon my bias against touch games and enthralled me with its addicting gameplay loop. Sasha, as a unique, powerful, and vengeful protagonist is a blast to play as and root for. Her triumphs are rewarding and her catastrophes are gut-wrenching. It’s only as the combat gets extremely hectic that the touch controls fail Severed. For the vast majority of my time with it, I had a great time slicing and dicing and hoarding monster parts. Without hesitation, I proclaim Severed is a no-brainer, must-own, must-play for Vita owners.

 

Final thought comes from the Severed FAQ

IS THIS GAME COMING TO IOS/ANDROID/KINECT/TOASTERS?
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About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.