A Flimsy Facsimile
Damn you, Dark Souls. I mean that with the utmost respect and love for the franchise, which has amassed a huge following due to its distinctly difficult brand of action-RPG. So much so, in fact, that the Soulsborne gameplay, (a portmanteau of Dark Souls and Bloodborne) has become a genre in and of itself. With all success, of course, comes imitators, if the slew of battle royale games these days are any indicator. In the case of the Soulsborne gameplay, the latest retail release that apes the style of From Software’s darling series is Immortal Unchained, a third-person sci-fi shooter that aims to be a fresh take on the genre from developer Toadman Interactive.
A good story is something I look for in the games I play, and you should too. The story here unfortunately, relies heavily on sci-fi cliches. The universe is being overrun by an unspeakable evil, and you, the player, are awakened from a long detention in order to restore order to the nine worlds. This is done by obtaining three orbs scattered around the universe, and returning them to the Monolith, which was there at the beginning of time. Or something. I never felt that my sense of urgency was ever really justified, but the flimsy story serves as reason enough to jump through the portals and conquer each area.
Rather, the areas conquered me. As is to be expected from a game that desperately wants to be Dark Souls, but With Guns Now, You Guys, the game is hard. Without careful use of the dodge mechanic, you’ll die a lot, thanks to very powerful enemies and some unfortunate control issues. Namely, the godawful camera. In a game where the difference between life and the game over screen is a matter of a well-placed bullet or two, the squirrely camera is unacceptable. Having played on console, this issue was very pronounced, though I would be interested to see if the mouse and keyboard set-up of the Steam version alleviates the issue any.
There is a lock-on button, to focus your attacks on one enemy at a time, but this prevents you from seeing your surroundings and thus any other enemies that may be in the room. In a normal game, this might not be a problem, but for a game where enemies can murder you with ill will alone, it can lead to a lot of frustration. When the camera plays nice, the gun play is interesting and dare I say satisfying.
Weapons are obtained through loot caches scattered throughout the world, and can be upgraded at fixed spots in the game world. These obelisks are also where the game is saved, and where character upgrades are purchased. While the players base stats are predetermined before the game starts, when the player chooses a class, a number of upgrades can be bought in a bunch of different categories, such as more health, increased stamina, and the like. These RPG elements were a welcome feature, but diluted a bit by the rest of the game’s issues. Also, I felt that a better explanation of the different upgrades would’ve been well received, as would the ability to upgrade without having to track down an obelisk.
I am aware that games that are always online are quickly becoming the industry standard, and that fact is neither here nor there, because this game is a solo, offline experience. It’s curious then, that the pause button doesn’t actually pause the game. Instead, when you hit either the pause button or the button that brings up your status and inventory, the game is still going on in real-time, leaving you susceptible to damage from enemies. This might be included to make the game a more tense affair, but sometimes I need to pause the game, and having to track down an obelisk to save every time I need to stop playing my solo, offline game for a couple minutes is frankly annoying in this day and age. Either way, I didn’t enjoy this feature.
Visually, the game is most definitely trailing behind its peers in the genre. Blurry textures abound, and there was a blatant animation glitch that occurs when the player is standing still and then hits the dodge button. The player character will dodge backward, but stand up more quickly than he naturally should if the dodge is used while holding a directional input. Lighting is primitive, and does little to spruce up the ugly character models, or the dull environments.
The music, on the other hand, is mostly inoffensive. In fact, it was reminiscent of many other sci-fi video games. Weapons have a nice ring to them when fired, and characters are fully voiced, though I noticed that NPCs don’t look at you when they are speaking. I found this quite humorous, as at one point I walked away during an NPC’s monologue, and when I walked far enough away, he basically told me to sit still and listen to him. Says the guy who can’t even look at me while he’s talking to me. Conversations are a two-way street, pal.
Overall, there are far better ways to enjoy the hardcore action-RPG gameplay that the Souls series is known for. If you are a huge fan of gunplay in your games, then this might hold some value for you, as long as you also enjoy stiff challenge and mild RPG elements. For most people, the outdated visuals and the wonky camera are enough of a reason to pass on this latest offering in the genre, and opt instead for a different take on the formula, or maybe even just a cheaper option. If you are interested in trying it out for yourself, Immortal Unchained can be picked up at retail on Xbox One and PS4, and digital downloads for those two platforms and Steam, all priced at $49.99 and available now.