Slayer Shock review
|Box Art N/A|
|Developer Minor Key Games|
|Release Date Sep 29, 2016|
Slayer Shock is a first-person shooter where you play a college girl fighting the forces of evil with little besides her friends and her stake, Mr. Pointy. Finally, the run of ‘90s nostalgia that gaming is going through has turned its gaze to Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Right?
Slayer Shock's a partially procedurally generated first-person experience that’s divided into 8-14 "episodes" making up a "season." There’s a head vampire, the "Big Bad," and to find their lair you’ve got to go through the incremental steps of episode/missions where you’ll gather vampire dust for research and upgrades. Finding the lair goes on as research in the background, provided by one of your procedurally generated support NPCs — a set of generic Scoobies for your generic Slayer. When you kill the Big Bad, that’s your season finale.
In a certain way, it’s true that each season is unique: the Big Bad changes gender, age, look and elemental weaknesses. It might even give you more than one to contend with. When you complete an episode, it reduces the vampire threat level in that area, while raising it in two other areas. So you’re always slightly overmatched, which means the choice between three episodes is usually a genuine choice. Would you choose an episode to save a neighborhood from being overrun if there’s little reward, or one that awards a lot of dust that can be put toward researching the final mission and victory, or one that will provide the blueprint for a useful new weapon? You’ll never choose the same way twice while the player’s needs keeps shifting.
As soon as the player’s needs stop shifting, that sense of competing strategic need largely evaporates. By the time only two hours and 30 episodes had passed, I had completely upgraded the Slayer and acquired all the weapons beside some miscellaneous elemental ammunition types. Before three seasons were up, advancement was maxed out. The next few seasons become more and more boring, as you stay constant at an over-leveled plateau. When you complete five seasons, you go into a new generation: a hard reset of your abilities and a slightly greater challenge in the combat. It’s way too long a wait — I would’ve stopped in my fourth season out of apathy toward the game’s systems, the feeling of nowhere new to go and nothing to spend dust on, if I hadn’t noticed the Steam achievement for turning over a generation still unticked.
The new generation resets all of your companions in terms of names, ages, gender, race, etc., but it doesn’t change their dialogue. Even within a single season, villains and friends alike repeat lines over and over. Their expressions are as wooden as your stake. Once I came back from patrol to find all the companions seated in a row, facing the door, unmoving, expressionless, like a job fair for mannequins. It was the creepiest thing I saw in the game.
While Slayer Shock takes a considerable amount of inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, references and thematic resonance aren’t enough to make the gameplay loop consistently enjoyable. Ignoring its nostalgic value, a player reaches peak mechanical engagement with the game very early on and nothing but going back to the beginning with a total generational reset can restore the early challenge. Even then it can’t restore the player’s curiosity. It's too obviously artificial in its randomization, too repetitive in its gameplay loop, and too clumsy in its shooting to have breezy comedy carry the whole game.
It leverages vampire hunting more for goofy slapstick than genuine danger. Vampires wear ridiculous things, like top hats and coats, leather fetish tops, mixed occasionally with something normal like khakis and a polo. Their minions look like mean little elves and sound like angry children. The art style is very round and cartoonish. It might have vampires, but Slayer Shock is hardly a horror title. It’s funny, legitimately so, but without well-defined characters there is no character comedy and you’re left with stale gags and stale gunplay as the hours wear on.
As it stands, the combat is an unbalanced mess. Projectile weapons are close to useless: They do much less damage than melee weapons, and few instantly hit what you’re aiming at. So you're mostly flinging slow-moving, low-impact projectiles at enemies that are both strong and unpredictably jittery. It's not the the AI is skilled at dodging, it's that how the AI decides to move makes very little sense much of the time. By contrast, some melee weapons are overpowered to the point where two swings can kill everything on screen on normal difficulty, even if you're not trying hard to hit anything specific.
Many of your episode objectives have an optional stealth component, but you're at the mercy of the randomized maps and enemy placement. If one of your objectives is placed inside a small room with four vampires locked inside, you'll fail that stealth objective every time. Some maps, like the farm, have enemies spread out enough that you can do a little stealth and have it work. Anything more urban makes it close to impossible, due to the sheer density of monsters and the basic, spartan environments.
Higher difficulties don't add challenge so much as weaponize the game's cheapness: Monster density and distribution can range from "a few" to "fields of fangs," so encountering a larger group on a map with no cover and nowhere to run means you're pretty dead pretty quickly. Your ability to survive is predicated more on what sort of environment and experience the game generates for you than any systemic and strategic engagement with the game on the player's part. Once you've bought all the upgrades, spent money on all there is to buy, the game simply continues until it does a total reset on all of your inventory and character gains. By that time you’ve seen everything the game has to offer twice over.
The sweet spot of engagement with Slayer Shock is a constantly moving target, where early on with higher difficulties the game feels unfair, but later on flatten out the difficulty curve anyway once you’ve upgraded. Or if you play on normal where it starts out manageable but almost immediately becomes monotonous due to a lack of challenge. Slayer Shock can be a great indie shooter once you’re a season deep, but the things that might make it great ebb and wane severely over the course of the game’s five-season generation.
Slayer Shock has more ideas than it has means of executing on them
Slayer Shock has more ideas than it has ways of meaningfully executing them. A procedurally generated game like this should theoretically have more content than a shorter, scripted title, but when you are able to tear through the majority of what’s being generated in so short a time, that advantage isn’t clear. There's no getting around the fact that this nostalgia-driven vampire shooter has no teeth.About Polygon's Reviews
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