General Critiques Review

Ultrakill: Early Access Review

I could sing a lot praise for Ultrakill, but I think the more telling thing about the overall quality of the game is the lack of complaints I can really muster. To put it as succinctly as possible, DOOM Eternal had problems, and Ultrakill seems to be absolutely aware of them, either providing eloquent solutions or never putting itself in the position in the first place, the game’s simply got style and aplomb.

Its shortcomings are very few and far between, largely carried by the weight of the mechanical possibility in regards to what the player can do. Some of these might feed back into the problems the game does have, but overall, I don’t think it subtracts from the experience nearly enough.

General Gameplay

Ultrakill starts off with a bang and keeps it going like an ever-expanding fireworks display, constantly working itself into a larger and more grand arrangement. It’s like, if Bayonetta’s Non-Stop Infinite Climax shtick was actually a thing, and that the only place to go is up.

You could probably beat the game as it is, completely, with only a third of your overall toolkit if that and it’s not because things are so off-balance, but because even as an early access title which only has its prelude and first act, there’s simply a massive amount of potential to unpack. There’s absolutely things I don’t really use yet in game, but I feel it’s more I haven’t discovered the specific place to utilize – or rather, maximize – them which leaves me leaning to focus more on the things I know I can do.

The weapons are pretty balanced, or more importantly, the types of skills that are being emphasized are varied. Snapshots, general precision, enemy grouping, arena knowledge, just about everything crucial to an FPS skillset is demanded.

There’s no ammo constraints, you can just keep shooting; otherwise, you’re balancing cooldowns on the alt-fires of the various weapons in your arsenal. Simultaneously, to get health back, you simply have to be near a living enemy getting struck: their blood will provide you with health, rewarding closing in every opponent you’ll meet.

And the alt-fires are amazing. They each change up the ways in which you might every part of your arsenal significantly. Ultrakill is a game in which there’s more than one way to skin a cat or blood a robot-demon, but certain weapons lend themselves very well to specific tasks. Hitting a bunch of enemies in a more or less straight line? Check. Dispersed targets? Check. Tightly packed gaggle of idiots? Check. One particular pain in your ass you don’t like? Yeah, there’s something for that too, especially if you really don’t like them.

Which isn’t to say that all the weapons are well designed. For the most part they seem much, much better than that: it’s clever design that sets most of them apart; clever design that convinces me there’s things I’m not seeing to the weapons or alt-fires I haven’t really used much, clever design that lets me know I haven’t fully exploited the player character, V1’s, potential as an actor to the extent it can reach.

And even just V1’s inherent abilities are pretty insane. Movement tech of varying orders are more or less intended in game. The community’s been quite diligent when it comes to discovering new and crazy ways to play the game, and while some of it’s pretty out there, some more basic and easy things are absolutely intended and balanced for. Rocket jumping, without the rocket, or keeping dash momentum. Hell, there’s even a place where the latter of those two is a part of the tutorial – although, V1’s movement is such that he doesn’t even need it, which kind of cool in its own right.

It’s not just the player capabilities that are really impressive, though. What also stands out is that even though Ultrakill is an FPS, the bosses are… Good. There’s something to say for the fact that those are words I don’t think I ever expected myself to really say about FPS games: most of the time, bosses suck. Even in Doom Eternal, which admittedly likewise doesn’t have completely awful bosses with the exception of probably one or two depending on your opinion, maybe even more, you don’t really get to really feel like you’re on equal footing with pretty well all the bosses, and oh man.

When it comes to Ultrakill, you absolutely, completely, are on par with the bosses. This is a fight, and you are matching them on near equal terms if you exploit the capacities of your toolkit:

Considering that only the Prelude and the First Act are available so far, each containing multiple levels and a wide variety of secrets, if like getting good at games and practicing ones which offer a high skill ceiling as you learn the mechanics, Ultrakill absolutely offers a massive amount of replayability. In all reality, the game has just about everything going for it, complete with its own Bloody Palace equivalent, the Cybergrind. A decent equivalent more similar to DMC3 with its randomized levels and no real time limit than the more later versions, this place is pretty decent to learn and practice a wide variety of techniques against different enemies.

Oh, and did I mention secrets? Well, those I just completely don’t want to spoil.

Problems

That said, nothing is perfect. I should note that while these issues don’t really kill the buzz, they do put a slight hamper on the experience and weight it down.

The first one to talk about is (weapon) cycling: there are four guns (currently), corresponding to the 1-4 on your keyboard, and that’s perfectly kosher. However, there are multiple weapon alt-fires and more to come, and these correspond to 1-4 as well, and in the case of one specific weapon, there are already three of them.

Similar to DMC5 (thank the lord above), you can equip, unequip, or change to specific unlockable variants of some of these at the incredibly dope diagetic upgrade machine found at the start of every level.

(My FoV really kills this, doesn’t it?)

However, unequipping any of these, similar to DMC5… Kinda sucks and that’s about all there is to it. It’s sort of hard to swap to the weapon alt you want when you really can only go to certain ones immediately if they were your previously used, which is why a wide variety of people want some ability to control which comes first. All in all though, I kind of think it’s just a problem of completely overloading V1 as far as what he can carry at any one given time, though it’s important to realize those wings of his are where he carries his guns, so I don’t know, maybe that would subtract from the character, but it’s just an issue I think that should’ve been avoided, especially considering the wide amount of influence taken from DMC:

It’s a lesson that I think most players who like the game should learn, you just can’t overload a character like Dante’s become in 4 and 5 and it takes away from the strategic element of choosing what weapons to fill your limited pool from a larger array of tactical options to use for the engagements ahead of you.

The next problem comes mostly from level design. While a lot of the levels quite clever and the arenas are fairly excellent, they’re incredibly tight for the most part; unfortunate given that V1 can usually clear from one end of a room to another in a single jump and during the Prelude and levels 1-1 through 1-4. Straight up: I prefer a number of the arenas that Doom Eternal presented in their overall volume and relative complexity.

I don’t feel like opportunities to wall jump, nor just sliding in general, are encouraged enough by the way these levels are laid out. V1, as demonstrated far earlier in the review, can clear ground with very basic techniques, which makes it very unfortunate when early on most of the time this stuff would probably just slam you into a wall at high speed unless you knew exactly where you wanted to go.

I think movement tech is stupendously cool when you get to use it reactively too rather than in a calculated manner during a fight or rushing through a level. If you’re flinging yourself around the arena, that’s really cool, to me at least, and while you absolutely can do that in Ultrakill, the issue that it’s just not that conducive to the overall map design until levels do begin to open up.

And even then, there’s the slight issue that when they do, it’s typically not really normal playable ground they offer, but instead bottomless pits. There is movement tech which you can use while in the air to my knowledge, but most of these options involve self-harm, which is problematic when you’re below a certain level health, and, considering the game emphasizes style, and getting hit is obviously not stylish (see the style meter), there’s kind of the other issue of a real lack of ways to get back on solid ground. It kind of makes me miss the Gauss Cannon/Ballista, even if I can use this game’s Railgun to hit the same enemy multiple times.

I’m also not really sure about the style meter’s different levels. If I didn’t know better, I’d say most, if not all of them, come straight from DmC – which honestly, DmC was a significantly different DMC game that even if I find new reasons to despise it (See DmC: 2 DMC5’s recent Definitive Special Edition debacle for PC players), it’s not at all bad to draw inspiration from, especially when it comes to being able to parry like, friggin’ everything with a well timed melee attack.

It’s just, for the one F-bomb the game has, it otherwise keeps it pretty well clean. Which isn’t to say cursing is bad, I just find SSShitstorm not so tasteful as a style rank. Purely subjective, I’ll admit, but I don’t really know how I’ve felt about most of the stylish ranks for DMC either after DMC3, so it’s just a dumb thing that probably says more about myself more than anything else.

Conclusion:

I absolutely recommend Ultrakill even in its Early Access state at $20 to just about anyone who’s into fast-paced FPS shooters. If you’re leery about the difficulty, or think shooting coins out of the air might be a bit too hard for you, try it anyway, there’s a free demo! It only takes some of your time and offers a solid amount of content.

When it comes to the actual game, although you could complete most of these levels in record time, as the speed running community for it is continually demonstrating, getting to that skill level is where most of the gameplay time you’re going to have with it will be spent – besides finding the excellently arranged secrets and completely the decently challenging experience from a fresh start anyway.

Although it’s not a straight up action game, it has its blatant and mostly tasteful and well thought out influences and inspirations, right down to having a Bloody Palace and several other things you can use to explore the game and get better outside of the campaign experience, offering replayability beyond just going for your favorite levels or getting better at all of them all over again.

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