Mood is required for this one – Lights out… Headphones on… It’s time for some horror.
Reficul 666 is a survival horror game from MAG Studios, who seem to specialise in this genre. Taken as an FPS, there is something sweeping the globe as night falls and it is knocking out all communications. You are going to be on your own, in your little part of town, attempting to meet your friends and trying to survive the nights’ terrors.
Snug in the safety of your house is where you begin your journey to survive, but it just so happens that a portal that leads to the demon lair is in your town, wouldn’t you know it.
“Alexa, How Does My Day Look?”
Pals have left notes to meet you and a local priest has apparently been preparing, so you had best get ready…these things always come down to you to solve. You are armed with a torch, pistol and lighter and you are sent on something of a linear adventure to navigate.
Live observations at the movies reveal that you should not show the monster too soon. Part of the terror is the build up. The horror movie The Descent did this very well. Sometimes the reveal is a disappointment, sometimes not. It’s a fine line in horror between getting it right and making it naff; Reficul 666 does it right. By placing the character in constant darkness save for the direction of the torchlight or the dim holy glow of the bible most of the surroundings are hidden and you can never be sure of what or where something is unless you are looking at it and when you do catch sight of a demon or a shadow it works.
Was it different when the boss demon appears at the end? No, you can’t see him clearly unless you direct your torch right at him. And what a great job the dev has done on him, he looks like a terrifying version of Dave Grohl’s devil.
Reficul 666 does a great job of making your skin freeze. They have incorporated a whispering of demons that increases in volume when you are near them; a nice warning mechanic, but also one that builds tension very well. When the whispering about dragging you into the darkness begins, it drives your anxiety levels up and the heart rate rises, then racing up to you are some shadowy demons and terror overtakes you entirely for a moment.
Peek through your fingers, I am not exaggerating. It is not a jump scare, it’s just an excellent user of tension and delivery. No matter how long I played the game and even when I carried a Holy Bible that would shock the approaching demons out of the way, it still made the hairs stand up momentarily, each time one glided towards me round a corner.
Maps are good and it has a relatively tight open world environment, unfortunately this is where most of the positives end for Reficul 666. It’s all a little dated graphically, there is little to no interaction with the environment beyond opening doors. The game has almost no colliders at all. Kick a box to reveal a key, knock a chair or a glass of alcohol over, make it smash, start a fire; these are things that make a gameworld feel alive and also provide other opportunities for gameplay.
Step into these rooms and sadly there is none of this here, plenty of areas are just rooms with boxes or a bed in and serve no purpose. There’s too much of this and you quickly learn that investigating this world serves little purpose despite it being possible to enter many of these houses.
Into The Catacombs, I Presume?
Repaid by understanding this you are left with a linear adventure where you follow notes from one empty house to another until you eventually transport to the catacombs of the demon. It is a little uninspiring, but the catacombs level is planned better and has a decent feel to it, despite still suffering from looking good but having too little interaction.
Raw music sound is virtually non-existent, it’s just the murmurings of the satanic shadows that stalk you. Most of the time the only other thing I could hear were my clogs snapping heavily on the metal road. At least that’s what they sounded like I was wearing. Perhaps the whispers are all you need in a horror game, but I think people underestimate the subconscious addition sound done well can give a game and there are probably opportunities here.
Reficul 666 is listed as being in early access and indeed many of these issues could be developed and improved if early access goes well. The issue here is that Reficul 666 is a repackaging of an earlier effort called Reficul VR which was effectively the same game published back in 2018. There have been some improvements since then, but they are minor and cosmetic.
Peek at the core design and mechanics of the gamed and they are pretty much the same and it lacks depth. It needs a clear outline of what it hopes to become and a developer log that tracks progress to have confidence to part with what is a relatively high price for the current available material.
It’s Not All Bad
Now, there are actually lots of places Reficul could go from here to become a good game. You could have safe houses that you need to secure, perhaps some base building elements, meeting some of your other friends could be good, especially if their character is developed and they then get killed. All sorts of things here have potential, but one thing is certain it needs more of something.
Reficul 666 does have one hell of an atmosphere, but it needs to develop and finish well. Available on Steam in Early Access, you’ll get about an hour or two out of Reficul 666, but it is a long way from justifying the price point in current form.
Of course in another form Reficul666 read backwards spells something else – Lucifer. Like the first word in every paragraph you just read.
Yay…another Roguelite. If your game isn’t procedurally generated, then you’re not with the programme.
It’s a tough deal these days, after Hades; the bar has been set high. So along comes Skul: The Hero Slayer, joining the group like a new pop-up artisan burger joint, offering Japanese corn-fed beef patties on a piece of slate, in a brioche bun and serving Argentine beer whilst they play full Bob Dylan albums… on vinyl.
Just like a few years ago when burgers became artisan…roguelites are everywhere at the minute and there is no sign of let-up. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you know which waygu and which way not to go.
One Large Retro Pixel Art 2D Roguelite, Please
Skul is a pixel art 2D platform roguelite. The graphics and the way the text scrolls one generated letter at a time is very much like an old Nintendo Entertainment System or SEGA game.
The whole look of the game is retro styled and has an early Zelda feel to it. The usual roguelite elements are here. You die lots and keep nothing with you except for small incremental trait improvements which are split into three options, magical attack, melee attack and critical damage chance.
Gradually a combination of mastering the attack styles of enemies and the compound difference of incremental trait advances starts to pay off; you can go further, do more and so the game scales.
The premise is that the heroes of the world have united to finally conquer the demon kingdom and have imprisoned the Demon King, defeating and capturing monsters and wraiths of the underworld in the process. All except you that is… You are Skul, the tiny little skeleton sent on a final desperate mission to expel the Heroes and rescue the Demon King. You do so by journeying through RNG rooms that you have some control over.
Before entering the next room, you are presented with a choice of two rooms from one that delivers a skull, one that delivers money or one that delivers a power-up item. You get this reward when you clear the room full of enemies, but the level of reward, common, rare, unique and legendary are randomised. There is also a blank room which is simply a random pick of any one of the above. This allows you to somewhat control what you get in reward at the end of each room on your run.
Throughout levels there are shop doors to pass through that offer the chance to spend money on a variety of RNG items in each of the categories and a free skull is often offered to you.
You also have the end of level doors marked in red where you fight mini-bosses in the shape of caped heroes or one of six end of section big bosses.
Back To The Grind?
So far everything is pretty standard stuff for a roguelite, it’s done very well, but nothing special. The trick (and difficult bit) of making a successful roguelite is to avoid the improvement seeming like too much of a grind. There is nothing worse than being thrown back to the beginning for the 80th time, hating the idea of having to do those rote early levels yet again. One of our developer podcast guests recently described a lightbulb moment for him.
It was understanding what the central appeal or mechanic of your game was and to not limit it, but give lots of it to the player. That, after all, is why they are playing it. So, a roguelite has to constantly offer you demonstrable character improvement to keep the player in that feeling of ‘this time know I can get further…one more go’.
How does Skul do at this? There are two things that let it down. Whilst the rooms are procedurally generated, the enemies within rooms are not RNG; they are the same ones in the same places, following the same movements each time and there is limited variety in rooms.
There could (and should) have been more on offer here to make replaying them seem like less of a pointless grind in getting to whichever level you are currently powered for. The other problem is that in the early stages of the game, progress is very slow and the difficulty is punishingly hard. You can easily die fifty or sixty times with little progress beyond the early sections and seemingly scant character trait improvement.
Rotate Your Skuls
These issues could cripple Skul, but they don’t, because what lifts Skul: The Hero Slayer out of what would have been a mediocre entry to the genre at best, is an amazing mechanic that is the core attraction of the game. The ability to swap your skull and pick up another with radically different merits and powers.
There are about thirty-five skulls you can be given but you can only use two at any one time so, there are choices to be made. Each skull will be focussed on either speed, physical attack, magic attack or a balanced one of all elements. Within that there are different tiered skulls that give your play a different level of deadliness in attack and variety.
There are common skulls: rare ones, unique ones and legendary ones. These can and do pair with increasingly power with items that you pick up that complement the characteristics of speed: power or balance more so than the other skulls. The right combinations can result in your character becoming a devastating whirlwind of retribution on the heroes invading your land.
Oh yes… and if the difficulty is too hard there is a rookie setting that halves incoming damage, which 20 % of players choose to switch on – ooufff clearly tough then.
At first it might feel that you are at the mercy of getting an early unique drop of a rare or legendary skull to have any hope of progress, but as your character increases trait power with each run the common skulls become very playable and both the common and rare skulls can be upgraded to become as powered as a legendary one.
This means that not only are there a vast range of playstyles open to you with these RNG skull drops, but as your character levels your ability to use almost any of them effectively also increases, making for an enormously different experience of play each time. Perfecting them and settling on a preferred playstyle is fun and you can very much single-mindedly focus on this from a restart, keep only physical skulls and always choose/buy the physical upgrades.
You can also crush all other found skulls into bones to use as a currency to upgrade your Skul. Make these decisions early on based on the first skull given and you can rapidly compete with a legendary skull, you need not wait on the RNG to gift you one. This is only really possible when you have enough compound trait progression though.
This bewildering choice of gameplay styles and power-up make the early rooms playable on a repeat basis because you are forced to learn several different playstyles, hitting from distance, melee, special moves that are directionally dependent and ones that aren’t, the list goes on, all dependent on the skulls dropped for you in the early rounds.
Games do not usually make you learn more than one or two play-styles, but here there are a vast array of combinations and these changes, if you upgrade; remember that you can only ever hold two skulls at a time. This semi-forced variety is a magical mechanic to the game that takes some learning, but is richly rewarding.
All of this combines to produce amazing combat that you can easily control and master to clear dozens of enemies from different directions with wonderfully satisfying and increasingly powerful attacks and combos. It is something that looks like chaotic luck, but isn’t.
Skul: The Hero Slayer Review Summary
You will probably get about 40 hours out of Skul: The Hero Slayer and it is worth every penny of a relatively cheap price point. This isn’t a perfect roguelite, but it is a good one with a marvellous core mechanic that defines the game and lifts it beyond the small problems it has. Being the bad guy has never been so much fun.
From the makers of the Matrix… no news yet, but I am in possession of an immortal chicken.
No it’s not a euphemism for something rude, these things do go together. They are a glimpse of the kind of knowing humour on offer in Breathedge. It catches you off guard as you watch the opening cinematic of you being dragged towards an interrogation by some robots made from coffins….you’ll find out later.
Somebody Cut My Cable
A few days after I was given this to review someone cut my internet cable and I had to go somewhere else to download, update (trying not to forget my external drive) and shift everything onto my laptop just to get the game open to run. I was starting to feel like I was in ‘The Game’ and that this was some sort of meta pre-level of scavenging to prove I was worthy of playing Breathedge.
Having crafted together the ability to play the game I did not dare switch it off in case I couldn’t get back and my guy was lost in space to die.
…and I still have no idea why I am in possession of an immortal chicken.
Breathedge is a space survival sandbox game where you are constantly seeking out materials from the wreckage of the space ship you crashed in, to survive and improve your situation. It inevitably involves crafting essential equipment and tools to allow you to progress and in this sense it is rather linear and fairly standard, especially in the early levels. You are given a set of tasks to complete largely in a pre-designed order and you are prevented (by distance and no knowledge of location) from accessing other areas until crafting progression allows.
This is in ‘standard’ mode which is the story mode. Here there really isn’t much of the base building that you might expect in a sandbox crafter, rather you use discovered bases. Breathedge does offer a variety of play options which level story and freedom against permadeath, unlocked achievements and base building.
Breathedge is, graphically, a downright beautiful game right from the get go. The premise is that you have survived an explosion of the largest spaceship in human history, which it transpires was a funerary ship (appropriate). You are on it delivering your fathers’ coffin when the explosion occurs and now you must survive.
Progress, like any sandbox crafter, is slow and contained at first, but opens up at a decent rate once you get past the first chapter. Your problems scale with progress as you move from simply surviving and getting home to uncovering and becoming embroiled in far bigger machinations as the game switches from a crafting exploration game to a more liner adventure game in its final few sections.
A common frustration of sandbox crafters is obtaining enough of the right resources. In Breathedge common sense developers have prevailed and resources divide into two categories.
Firstly the basics to survive, ice, various nutritional elements for crafting into food and various metal and chemicals for tools. These basics are in plentiful supply and often floating around freely…you won’t run out.
Secondly the other stuff, materials for crafting into bigger items (once you have discovered blueprints), plastic, copper wiring, rubber, paint, etc.
These things are found next to or attached to items of space debris. So there is some clarity about where to look for stuff you need and the in-game encyclopaedia offers visual clues on where to find them. This clarity means progression is always possible and never too far away.
About Time… Wasting
There are some gripes about unnecessary time wasting that falsely lengthens game time for no purpose and it is all over the place. Journey time is one particular complaint, it takes a long time to travel anywhere initially and repeatedly having to return to your base to refill oxygen on top of that is annoying. Planning and crafting to bridge what, early in the game, seems a vast distance and discover a new base takes a long time.
Once you get there and realise you need to return to transfer your phat stack of collected resources, over several journeys it is most definitely annoying. I mean having unlocked or completed an area, what is the point in making me travel 4 minutes back to my original base just to collect some resources
This is space and the future, (albeit a 1950s Soviet stylised one) so why, once I have securely moved on in the game or discovered more bases, can I not activate a fast travel system?
This needless wasting of time is present all over the place; you see it in the actual crafting, where every object created needs a 5 second wait for it to be built. If you are making several components that’s a wait of a couple of minutes for no reason at all.
Health & Beauty
Health is another example, it is restored by sleep, but you literally have to wait staring at a screen doing nothing but watch a spinning sand timer for a minute in order to recover your health. It serves no purpose except to waste time, at least until you get the medical box blueprint to craft instant healing.
It is for this reason that some major reviewers have been unkind to Breathedge, but I think they’ve got it wrong. You see any complaint about this artificial and imposed pointless game lengthening (which I think is a valid complaint) is dispelled shortly after completing chapter one.
Very quickly after this point you discover a second base and rapidly open up triple the length of time on oxygen, bigger spare tanks to carry and even discover a vacuum cleaner rocket bike and begin whizzing around at quadruple the speed like a sort of space Hagrid.
So, all of these complaints rapidly recede and the only annoyance that remains is the short wait time for crafting items, but that, by virtue of being the only one, becomes trifling as the game opens up into a vast multitude of tasks to complete and places to investigate; it isn’t as if I have to do a stupid three minute puzzle every time I want to buy items cheaper, (yes I mean you Bioshock) and if it doesn’t spoil that game I can assure you by chapter two crafting items won’t be bothering you here. Aside from that, developers are responsive to the community and a recent update has increased the oxygen and tool durability in the early stages to improve your experience.
Breathedge is a wonderous game of beauty, discovery and adventure. The college humour jars at times, but like the annoyances of the early stages this too dissipates and a more confident game emerges.
In Breathedge there is always something to keep you going and I have lost hours into the early morning on repeated nights playing this because I felt I was just about to crack a puzzle or felt I would just investigate that thing over there, just finish off this last part of the task and I will have made significant advancement. Every achievement in Breathedge feels significant and getting that feel and commitment from a player is a sign of a good game.
You’ll get about 30 plus hours out of Breathedge and the developers are planning two free expansions later this year. It isn’t a perfect game or consistent and in some ways that’s a good thing. So, if you can see past the jarring frustrations of the first chapter (somewhat now patched), you will be rewarded with a visually stunning adventure based largely on a solid crafting background. It’s worth your time and you will enjoy it.
I still don’t know why they give you an immortal chicken, but it’s good for shorting out flayed electrics on space debris. I wonder if that’s how my internet cable was cut…
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