Bladeslinger: Episode 1 Review
The quick and the undead.
It’s easy to see why Bladeslinger has been so eagerly anticipated. It’s a title squarely aimed at the hardcore audience; a gritty hack-and-slash that combines traditional console gaming sensibilities with clever touch-based controls, and does it with a flair for style. Add to that a stunning graphical showcase, and a great soundtrack, and you have something that seems pretty exciting, at least on the surface.
Bladeslinger fuses the horror and Western genres not unlike Darkwatch. Although Bladeslinger alleges to be set in a alternate dystopian future, its setting seems pretty indistinguishable from the usual Spaghetti Western. You play Williams, a roguish Clint Eastwood clone returning home to his frontier town, only to find its inhabitants have been transformed into horrible monsters. The story, told alternately through a female narrator and Williams’ internal monologue, never manages to be gripping, but it suits the action nicely.
What Bladeslinger lacks in narrative, it makes up for in atmosphere. The ominous orchestral score is straight out of a classic horror movie, and the graphics are detailed, nicely animated, and insanely smooth. Although it lacks the little cinematic touches to its presentation, it sets a high bar for production values, and makes for quite a graphical showcase.
The action, while superficially derivative of games like Devil May Cry, does its best to embrace the touch screen, rather than try to use it as a surrogate controller. There are two different schemes, a simplified gesture-based one-handed system for casual gamers and amputees, and a more comfortable two-handed layout with the usual movement and camera controls you’d expect from a “dual-analog” game. Instead of using an attack button, you can swipe in any direction to slash with Williams’ patented sword-gun. You can string these swipes into combos, and sprinkle in gun and punch attacks, executed with on-screen buttons. Juggling swipes and button presses is pretty tricky, but with practice, it makes for some very satisfying, visceral action, that feels a lot better than simply tapping the screen.
Usually, when a game is fun to control, the rest falls into place pretty easily, but Bladeslinger seems to undermine its solid foundation at every turn. The camera is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It attempts to follow the current target, but since targeting jumps around, the camera is often totally disorienting, making it difficult to attack the enemies you want. Your primary defense is a dodge-roll move, which should be very satisfying, but more often results in the camera pirouetting around the room, making it hard to get your bearings.
Luckily, no more than two or three enemies will ever appear on screen, which makes things easier to keep track of. It also makes the already repetitive design that much worse. There are only a handful of enemy types, and most of those are just different sizes of the same thing, carrying different pointed implements to wave at you. Kill two enemies, and two more spawn. Repeat for two hours.
Perhaps worst of all, there is hardly any health to be found, and no way to heal other than to buy items with in-game currency. You can do this at will as long as you have money, which makes the pacing of the game’s challenge feel a lot like a bad ’80s arcade game that can only be beaten by feeding it more quarters. A game like this ought to be challenging, and you will earn at least some in-game money to spend, but this balance feels way off. There’s a persistent feeling that the game is pushing you toward its in-app purchases, and that the only way to advance is to grind early levels.
Bladeslinger really is a likeable game, but it’s one that comes with some very serious flaws. Getting through the fairly brief adventure proves to be an exercise in frustration, and not the sort that is satisfying to overcome. Its excellent graphics and abundant personality fill me with some hope for the inevitable Episode 2, but they’re not enough to redeem Williams’ first outing.
Is it hardcore?
Summary: Despite innovative controls and excellent graphics, Bladeslinger is bogged down by its repetition, poor camera, and a frustrating challenge level that emphasizes pay-to-win item purchases.