Death's Gambit (PlayStation 4) Review

By Albert Lichi 16.12.2019 2

Review for Death

Once again Cubed3 finds itself caught in a new web of indie developed souls-like metroidvania. The search to finely meld what made Dark Souls so great into two-dimensions has gone on for so long that gaming has finally got a success thanks to Hollow Knight and now there might be another. To make a compelling a compelling "souls-like," a designer truly must consider death and how it is a consequence to a player's mistake. It is not just a matter of having interconnected levels and obscure lore, there must be carefully thought-out balance to animation, and effort put into the experience of play. Does Death's Gambit resurrect the qualities of Dark Souls into 2D, or does it hang itself in the gallows of mediocrity?

Now that ripping off Dark Souls has become a genre in itself, like how first-person shooters all began as "Doom clones," the landscape of independent developers has become like a wild west of ideas. Sometimes there are sparks of brilliance and pure inspiration like Hollow Knight, but more often than naught the ever expanding catalogue of From Software imitators is steeped with mediocrity. The "souls" formula lends itself pretty well to the second dimension, as the more successful examples have proven, and Death's Gambit manages to reinforce this pillar even further.

Much like the titles that inspired it, Death's Gambit begins with a character customisation screen but with a different focus. No matter what, player''s will always assume the role of Sorun, the undead warrior. As Sorun, his "job-class" can be selected, and what this means is deciding on his starting equipment and abilities. Things like this make for good replay value, and keep everything interesting. He also serves as the embodiment of Death himself, who was the one who gave him the raw deal of immortal undeath. This is a core mechanic in Death's Gambit since so much of the experience and game design is centred on dying.

Screenshot for Death's Gambit on PlayStation 4

Things begin to stand out more from similar titles when analysing the systems, since there is a great deal of thought put into the logic of how Sorun's deaths can impact his journey, and the kinds of hard choices the player will have to make. Unlike most souls-like, doing a corpse run is not meant for reclaiming lost currency. Dying causes Sorun to lose a maximum charge of his healing item, and the corpse run is instead meant to restore his lost charges. Of course, there is always the option of paying Death the indignity of having him restore it for a price. Most interestingly, the contract that the hero signs with Death can be broken if the user chooses to... thus activating Death's Gambit's permanent death mode.

The designer's paid a lot of attention to the flow of combat in the best souls-like. The rate how stamina is consumed versus damage output, compounded with character animation, while going up against a ton of other factors, is not something that is easily balanced. Yet the champions behind this title figured it out, and knew what to prioritise, since making this sort of action-RPG in 2D requires different things than the 3D counterparts. With all things considered, Death's Gambit is mechanically, very finely tuned. Everything is responsive and engaging, and combat feels satisfying as hits connect and bones crunch against brushed steel. Jumping and dodge rolling have the appropriate weight; Sorun feels like a tough guy in armour, and looks generally pretty cool in action.

Screenshot for Death's Gambit on PlayStation 4

The way special attacks are pulled off is what will set Death's Gambit apart from similar style games, since the protagonist can effectively dish out some serious damage as long as users stay aggressive and consistently keep dealing damage while not getting hit. Idling around will cause the special attack meter to deplete, and it can only be filled by attacking enemies before the cool down kicks in. It is an unusual system, but it does encourage some bold gameplay, keeping things exciting when surrounded by angry lizard guys.

The playability feels polished and tight, but there are some aspects that are either rough or not well-thought out. The skill-tree is completely tacked on, and is mostly full of useless upgrades that would have been better off as perks that would have been attached to specific weapons. Speaking of weapons, there is not much variety or choices to make as one would assume. Expect to get attached to a very standard set of weapons. No matter what, bow and arrows are a part of Sorun's equipment which is used for a very meek ranged attack which later on in the game barely has any function outside of pulling mobs, or hitting switches. The one area where Death's Gambit truly falters is just how unfair certain sequences can be due to buggy hit-boxes or pixel-perfect platforming that demands a bit of luck when approached. Expect a bit of unfairness when making deals with Death, kids.

Screenshot for Death's Gambit on PlayStation 4

If there is anything about Death's Gambit that most people won't complain about, is that it does have some impressive pixel art. While it is not the most ambitious, it is certainly a cut above most of the similar competing indie games out there. Some characters are obviously animated with puppet style joints, which is a disservice to their intent on being designed to be threatening and end up just looking like big goofy puppets. The level design seems vast and open at first, and as things draw closer to the end, all paths converge. Early on a more skilled user might take a much harder alternate path that is guarded by an extremely high level mini-boss. Death's Gambit allows everyone to explore this colourful, yet dark fantasy landscape that best fits their skill level which ranges from hard to hellishly brutal.

Fans of souls-like games are going to enjoy Death's Gambit. The adventure is not so long where it becomes exhausting, but is dense enough so that every moment is memorable and striking. The action can get extremely spicy sometimes, and while there are multiple options to make progress or engage some "soft" easy mode modifiers, like lore entries that make bosses slightly more vulnerable, or a simple level grind. Replay value is generous enough thanks to the variation of builds that can be explored with, and level design is open enough to experiment alternate paths.

Screenshot for Death's Gambit on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Death's Gambit is a substantial entry into the souls-like genre, even if it is very derivative. Some of the ways it was "inspired" by Dark Souls feel a bit dangerously too close at times. It does enough to make itself unique, and it does bring some new ideas to the table that will absolutely tickle fans of this genre. Don't expect Hollow Knight levels of polish or content; this is more closer to Salt and Sanctuary in terms of quality, but with a more refined art style.

Developer

White Rabbit

Publisher

Adult Swim Games

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

'Death's Gambit truly falters is just how unfair certain sequences can be due to buggy hit-boxes or pixel-perfect platforming that demands a bit of luck when approached. Expect a bit of unfairness when making deals with Death, kids.'

I laughed.

Is it any good if I just want a fun platformer and not looking for a tough time?

Dragon0085 said:
'Death's Gambit truly falters is just how unfair certain sequences can be due to buggy hit-boxes or pixel-perfect platforming that demands a bit of luck when approached. Expect a bit of unfairness when making deals with Death, kids.'

I laughed.

Is it any good if I just want a fun platformer and not looking for a tough time?


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