Preview: Dead Cells is the Early Access game you need to be playing right now
If you aren’t, I feel bad for you.
Developers: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Early Access can be such a tricky beast. On the surface, games can look so promising, yet be so technically flawed. Even the most controversial of these games, like DayZ and to a lesser extent ARK: Survival Evolved can pull in scores of gamers, yet simultaneously have the power to sully the term “Early Access.” Project scale has a lot to do with this, and in the case of Dead Cells, it appears as though Motion Twin is on the verge of finding the perfect balance between scale and execution with their latest project, Dead Cells, a roguelite Metroidvania game that tests even the most hardened gamer’s resolve.
You might be thinking “just another Souls-like game” when you first get a look at Dead Cells, and to be fair, you wouldn’t be wrong. It’s not completely outrageous to suggest that the notion of developers borrowing from the Souls series has become little more than an eye-rolling cliche. But fortunately for Dead Cells, it hardly feels like “just another Souls-like game.”
This is in large part because its palette of inspiration stretches far beyond mere gothic horror, and picks and chooses from games like Super Metroid and Rogue Legacy. You play as an undead mish-mash of body parts that have resurrected inside an ever changing castle packed with perils to overcome and plunder to unlock.
Here’s what you need to know about Dead Cells.
Runs are never the same twice in a row.
This is where the rogue part of Dead Cells cells comes in. Permadeath is the only death there is, and a few poorly timed blocks or dodges, and it’s all over for you. Dying sets you back at the very beginning of the game, and while that may sound a tad tedious, Dead Cells has a multitude of layers to prevent any banality from seeping into its many crevices.
For one thing, the castle that the game takes place in is always changing courtesy of its procedural dungeon generation, so pathways, enemy placements, item drops, and power-ups are never the same twice over. This can result in a few inconsistencies in your character builds going into the second stages, but is balanced in a way that it never feel debilitating. Besides, it’s designed to be a tough game; things are bound to go against you.
Your character’s prowess is entirely dependent on your item and power-up pick-ups, with very little actually coming in the way of permanent upgrades. It’s fortunate then that runs in Dead Cells’ first area can last as little as a few minutes since the game’s momentum is always pushing you towards something.
Combat is fast, but death can sneak up on you in a hurry.
One of the big differences between Dead Cells and Dark Souls is not only the shift from 3D to 2D but the pace of combat. Fights hardly ever last more than ten seconds and a minute at most if you are facing a boss (and that’s an extraordinarily protracted battle). This design choice works incredibly well, especially when factoring in how often you will be forced to start from the beginning upon death.
The pace of the combat easily helps eradicate that sense of defeatedness that comes with falling down the proverbial mountain. It’s relatively painless to get yourself back to the moment of your demise, so whatever progress you feel as though you’ve made maintains its momentum, provided your instincts and trigger finger don’t take a step back.
Unlocking permanent abilities opens up new pathways even from the beginning of the game.
Another thing that helps keep Dead Cells’ permadeath mechanics from pushing you away is the progression you can make in the game’s interactable environment elements. When you first start the game, you will happen upon pre-determined button prompts that will tell you to “Tickle” the thing that you’re standing next to. Doing so causes it to react, but ultimately do nothing, and the game doesn’t tell you what it is or why it’s not doing anything.
Upon defeating the first boss, you can unlock an ability to grow vines from certain pre-determined spots that let you access areas that you couldn’t before, and in some cases, entire levels. This prevents you from being forced to replay two consecutive levels in a row that you’ve already seen, but rather using the second level as a means to grind for better gear, which undoubtedly has its rewards. It is an optional risk vs. reward which adds another layer of engrossing tension to a game that’s already oozing with it.
The verdict so far.
This one is pretty simple. Should you be playing Dead Cells? Yes, and I feel sorry for you if you’re not. Dead Cells may be PC-only, but you can run the game at an optimal capacity across a broad range of laptops. So even if you’re rocking a $200 HP, you can still pop an Xbox One or PS4 controller into your computer’s USB port to play the game. And frankly, Dead Cells is best played with a controller anyhow. At $16.99, there aren’t many better games you can grab for that price.
Dead Cells is available now on Steam Early Access.