When you put Grand Theft Auto 2 and some cyberpunk goodness together, you get this retro little gem called Glitchpunk. Developed by Dark Lord with publishing by Daedalic Entertainment, this top-down action title has officially entered Early Access on Steam. With the first city being playable for enthusiastic fans, there’s already plenty to see and acknowledge about the game. Here are our Early Access impressions on Glitchpunk.
REBOOT: Welcome to New Baltia, Android
Glitchpunk opens with the player picking either a male or female android. They’re then transported to Magnus, who initiates an inquisition about your sudden arrival. Once he gives you your citizen designation, you’re free to roam about New Baltia. This city is filled with drug and gun vending machines, systemic hatred, and never-ending violence.
What makes your character unique is their “glitch” programming, which essentially enables them to act freely without restriction. In other words, loyalty is only reasonable for your own self-interest. It’s here where you get to choose how to progress in the game. The three different gangs have contracts up for grabs, and it’s up to you on which path you choose. Working for one gang might traject the story in a different direction, so be mindful of what you do.
Dystopian Goodness in Glitchpunk
With an addictive blend of retro-based top-down action and open-world humor, Glitchpunk soars in its gameplay presentation. The game is justifiably advertised as Grand Theft Auto 2 meets Cyberpunk – and no game further encapsulates this (and then some). You get to drive around New Baltia with absolute freedom, no matter which path you embark on. And with its branching story elements, you can really dance with the devils in the city to gain the upper hand in the end.
I spent a good chunk of my time working for the other androids in the city. They plan to erupt a rebellion against the consistent violence towards their kind. I had the choice to be on their side, but I was also given the liberty of picking either the wretched cultists or the vicious bikers. Doing so would fluctuate the three distinctive respect levels for the corresponding groups. There’s also the chance of a bounty being placed on your head should you choose to kill other members. In my experience, I spent a good chunk of time driving around and running folks over. Even though the driving takes a bit to get used to, you’ll have a great time cruising around New Baltia in the game’s variety of fast and big vehicles on hovers.
Initiating Hacking Mode
The most intriguing aspect of Glitchpunk‘s gameplay overall though is the mixture of retro hacking and violence. With equipped modules that enhance your android, you can curve the battle’s odds into your favor if trouble is on high alert. For example, when I was about to run into a group of thugs in an alley, I hacked into one of the foes and sent him into a frenzy. This made him not only go berserk but also made him turn on his fellow gang members, getting killed in the process. This led to just one enemy left, who I brutally dispatched with a machete swing to the neck. I then collected my “pay” and was on my way.
There is one big issue with the gameplay, however: an aggravating method of trial-and-error. Meaning, if you don’t know what you’re going up against, you will inevitably die and reboot. I found myself constantly respawning because of numerous enemies gunning me down – a result of not being well-prepared. So, I would purchase medkits, drugs, and ammo to be on the safe side, only to perish from a weapon-wielding fool around some corner. It was frustrating. Not the Dark Souls kind, but the huff-and-heavy-puff kind of frustration – to the point where I just turned it off to eventually come back later. While not incredibly dampening of the experience, dying to surprises was far from any sort of positive the title had.
Some of That Old-School with the New-School
Glitchpunk is super retro in its design to the point that it almost looks like an advanced Game Boy title – albeit in Early Access. The characters, vehicles, and utter chaos are pixelated while the dormant environments are presented in 3D. It gives an accurate old-school feel and was a joy to gaze at when simply driving around. The game’s layout is practically identical to that of Grand Theft Auto 2‘s, in fact. The bottom left is dedicated to supporting characters, the top left shows progress, the top right stores your status, and the middle is the focus entirely on you and anything within your vicinity. It feels like a love letter Rockstar‘s second GTA entry, with obvious admiration for the cyberpunk aesthetics.
Since Glitchpunk is in Early Access, the retro graphics aren’t perfect, but the optimization needs a formidable rework. I had to decrease my resolution and some graphic settings to get the game to a playable state. Having it on high settings seemed to deteriorate the game’s frame rate. It wasn’t until I set my game into a small-windowed mode where it played almost flawlessly. It was almost ironic, as the game had to be played with what amounted to old-school settings for the game to function. Aside from these adjustments thoguh, the game was good to rock and roll. There are some graphical hiccups and stutters, but they go away after a few seconds. Still, I encountered these quite frequently.
And in classic action game fashion though, Glitchpunk comes packed with simplistic, retro sound effects and a hilarious radio station. While it may lack variety, every sound remains true to the game’s world. Phone rings, vending machine submissions, guns, vehicle speeds – I felt transported into a retro universe, and I believe the sound design has something to do with that. There needs to be some tweaking with some of the radio’s dialogue since it sounds a little like ASMR with a bad microphone. But I did find myself smiling and chuckling along with whatever dark humor joke the hosts were engaging in.
Notable Bugs in Glitchpunk Early Access
A few bugs to keep in mind, should you scroll over to Glitchpunk and find interest during its Early Access run. There have been reports of random NPCs popping in and out during missions. Bypassing this little bug requires drugs and ammo on hand if you know what to do since the game does a mediocre job of showing you around and what’s what. If you die while completing or failing a mission, you’ll reboot without the gang markers. The simple remedy for this is to just look at your map, but the markers shouldn’t have disappeared while free-roaming.
And while this last one isn’t technically a bug, it certainly feels like it. If you’re in the middle of a task that requires you to drive around, getting out of the vehicle automatically fails the mission – with or without trouble. It just feels absolutely futile to have a feature like this, whether it was intentional or not. Stopping by a pizza place while on a driving mission shouldn’t constitute failure – this breaks the immersion heavily, and is another frustrating aspect to add to the small pile for Glitchpunk.
In Conclusion…For Now
With New Baltia being Glitchpunk‘s first playable city, it’s easy to see the vast directions this retro title could head in. It’s a special mixture of top-down action with a cyberpunk dystopia that will only improve from here on out. With four cities planned to be explorable once the game leaves Early Access, it’s fair to say that New Baltia is more experimental for this first step in the game’s progress (and a good experiment at that). But Glitchpunk is far from perfect, with a serious need to rework the optimization and gameplay. The game holds a lot of promise since you can tell the developers at Dark Lord are passionate about this title. With more content on the way with fixes and updates, it’s exciting to imagine the potential directions the team could take Glitchpunk in.