Version Tested: PlayStation Vita
Available On: PlayStation Vita
Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Publisher: DrinkBox Studios
Official Site: severedgame.com
Release Date: March 26, 2016
Where to Buy: PlayStation Network
Severed is a unique game. Not only is it launching exclusively on the PlayStation Vita, its gameplay revolves almost exclusively around touch controls. It may seem like something that should have been released in 2013, but it stands as one of the final reminders of what makes Sony’s powerful handheld so special.
Severed begins with the player character Sasha looking into a broken mirror. Her clothes are torn, the shoes are missing from her feet and her left arm is missing. Blood soaks through the bandages. Sasha’s family has been taken from her and the only way to get them back is to journey to various dungeons and slay every monster in her way until she finds her mother, father, and brother.
The story is very basic but it provides enough of a backdrop to set you on your way. There aren’t very many characters to meet and interact with on your journey, but the two you do meet are surrounded by mystery and intrigue. The old women seems to always be one step ahead of you, warning Sasha about the dangers before her. The second character is far more interesting. A strange bird with two heads that seem to be comprised mostly of wide, toothy grins will constantly fly down to mock you, warn you of danger and aid you on your journey.
The visuals pop off the screen. The colorful, hand-drawn art style makes every environment a joy to explore. As you take a step forward the next panel will fade into view. The environments are drawn with different lighting and scale as you approach them. I couldn’t help but spin around in circles in some areas, taking in the gorgeous art. The world is a cohesive whole that feels lived in and destroyed.
The game is split into several different areas, but each one has its own identity and mechanics. Not only do you have to adapt to each new enemy type, but also take into consideration the outside factors such as time constraints and poison gas that slowly drains your health.
The music fits the world but it didn’t particularly stand out to me. The sound effects fit perfectly with the world and graphical style. Every time I took a swing at an enemy a satisfying “whoosh” would stream out of my speakers. The sound adds to an already stellar presentation, cementing Severed as one of the most artistically unique titles on the system.
Speaking of enemies, their designs are grotesque and imaginative. There are several types of enemies, but you encounter variations on them, as you get further in the story. They blend perfectly with the world. Each one is designed in such a way that their weaknesses and patterns are immediately recognizable. This is a testament to the stellar design of the game.
Severed is a first person dungeon crawler with combat that centers on touch controls. This means that you wander through mazes, fighting enemies, opening doors and solving puzzles. You have a map to guide you on your way, which shows locked doors and stairwells as you explore and discover them. You control movement with the Vita’s d-pad. You face in the direction you want to move and then press forward to go on your way. This may seem a bit unintuitive, but it ensures that you always go where you want to and you can always orient yourself in the environments.
Combat begins when you walk into shimmering black and white flames. You swipe the screen to attack and deflect blows. This proved to be incredibly responsive and I had barely any issues with my Vita registering my swipes. Touching the different enemy icons at the bottom of the screen to switch between them is also very easy to do. The touch controls make it much more approachable than other games on the system. The enemies are shown in front of you, with a red circle beneath them displaying health. As their health is chipped away the red in the center of the circle drains. If an enemy is about to attack a ring of yellow will begin to circle their health. With all of this in mind, combat consists of watching when each enemy will attack, preemptively striking or waiting to deflect their blows.
As an enemy is about to strike their limbs glow red. You need to watch the yellow bar predict an attack and then act in time to avoid taking damage. I found myself constantly switching from enemy to enemy just to keep myself alive. This pattern becomes even more complicated when enemies with passive attack begin to spring up. Each battle is like a puzzle in itself. You need to figure out who to attack when you need to just take an attack, who to defeat first and who to prioritize if two enemies are about to attack simultaneously.
Combat is easy to learn but quickly grows challenging. By the end of the game, I felt like I had mastered my various abilities and knew how to approach each enemy.Things get even more complicated once you acquire spells and your opponents walk into battle with buffs equipped. This changes the entire dynamic of the combat system. Instead of being a puzzle that you need to solve, it becomes a series of specific steps that must be completed in order to emerge victorious. This detracted from the fun of battle in the later stages of the game. The sense of exploration and discovery was largely replaced with frustration. This was never more prevalent than when timed battles are introduced.
There are two instances in the game where there are time constraints on battles, and this makes the experience frustrating, unintuitive and challenging in a way that can’t even be called rewarding.
During battle, you build up a focus meter by connecting consecutive hits. Filling this meter triggers an event each time an enemy is killed. They are frozen in midair with their limbs spread out. A line hovers above each appendage and when you draw your finger across it, you sever their limbs. You can then collect these and put them towards upgrades. The upgrade system is clearly laid out, easy to understand and goes a long way to giving the player a sense of power. By the end of the game, I had almost filled out all three trees, which gave me enhancements that prove essential in some of the tougher bouts.
The boss fights are important to mention because, while they are visually dynamic and grotesque in their own spectacular ways, they were never much different than standard fights. All three bosses amounted to slowly hitting the big baddie before they summoned hordes of standard enemies just to raise the difficulty. These encounters that were built up so much through dialogue and atmosphere ultimately fell flat. I felt more challenged and engaged in standard battles.
The difficulty spike at the end of the game comes out of nowhere, making every second fight a timed battle with enemies that can take hit after hit. The sense of exploration in the game’s maze-like dungeons was still alive and thriving, especially after locked doors and color-coded switches come into play. It truly feels like conquering a challenge, while combat begins to feel like beating your head against a wall.
Severed is a brilliant game that succeeds in what it sets out to do, but several design flaws keep it from achieving greatness. The touch-based gameplay is consistently fun but devolves into combat that loses the freedom and spontaneity that originally made it so fun. The world is a joy to explore, even after ten hours. The base of a great game is here; the whole package is just missing some parts.
- Gameplay: first-person dungeon crawler with touch controlled combat.
- Graphics: beautiful hand drawn environments and enemies.
- Sound: powerful hits and slashes bring battles to life.
- Presentation: everything is smooth, clean and easy to traverse.
- Satisfying combat
- Beautiful art
- Fun to explore environments
- Emotionally resonant story
- Difficulty spikes remove fun
- Timed battles are just cheap
- Bosses are underwhelming