The Steam demo festivals have been an outstanding venture by Valve, allowing fresh developers to get their foot in the door and showcase their excellent projects. I’ve explored many of these festivals myself, and a significant portion of my Steam wishlist is thanks to them. One such title that’s been on my radar from the minute I opened its demo is Severed Steel, a first-person shooter focused on acrobatics, shooting, and killer songs. With the demo having been so excellent though, does the full experience truly live up to its potential? Find out in my review of Severed Steel!
Severed Steel is available exclusively on PC through Steam, GOG, and the Epic Games Store (the review being done on Steam), with a console release set for later this year.
Escaping Hell, In Style
Severed Steel’s plot is fairly straightforward, cutting out the long-winded heartfelt stories of many for some simple cutscenes here and there. You play as Steel, a girl who’s woken up in a trash compactor that you immediately need to escape. The worst of all? You only have one arm. As such, you must make your way through six chapters of non-stop action using just one arm, if you’re to survive this hellish nightmare.
I won’t go into much here since there isn’t a lot to talk about, but the story of Severed Steel was interesting to follow along with in my review. There was no story content during the actual chapters, but rather it came in the form of black and white stills in between. These generally would provide exposition to what occurred at the end of the current chapter, and set up the next. Much of the remainder is meant to set up a potential sequel (which I’m excited for as you’ll soon find out), but what’s there is serviceable. In a game that sells its experience more than its narrative, serviceable is fine. With that being said, there were a few questions that I felt could’ve easily been answered without dampening the sequel’s potential. At that point though, it’s being a tad nitpicky.
One Arm and a Dream
From the minute you meet your first opponent, Severed Steel makes it clear that you’re in for the ride of your lifetime. Things start fairly tame, with just a few pistols and sidearms to get through the standard grunts, but as you progress, the idea of taking your opponent’s weapon becomes a trivial pursuit in your quest for carnage. Each weapon that unlocks brings a powerful tool to potentially find out on the battlefield, and shockingly, none of them disappoint.
I was quite pleased throughout my review of Severed Steel to see the attention paid to this curve of madness. While some of the earlier levels may seem slow and boring after playing through the campaign, the moment you first set foot in them, it was like a non-stop fight for survival. The building tension makes it all the greater, as while you might be getting better and working through harder sections, the same extent of “what am I going to find around that corner?” and “why do I have yet to flip 63 times this level?” remains the same.
Speaking of which, movement is by far one of Severed Steel’s major strengths. The movement plays very much into the bullet time mechanic of its grandfather FEAR, but in a way no other game has. Your bullet time is based on a gauge, built up as you score kills on various enemies. Whenever performing a stunt though such as a wall run, dive, or slide, you have infinite bullet time. With the inability to be hurt (provided you’re executing a stunt in bullet time), this heavily incentivizes acrobatics as a core part of the gameplay loop, and it’s all the better for it. It never makes the game too easy either, as the few moments you aren’t mid-stunt, you’re a sitting duck asking to be littered with bullets. This means careful positioning and precision are key, adding an extra layer of difficulty to an experience that’s challenging on higher difficulties.
Trust me, the meat and potatoes of the experience are the furthest from the problem. The real problem lies in how long you get to savor it. Keep in mind when I say this that I had played the demo before my review, but Severed Steel’s campaign took just over 90 minutes to beat. That’s not a lot of time for a campaign, even if it does not focus much on its story. Mind you when I say that though, there’s a fair amount of side content on offer. You have access to both a horde mode with challenges to complete and a level editor with Steam Workshop support (massive kudos for the latter), but if you’re the type of person to play the campaign and that’s it, you might be left with an unsatiated appetite when the credits roll.
But with that being said, I’m quite impressed by the levels Severed Steel does offer during its runtime. The beta itself was quite fun, but the full game offers plenty more experimentation, especially towards the end. Out of all six chapters, both five and six encapsulate the ability to try new things with the level design. And with the Arm Cannon from the first chapter allowing you to give set paths the middle finger, experimenting with the best ways to complete each level is a ton of fun. I’m certain speedrunners are going to quickly fall in love with this game, thanks to its high potential. And with replayability higher up there, setting super-fast times is bound to be a blast.
A Neon-Streaked Electric Dance
In the atmosphere department, it’s almost as if Severed Steel and Ghostrunner got married, but the latter was in charge of furnishing the house. Both seem to hold similar aesthetics and visual design, but that’s for the better. Severed Steel puts major emphasis on its neon-streaked corridors and sprawling battle areas. Where Severed Steel lacks in visual quality, it emphasizes in style both on its own and in motion. The direction here is stellar, even if the visuals can be a little hard on the eyes at times.
Audio is even better, with a soundtrack I’m admittedly jamming out to as I write this draft. Throughout my review of Severed Steel, each track hit with confidence and accentuated the level of action present. From tamer, lo-fi waves to dark electric tracks filled with serious power, the title doesn’t just feel good but sounds great too. This goes further into weapon sounds, which hit very, very hard. There’s nothing quite like a satisfying boom as your enemy explodes into red paste. It’s clear that whoever was behind the sound design here truly knew what they were doing, and their passion bleeds into every inch of the title.
One area which I felt could’ve done a little better though is in optimization. Severed Steel isn’t lacking in graphical and technical tweaks through its options menu, but rather lacks in the overall performance. There were quite a few framerate dips in some of the later sections, not to mention enemies looking at the ground or phasing through tables. I’m not saying this is Cyberpunk 2077 levels, seeing as that’s near impossible, but it could do with some fine-tuning.
Severed Steel offers some of the most enjoyable gameplay I’ve seen from an FPS, especially one as fast-paced as it. The focus on acrobatics over target priority makes for a fresh experience full of flips, dives, and slides. And when combined with an arsenal of weapons to die for, you’re in for a killer combo. Despite how well refined it feels, it does understay its welcome a bit, along with have some roughness around its edges. Regardless, if you’re in the market for a fun first-person shooter and don’t mind indulging in a bit of side content to get your money’s worth, Severed Steel shows that one arm can still bring plenty of blood, sweat, and carnage.
- Attractive story cutscenes
- Emphasis on acrobatics a breath of fresh air
- Well-tuned arsenal of weapons
- High intensity throughout
- Great level design
- Killer soundtrack
- Solid art direction
- Bullet time
- Steam Workshop support
- Campaign understays its welcome
- Optimization leaves a bit to be desired
- Visuals can be a little hard on the eyes at times