Severed Steel offers a unique package of high-octane action, tension and smooth arcade-like fun that is bound to suck you into the whirlpool of fun and feeling awesome.
DOOM, Dishonored and Ghostrunner can all present players with spectacular pieces of action as they duke it out with various enemies but Greylock Studio took that idea and cranked it up to 11 with Severed Steel.
It pumps adrenaline in a fierce dance with death while giving you all the tools in the world to look awesome while doing so. How does it accomplish this Herculean task? Through an amazing gameplay loop.
Severed Steel's gameplay is where almost all the dev attention went and it's clear as day. That said, it's by no means a bad thing since they managed to create a game that scratches that high-octane action itch better than anything I've played so far.
In the story mode, you will find yourself going through various maps, each time continuing with the last weapon you were holding. Weapon management is another great design that I will touch upon later but sticking to this mode, you will have different objectives which usually consist of escaping the enemies, destroying an object or end up a mix of both.
Arcade foregoes such objectives and it instead tasks you with killing all the enemies in the arena in the most stylish fashion imaginable. You get points for killing enemies and doing so while performing stunts, especially the ones game asks you to, will increase the score, making it a fantastic race to the top of the leaderboard, if you have the skill.
While the game modes present some sort of construct for your journey, they are merely a decoration for the best part - you mowing through numerous enemies while dodging bullets.
This concept is hardly rare but Severed Steel is not particularly forgiving if you get shot. A few hits and you're dead and there is even a mode where you get instantly killed, should you be exposed to lead poisoning. In case you choose to go with the regular health rules, you will be able to regenerate it only by killing enemies, effectively meaning the game forces you to be as aggressive and stylish as possible.
There is no cover-shooting or cowering in Severed Steel - you either go gung-ho and enjoy beautiful action pieces unfold before your eyes or you slow down and die. I mean that last part literally since the only way to find some safety in a hail of bullets coming your way is to dodge by performing stunts such as wall-running, jumping, sliding and diving. This formula might be reminiscent of Ghostrunner but bullets here are hitscan, or at least moving extremely fast, so you can't just go into bullet time and dodge them, you need to anticipate enemy fire and move accordingly.
Bullet time does exist in the game but it's more used to line up shots as you move through the map at high speed. It also recharges with kills, giving you another incentive to ruin the enemies' day before they ruin yours.
While the aforementioned four methods of moving creatively are great for dodging fire, they also weave into other game mechanics like the weapon management I mentioned earlier, lending the action more depth and pretty much guaranteeing that no two runs will be the same, even in the same arena. For example, you can slide next to an enemy and as you're passing their holster, use the action button to pull their gun out, shoot them and anyone around and take the enemy's primary weapon from mid-air before proceeding to riddle other enemies with bullets.
If that doesn't sound awesome, I don't know what does but the best part is that this just one of the amazing stunts Severed Steel lets you pull off. Movement, shooting and kicking mechanics are so well interwoven that they create game depth on their own and pretty much make this title great without requiring anything else, like a story.
As I mentioned previously, the gameplay took almost all of the developer attention and there isn't much story to speak of. That said, the build I played was the demo that was made available during Steam Fest Next so it's possible some content is still missing. The only introduction to speak of is that you're playing as Steel, the one-armed protagonist.
If you're wondering why the number of her limbs is important, it's because Steel uses her one arm for shooting guns and sticks a cannon that would make Dr Thomas Light proud on the other, allowing you to blow up enemies, walls and floors with it.
Even if there isn't more story around, the spectacle of gameplay and visual stimulation is great on its own and the lack of a tale to be told doesn't feel like it's subtracting from the overall experience.
Graphics and performance
Severed Steel graphics are simplistic in nature but beautiful to behold. The emptiness of the VR-like arenas serves its purpose well as you get a clear idea of where each surface is and what you can do with it stunt-wise. It also gets heated up by the action and the arcade feedback provides a pleasant environment that gets cosier the more success you find in blowing enemies away.
Performance is great, which is crucial for a game that puts so much stock into fluid combat to carry it with the audience. Playing on a PC with Ryzen 5 3600 and RX 5700 XT in it, I didn't encounter a single hiccup or anything else that would ruin my momentum even for a split second.
The reason I found the performance to be so smooth is probably that the devs optimised Severed Steel well enough that even recommended specs list a mere dual-core CPU. A GTX 1050 or an AMD equivalent will do the job in the GPU segment, meaning a low to mid-tier component from two generations ago is good enough to be recommended here.
Severed Steel is a delight for action fans with combat so fluid it could be used in a WD-40 commercial. It is the go-to place if you're looking for a great action fix that will also hone your manoeuvring and aiming skills. If you watched a John Wick movie or three and are feeling inspired, make sure to give the free demo a go - it's by no means a waste of time and I get the feeling the final product will also be well worth the price of admission.