Blast From The Past
We're in the midst of a full-blown retro fast-paced shooter revolution. Doom Eternal leads the charge with its ultra-high-production-value killing spree, while violently cathartic indie offerings like Dusk and Ion Fury ride shotgun, so to speak. To this stable comes Ultrakill, a score attack-focused shooter that's aiming to offer a similar experience to arena blasters like Quake and Unreal Tournament. The demo recently hit Steam as part of the Steam Game Festival, so I sat down with it to see if it comes close to capturing the glory of its big siblings. It turns out I made the right decision; you might want to be sitting down for this one. It's relentless from the first moment and never once lets up.
The first thing to note about Ultrakill is that it's fast. It's impossible to capture in screenshots, but the sheer breakneck pace of this one is impressive. The plot wastes absolutely no time establishing itself in three simple sentences: "Mankind is dead. Blood is fuel. Hell is full." From there, you're dropped straight into a sci-fi facility right out of DOOM or Unreal and tasked with ending the lives of as many demon-looking creatures as possible. It's a nice uncomplicated setup for what proves to be a nice uncomplicated experience.
Ultrakill gets one thing very, very right: its gunplay. Developer Hakita features guns that feel like they should be illegal given the amount of catharsis they give off when you fire them. The shotgun, in particular, has an explosive kick to it that feels like Thor slamming Mjolnir into the ground every time it goes off. Each weapon has a secondary fire mode, and they all add to the carnage in individually interesting ways, but nothing beats the feeling of unloading an entire minigun clip into a recalcitrant demon. That'll learn 'em.
So far, so Doom. What does Ultrakill do to distinguish itself from the growing retro shooter pack? Well, for a start, it's got spectacle fighter elements. In each frantic combat encounter, you'll notice a Devil May Cry-style score meter appear in the top right. The more varied and brutal your carnage, the better your rank and the more points you'll earn at the end. Points can be used to buy new gun mods and other bonuses from the vending machine as each level starts. Thus you're incentivized to get better at the combat because doing so can net you new ways to circumvent tough enemies.
Marrying spectacle fighter-style scoring with fast-paced FPS action makes so much sense, it's a wonder more games don't do it. Brutally murdering scores of demons as increasingly impressive letters appear in the top right corner of the screen gives an unmatched feeling of power and control. Not only that, but it also gives reason to the carnage and encourages you not to zone out. Sometimes, things can get a little hectic and busy in Ultrakill. You won't necessarily be able to keep track of everything unfolding on screen, but having to switch weapons and strategies keeps you on your toes.
The other thing Ultrakill has over its peers is Bloodborne-esque boss encounters which often involve parrying and riposting. While many shooters feature bosses, Ultrakill's require precise timing and move-watching in order to prevail. Think Souls crossed with Super Meat Boy and you're most of the way there. These encounters are thrilling and demand perfect skill expression, which makes conquering them all the more satisfying. There are three boss fights in the demo, and I'm seriously looking forward to seeing what Hakita has in store for me when the full game drops.
Speaking of Bloodborne, Ultrakill also owes its health regen system in part to From Software's masterpiece, as well as id Software's 2016 Doom reboot. To recover health, you'll need to kill enemies close up. There's no way to get your health back unless you do this. You won't find medkits or health stations throughout the levels. This encourages up-close-and-personal combat and means you can't chicken out of encounters if you find yourself low on health. It's an ingenious stroke of design that takes the Glory Kill system from Doom and cuts out the middleman. Ultrakill could be a little better at explaining this system - what exactly constitutes "too close" can be unclear at times - but it's great fun once you're in the zone.
Ultrakill Preview | Final Thoughts
Hakita's Ultrakill is shaping up to be a fine addition to the growing pantheon of retro shooter love letters. Its boss encounters, relentless gameplay, and twists on an old formula keep it feeling fresh. There's even a little show-don't-tell storytelling thrown in for good measure. The first five levels of Ultrakill show a huge amount of promise, and if Hakita can iron out some of the slight quirks in the design, this one's shaping up to be an excellent FPS.
TechRaptor previewed Ultrakill on PC as part of the Steam Game Festival: Summer Edition.