There's nothing more heartbreaking than finally getting your hands on a game you've been waiting a long time for -- one you wanted to love -- only to find it's not as great as you expected. Everyone's had this feeling before, and most recently, I experienced that with Diluvian Ultra.
Don't get me wrong, Diluvian Ultra isn't a bad game, but there's a lot of great potential held back by gameplay design flaws as well as bugs. One thing I can't deny, however, is that developer Cresthelm Studios has crafted one of the most visually distinctive shooters I've played in quite a while.
Diluvian Ultra's Organic Vibes and Overall Design
As is the case with most retro-inspired shooters, a distinct visual style is what grabs my attention. Diluvian Ultra demands your attention, and it deserves a look: the art direction in this shooter is fantastic. This sci-fi world is filled with fleshy, organic spaceships and guns made of biomatter, which looks absolutely badass.
It takes an H.R. Giger approach to its world design with its biomechanical look. It's not quite like last year's Scorn, which is drab and dreary; rather, Diluvian Ultra uses vibrant colors to bring its environments to life.
Many of Diluvian Ultra's levels are breathtaking and packed with so much detail. Due to the sheer amount of enemies, environmental props, and projectiles on screen at once, it can get a bit chaotic visually. Get past that, and you'll likely spend a few seconds to take in and appreciate the work Creshelm Studios put into creating a truly unique game world.
For the most part, the visuals remain consistently high quality throughout, although I found the later levels to be a bit more repetitive in theme. Trading that organic look for more industrial, mechanical environments disappointed me a bit. Nonetheless, with two additional episodes in store for Diluvian Ultra, I'm excited to see what other crazy designs are in store.
Graphics aside, Diluvian Ultra doesn't do much to impress me in the audio department. When there are packs of enemies, they're all speaking at the same time and it causes an uncomfortable cacophony of noise. Music, which should be an integral part of elevating a retro-inspired FPS' overall experience, left little to no impact on me.
Diluvian Ultra's Gunplay is Just OK
So indeed, while the visual design of Diluvian Ultra is strong, things start to unravel beyond that. Diluvian Ultra's gameplay -- which just straddles the line between boomer shooter and something more modern -- is only adequate, and it probably won't improve unless the next two episodes introduce more compelling weapons and enemies.
Weapon and enemy variety is truly where Diluvian Ultra falls apart. With a total of six weapons, I found myself relying on the same three or four the entire time. One weapon, a very strong pistol, has finite ammo and once its ammo is out, the pistol has to be discarded. You have a melee weapon, so you're really only playing with a handful of guns throughout.
There are slots for more weapons, so I can only assume they're going to be introduced Episode 2 and 3. It was a mistake, then, to hand players most of the guns right away -- gameplay gets repetitive very fast. Sure, you can upgrade them as you collect a certain currency hidden around levels, but these upgrades alter the gameplay very little.
Upgrading weapons usually increases their damage, crit, and fire rate. Every weapon also has a unique ability; for example, your pistol (it's this living creature called a Squire which is actually pretty neat) can fly out of your hands and show you the way forward. That's a handy little trick, but now you're unable to use the weapon unless you call it back.
Two other weapons have, from what I could tell, the exact same upgrade which converts ammo into armor for your character. Your melee weapon is, at the very least, pretty darn powerful and is overall satisfying to use when slashing through foes.
The Systems at Play in Diluvian Ultra
Diluvian Ultra also features a duel-damage system. All -- or most -- enemies have armor as well as health. First, you need to break away the armor in order to inflict lethal damage on foes. It's something I didn't know about until I re-read the game's Steam page.
Though the game features readable tutorials on these floating objects, I feel like I either missed one of these or the writing didn't convey this mechanic well enough. Nonetheless, it incentivizes switching weapons constantly in order to take out your enemies. In theory, it works, but when there are few weapons and they feel the same, it's not that fun.
Weapons aren't my only problem with Diluvian Ultra's gameplay, though. While I love the aesthetic of most levels, they are at times either too lengthy or overly short. One level lasted maybe five minutes at most. The very last level of Episode 1 was such an abrupt ending without a boss fight; rather than going out with a bang, Diluvian Ultra ends with a whimper.
Level design is another matter, too. I found myself nearly soft-locked out of an area due to the versatile platforming mechanics of Diluvian Ultra. I managed to find a way back, but I know I wasn't supposed to be in this area because there weren't any enemies, and a door was locked. Returning later, enemies spawned and the door actually opened.
Speaking of platforming: While your character is rather capable, able to dash and double jump, landing on the exact spot you'd like can be difficult. It's much too hard to find your footing when a ledge is small or you need precision to access a secret.
Diluvian Ultra Review | Final Thoughts
It's worth reiterating that this is the first episode for Diluvian Ultra, though it's technically a full release. It's fair to judge Diluvian Ultra's offerings in full, but it's also worth acknowledging that there's potential for improvement in the following two episodes.
With more weapons, enemies, environments, and overall improvements to the gameplay, Diluvian Ultra can definitely be a competent shooter. The gunplay works well enough and the duel-damage system has potential, but for now, it does little to stand out in what's becoming quite a saturated market.
Diluvian Ultra was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 6 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Overall Design of the World, Weapons, and Enemies is Cool
- Adequate Gunplay
- Audio Issues
- Sloppy Platforming
- Weapon and Enemy Variety Isn't Great