I have quite a bit of experience with tough games that want nothing more than to kill their players and test their patience. From Dark Souls and Bloodborne to The Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon, I am a massive fan of everything frustrating and difficult. When given a chance to check out developer Julian Edison's roguelike In Celebration of Violence I was expecting a similar experience to what I was used to from hardcore action games. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a game that is more obtuse, confusing, and downright rewarding than just any other roguelike game I've played all year.
This isn't to say that In Celebration of Violence is radically different than previous games in its genre, and its developer even describes it as "The Binding of Isaac smushed together with Dark Souls", which is frankly a pretty accurate description. It basically pulls out the procedurally generated levels and focuses on collecting power-ups from The Binding of Isaac and wraps it up with the combat and exploration of the From Software games to create something more than the sum of its parts.
Welcome to The Sanctuary
Once In Celebration of Violence begins players are dropped into The Sanctuary, a kind of hub world that the player can use to travel to the actual levels. Here you are given a very short tutorial that shows what each of the game's buttons does but then are quickly turned loose to discover much of the mechanics on your own. This is where In Celebration of Violence starts to become ridiculously confusing as there is little indication of what you are supposed to do next. It took me a few minutes of exploring before I found a portal that transported me to a completely new area swarming with enemies. Suffice to say I didn't last very long.
It took me a few runs to make sense of how to make my way around the environment and discover how exactly to fight enemies once traveling through these portals to new areas. Like I said before, combat is very similar to the From Software games. You are forced to be very careful in order to dodge, deflect, and counterattack enemies. Even the most basic of enemies are able to deal a massive amount of damage, so every movement needs to be carefully planned and thought out. Stamina is one of the most important aspects of combat as if the bar runs out you will attack and dodge at a slower rate. This is a surefire way to get killed.
Time to Fight For Your Life
The thing that really sets In Celebration of Violence apart from similar games though is that all of the enemies are beholden to the same rules that the player is, which means that they can't just continuously spam attacks or dodge your swings. Just like the player these enemies can run out of stamina, which leaves them moving more slowly or opening themselves up to attacks. Their weapons also have the same limitations as the player, so learning how each one works will make it easier to determine how an enemy will behave in combat.
In Celebration of Violence tells the player basically nothing about how it works, so it is deeply rewarding to discover things on your own.
The core gameplay loop of In Celebration of Violence has the player exploring each level defeating enemies while they search for more powerful weapons and spells or unlock items called mementos that can grant new abilities. Mementos may be one of the more important aspects of the game as they will do things like make it less likely for enemies to dodge attacks or allow you to summon creatures to help you fight. There are also special shrines spread throughout the world that players can sacrifice experience or resources like wood and metal to gain stat-boosts for that run. This is an incredibly effective way to grow stronger and players can even discover some of these shrines in The Sanctuary to boost their abilities before starting a run.
A Confusing but Rewarding Experience
If you die there is a way to permanently boost stats in between runs, but this really isn't useful in the early game. It may seem a little counter-intuitive but it makes more sense to spend experience points on the shrine upgrades at The Sanctuary rather than investing in these permanent boosts because they can get very expensive. They also won't make much of a difference unless players invest a massive amount of points, so going for the stronger temporary upgrades will let the player rack up experience points quickly as they progress further into the game.
Really the biggest issue with In Celebration of Violence is that, while its obtuseness forces the player to explore and learn more about the game, it does take a very long time to learn many of its features. I have spent a few dozen hours with the game already, yet I still don't feel like I have a complete grasp of all of its features and mechanics. With every single run, I learn brand new aspects of the game, but only those who are willing to put in a lot of effort will get the most enjoyment out of In Celebration of Violence.
Truly Something Special
It is nearly impossible to explain exactly what makes In Celebration of Violence such a special gaming experience without comparing it to other titles. Those who pick it up and invest the proper amount of time in it will receive the same rewarding feeling that games like Bloodborne or Terraria grant. The first few hours don't make a lot of sense, but once it clicks the experience becomes amazingly addictive. In Celebration of Violence is something that should be experienced by anyone who's a fan of hardcore games.
TechRaptor reviewed In Celebration of Violence on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC and Nintendo Switch.
- Deeply Rewardng Combat
- Room for Exploration
- Many Things to Discover
- Very Obtuse and Confusing
- A Serious Time Investment