Reviewed On: PC
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
The side-scrolling shooter has long been a staple of videogames across many different incarnations. But one thing is typically included; aiming whatever weapon the main character wields. Seraph, though, seeks to get rid of this minor inconvenience, removing the ability to aim. Just fire the weapons and your virtual avatar will do all the rest, gunning down demon hordes. What madness is this?
It sounds like a silly gimmick, but it works surprisingly well, allowing the player to focus entirely on dodging the attacks that the numerous enemies toss your way. Seraph has access to a powerful blink move that sends her a short distance in any direction, passing through any enemies, fireballs, claws or other nasty stuff. Blink has two charges and both recharge quickly, so combined with the ability to double-jump, slide down vertical surfaces and leap up or off of walls it’s possible to be constantly in motion. Enemies even politely telegraph their attacks via icons hovering over them. Still, the game doesn’t completely abandon the concept of aiming as you can focus toward a specific enemy if you want to, but most of the time it’s best just to keep pulling that trigger. Guns lose their accuracy if you don’t fire in bursts, so it isn’t quite as simple as just holding the trigger down until everything is dead. Close, though.
Blah, blah, bladdy blah. But how does it actually play? Does the gimmick work? In short, brilliantly, and yes. In execution Seraph feels like a polished shooter with a feeling of chaotic order. Amidst the mayhem you must remain calm and try to pick out every little incoming assault, because each time you die you respawn with a much lower maximum health, and a third death equals game over, forcing you to restart the stage. There’s a couple of slip-ups along the way; sometimes the screen becomes a little too manic and thus the art of dodging and positioning is reduced to hoping you’re in the right place at the right time. The blink also sometimes doesn’t quite go where you want, perhaps leaving you clinging to a wall when you really shouldn’t be. Still, while these can be annoying in a game where you don’t have a lot of room to make mistakes they don’t manage to tarnish just how damn fun it is.
Even the story is actually quite interesting, which was something of a surprise. You’ll be stepping into the shoes of the Seraph, an angelic being of sorts who possessed the body of a mortal, but somehow became trapped within a cell, contained with a large complex. Finally freed the Seraph steps out of containment to find everyone slaughtered and demonic creatures from Terminus rampaging around the place. A mysterious being calling himself Guide speaks to the Seraph, who decides to rid the Earth of these demons in His name. If it all sounds a bit Heaven, Hell and Holy Bible you’d be entirely right. Christianity and other faiths have simply been retweaked and had their names changed, but the influences are obvious. As the game goes on you’ll begin to discover the reason for the demon incursion, who Guide is and much more. Most of the twists are predictable enough and the lack of voice acting is a shame, yet it’s still reasonably engaging.
There’s no selectable difficulty setting to be found within Seraph, which is slightly odd in a game with so many on-screen enemies and a focus on being very, very fast. Instead the developers have opted for a system which increases difficulty as you play. Here’s how it works; enemies drop motes upon death which bump up your experience, which in turn will level Seraph up, allowing you to choose from new blessings which are basically small passive buffs, like doing more damage when close up or making your double-jump deal a small blast of explosive pain. But motes also increase difficulty when picked up, and the higher the difficulty the tougher enemies become, earning themselves access to fancier attacks with which to melt your face off. A small series of pips below the difficulty rating at the bottom of the screen indicate how quickly the challenge is rising, but if you take damage that rate slows down, thus the better you do the harder the game gets, while struggling players should theoretically get a little respite. It’s a great idea on paper, however in reality it doesn’t quite work out thanks to a few obvious spikes in difficulty and the fact that there’s no way to bring the level of challenge back down. Now, don’t get me wrong I love games with a hefty challenge that push you to get better and better, but I also realise that most people will hit a point where they can’t increase their skill any further. The game, though, will keep going, so a way to stop the difficulty or bring it back a smidge would have been very helpful.
Dead enemies will also sometimes drop components that feed the game’s crafting system. From a menu between levels you can spend these to perhaps make new, more powerful versions of guns, which will be stored in lockers throughout each mission. Unlike your primary pistols these secondary guns use up ammunition, so it’s often a good idea to hold them back for tougher foes. You can also forge new protective charms which are again accessible through lockers in levels, and these provide some handy defensive buffs. Of course, both the weapons and the charms are randomized in lockers, so if you don’t want to replace your machine pistols for a shotgun or your diamond ring for a ruby one you can opt to break them down for some extra parts. More interesting are the miracles, which is to say the special abilities you can deploy when battling the hordes of evil. There’s nothing particularly spectacular, but they’re important nonetheless, offering up more ways of dishing out the damage. At any given time you can equip two of these bad-boys. Maybe you’ll take Comet, which lets you plunge downwards before doing some nice explosive damage, an ability that exists almost solely to combat the fact that you can’t see what sort of danger you’re getting into when leaping down the level. When in doubt, Comet in. There’s also abilities like Repel which give you some breathing room, or another that attaches threads to nearby enemies and if those threads can be maintained for a second they’ll deal holy damage. It’d be nice to see a wider range of miracles, but then currently each one serves a unique purpose, such as pillar of light that deals big damage but that fires directly upward, making it difficult to use correctly in the middle of a chaotic fight.
But it’s the oath system which really impresses. Here you can take shards you’ve collected throughout the levels and attach them to a multitude of oaths spread out across three tabs which grant passive bonuses, such as higher starting health, more damage when wielding certain weapons or perhaps a better chance of nailing a critical hit. The rarer the shard the better the bonus you get. Easy, right? Ah, but then things get interesting, because you can also take three lesser shards and meld them together to form a better one The catch is simple; for each more powerful shard you choose to craft you need to sacrifice 3 of the previous level. For example, if you want to create the most powerful level five shard you’ll need to sacrifice 36 other shards in the process. This system forces you to choose between either investing heavily in a small pool of upgrades using rarer shards that will significantly bump up your stats in specific areas or spreading out more with common shards. If, for example, you want to However, there’s also the fact that to unlock higher tiers of oath within each category you need to have a certain shard value or higher in the lower tiers.
Outside of the primary campaign that should take you anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete there’s a couple of other things to do. Venture into Challenges and you’ll find a survival mode which is basically is exactly what it sounds like and is surprisingly good fun. Better yet you can save between levels and leave. There’s also a daily challenge which has things like racing to open all the containers while taking as little damage as possible, or a mixture of other things. Both of these offer leaderboards and will reward you with new shards and crafting components depending on how far up those boards you get, which in turn feed back into your story mode. You can also to a rebirth, giving up all your shards, blessings, weapons, miracles and charms to acquire permanent stat buffs and a little icon beside your name on the leaderboards.
It’s also a remarkably polished game. I never once ran into a glitch or any real problems. Indeed, it’s only true problem as such is its repetition. The enemy variety isn’t huge and as such each level can feel much like the last. In this regard the fairly short lifespan works in its favor, but of course if you like having a meaty game to sink your teeth into, this is not it.
Seraph is a polished, brilliant shooter from start to finish, never outstaying its welcome or being anything short of fantastically fun. It’s such a pleasure to discover little gems like this that have come out of nowhere, simply arriving with no fanfare and yet being so much better than most of the hyped-up triple-A titles have been. The lack of aiming quite literally takes something away from the game, but it also doesn’t take anything away from the game. Having said that I don’t know if I can say it improves Seraph as such, but it does certainly let you concentrate on dodging incoming attacks, and that is a whole mess of fun.