At a glance, Sundered is easy to pass off as a gimmick game. The sort which focuses upon recapturing nostalgia and the style of an older era - usually the ‘80s - and uses it as a platform to boost its own popularity. At first glance, beneath its spectacular hand-drawn designs - this does look exactly like an old Metroidvania release. At least until you scratch the surface, and realise just how this game has reworked so many basic genre concepts.
The story is only vaguely told, as you wake up playing as a nameless woman within an underground labyrinth. Two factions are at war down there, having unleashed horrific creatures into their environment and summoned twisted allies which are the antithesis of life on Earth. Your job now is to annihilate both sides, and the monstrosities which dwell there.
So, as you might imagine, this involves you slaughtering your way through hordes of foes and eventually bumping into the odd very big and very angry boss. It’s the same basic execution we know and love, but it differs thanks to the style of the enemies, upgrades and the design of the environment itself. Rather than sticking to the same generic mook types, Sundered instead offers the player a broad variety of interesting and ugly enemies. Some can shoot through walls, others phase through the environment and airborne enemies have no end of surprises to take you down. While this would make them a challenge unto themselves, it is backed by a very intelligent AI which is capable of using its hordes to flank you, trap you in and even force you to waste attacks in feints.
The bosses themselves are truly massive, ranging from a decaying corpse built into a spider-like exoskeleton to things which would give Mother-Brain nightmares, and the game reinforces it. The camera actually pans out to take them in, and some can be literal walls of attacks, blasting out volley after volley of projectiles in their opening shots. These are easily the highlight of the game, offering the tense insane moments which made the genre defining releases classics, but what helps it to stand out is how the actual levelling is handled. While you are given an upgrade as you might expect, you can choose to warp, corrupt or alter it into something entirely different to suit your needs. This allows you to more aptly tailor-make your character as you progress, and offers far more replay value than you typically find in these experiences.
I would also add that this game is beautiful in its own haunting way, but the screenshot should speak for itself.
Yet, as ever, there are a few definite problems which holds the game back in certain areas. For example, as fun as the combat might be, certain mini-bosses seem to rely much more upon being a damage sponge than a true threat. Something which drags out fights to no end as you quietly chip away at their HP bar, turning the whole conflict into a tedious sheer battle of attrition.
On the other extreme, Sundered has this habit of favouring throwing random hordes of foes at you with little to no pattern or warning. There’s no obvious indication as to just what might set them off, as you can be wandering up an empty corridor at one moment, only to be beset by fifty enemies in the next second. If you’re limping back from a boss fight, with only a fraction of your health left, the last thing you want to bump into are sixty archers with near pinpoint accuracy who can fire through walls. Neither problem truly kills any enjoyment you might have, but it might leave you repeatedly swearing as it stops you in your tracks yet again.
The problems present here are notable, but there’s no denying the sheer joy of playing Sundered. Even in its worst moments, the combat remains spectacularly engaging and with an incredibly rewarding levelling system and fantastic boss battles, it’s still a fantastic purchase. Any fan looking to sink a few dozen hours into a Lovecraftian game of absolute violence should take a look at this one.
SUNDERED / DEVELOPER AND PUBLISHER: THUNDER LOTUS GAMES / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW