DrinkBox Studios have a lot to live up to with Severed given their previous games. Tales from Space: About A Blob, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack and Guacamelee, they have quite the repertoire of excellent games which have improved every release, so with Severed they should have honed their craft to create their best game yet, right?
Well… Severed is a nightmare, not in a bad way though, it’s just set in a nightmare fantasy world in which you wake as Sasha, whose quest is to find her missing family. The title comes from the fact that Sasha is missing an arm herself and the act of severing is a key gameplay mechanic in that you sever enemy body parts to gain new abilities.
Touch screen games are normally associated with being quite simplistic, but Severed is far from that. In fact, it is quite impressive how much depth there is to the combat system, given the somewhat limited control interface. The combat system revolves around different swipes causing different levels of damage. The longer the swipe, the more damage dealt by Sasha’s sword. Later on in the game, further damage can be done through a charged attack.
What makes the combat more challenging and rewarding as the game progresses is the enemy design. Each enemy can, as expected, be defeated through several sword swipes, but each enemy type is designed sufficiently differently to make you think about how you wish to tackle each battle. Enemies have different hit points, which are exposed during their animation cycle. This may be as soon as the enemy has attacked or it may be whilst the enemy is resting before its next attacks. All the enemies also have different lengths of time before they launch their attack.
All these aspects to the enemy design influence the strategy you employ in each encounter hugely. The strategy you employ depends on the enemies which appear. You ask yourself which enemy you need to target first and get rid of in order to minimise damage taken? Alternatively, you may decide to knock a bit of health off each enemy as it rests before its next attack. The only downside to this otherwise excellent combat system is that you don’t see which enemies you’re going to face until you are actually in the battle. This can lead to a trial and error approach in some instances which may frustrate.
Even further depth is given to the combat through a simple skill upgrade tree where, through collecting parts of severed enemies, you can enhance Sasha’s abilities. For example, through increasing your swords damage, increasing the time you have to sever enemies or increasing the chances of a critical hit to name just a few. The upgrade tree isn’t as expansive as those seen in a deep role-playing game, or even the likes of those seen in the Far Cry games, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s simple and effective.
An issue that has to be raised though is that, even though the battles with enemies is the best part of the game, it isn’t exactly the most comfortable to play. It can be difficult to hold the Vita with your left hand to switch between enemies using the left analogue stick, whilst using your right hand to swipe on the touch screen. This may be a personal issue depending on how you like to hold the Vita, size of your hands etc, so it might not be an issue for some players.
The art style of the game fits well and quite similar to Guacamelee, except that it is gloomier in contrast to the brightness seen in Guacamelee. The colours used are bold and striking, yet dark enough to match the gloomy atmosphere of the game. This atmosphere fits well with the premise of the game and some of the scenes you see which, without going into spoilers, are actually quite harrowing.
Despite the art and atmosphere being top notch, I often thought that the environments seemed slightly bare in places, I know we’re exploring abandoned locations for most of the game, but some more art assets could have been used and more interesting objects to decorate the environment to match the creativity seen in the enemy designs.
The environments do however reward exploration, as you are encouraged to go back to areas you have already visited, once you have unlocked new abilities, which you use to uncover secrets and new passages. It’s just a shame that the trudge between places couldn’t be a bit more interesting to look at.
So is this game the best yet from DrinkBox and one of the best games on the PlayStation Vita? Absolutely. The way Severed uses the touch screen to create a combat system with so much depth is truly astounding and should be lauded for being one of the best uses of touch screen mechanics ever seen in video games. Severed is one of a dying breed by being a PlayStation Vita exclusive and one any Vita owner should not let pass them by.
Superb use of touch screen for the combat system
Interesting and varied enemy design
Bold art style
Simple and interesting story
Environments could be more interesting
The way the game requires you to hold the Vita could be uncomfortable for some players