Ihave been familiar with New Blood Interactive’s lineup for a while now, but for some reason I wasn’t paying enough attention to Ultrakill, a new throwback first person shooter that stands aside of both Dusk and Amid Evil. It’s as elegant as it is crunchy, presenting a fast-paced rhythm at all times that had me at the edge of my seat during my 50 minutes with the demo. Time during which I barely blinked nor breathed.
The whole demo was a sequence of “a-ha” moments for me who, again, hadn’t seen much about the game except for a couple screenshots on Twitter. There’s a classic disclaimer stating that “this game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore” that feels straight out from the PSX era. There’s also a video option to match the visuals as the tech from back then, which I immediately went for. The janky, yet endearing low poly visuals felt just right, and I probably will be playing the full game with this setting on.
It then begins on a rather straightforward way. You’re a bot who ends up in hell shooting up demons. Turns out that mankind is far gone and these remaining machines are fueled by blood, which is starting to run out. So what better idea than to storm the depths of hell for a refill?
With this premise you’re thrown right into the action. The first few enemies are rather weak, but also incredibly fast and always coming on a pack. You begin with only a pistol with basic shots, but you quickly begin to notice the possibilities around movement and physics. Glass shatters when you shoot through it, and there’s lots of structures made of it, so you can easily get rid of enemies with a couple shots at floors or staircases. This is genius, and not at all easy to achieve when the situation gets heated, so instead of an easy way out from any situation it appears as yet another element for you (and your enemies) to use in battle.
Then there’s the double jump, which feels great and lets you ground slam in mind air. This does not only obliterate enemies that happened to be below you, but also sends the ones nearby to the air, giving you yet another window to smack them with a melee attack or line up a few headshots safely. Oh, and you can also slide on the ground almost indefinitely, without the need of a ramp of sorts. It took me a while to get used to this, especially with how fast it is, but it’s immensely satisfying to use.
As for the pistol, I bought an upgrade that let me charge a secondary and more powerful attack, but I fell in love with the coin. You flip this coin into the air that, if you manage to shoot it before it drops onto the floor, you’ll get a guaranteed special shot at enemies. This is easier said than done as you might imagine, but landing them makes you feel unstoppable. The Ultrakill demo also lets you try out the shotgun and machine gun, all three feeling different enough from each other, and presenting their own elements that worked better with certain types of enemies. Even after getting their upgrades I still saw myself coming back to the pistol, which is something that I can’t share about many other games, though the fact that there’s no ammo for the basic fire (alternative fires have different cooldowns) is a key difference.
So I was quickly getting the hand of the combat, realizing how shit I am at aiming and feeling a bit better whenever the game rewarded me with a lucky shot to one of the coins. The score on the side kept going up, Devil May Cry style, detailing each one of my actions and displaying flashy titles based on my performance. And that’s when I learned to use the melee attack to parry enemy projectiles, ricocheting orbs right back at the face of these creatures. Ultrakill does not take the hack and slash influence lightly. Instead, it empowers from it, bringing it onto a genre that was waiting for such an overdue arrival that just needed the right elements to work well together.
The peak of the experience for me happened during a boss fight against the so-called Swordmachine. This enemy was as fast as me, carrying a massive sword that gracefully cut the air and everything (my character) on its way. There were also projectiles all over the place, all the while the boss did not stop coming for me. But I had my ways to confront it on an equal manner, bouncing back projectiles and healing myself with melee attacks.
I got my ass kicked several times, but respawning is immediate (in boss fights you have a short respite as you walk from the last checkpoint to the arena, which takes literal seconds, but it’s a welcoming decision pacing-wise). I returned to the fight time and time again, always getting closer to defeating Swordmachine. Which started as a fairly standard behavior on my end, trying to stay away from its attacks as I shot from a distance, then became the closest I’ve been of a brawler in a first person shooter. I was not only dodging, but also jumping in the air, punching the enemy one or twice before escaping from its range again, returning with a quick ground slam, switching to the shotgun for a quick blast, switching back to the pistol and charging an attack as I moved away yet again as projectiles passed only a couple pixels of my character. Those that came right to me were received by punches instead.
This back and forth was hypnotizing, and I had to catch my breath after being done with the encounter. The euphoria from the fight stuck with me until I finished the demo, completely blown away by the responsiveness and polish of each one of these attacks and movements. Ultrakill has the potential to leave a mark in the genre – not just for retro throwbacks but for modern shooters as well. I can’t wait to lose dozens of hours into the full game when it comes out on early access this Summer, and I’m especially curious about any additional weapons and alternative fires. In the meantime, I’m already thinking about revisiting it.
Spare yourself an hour of your time and sink your teeth into this demo. Just be prepared to punch back.