ULTRAKILL is a fast paced first person shooter developed by Arsi Patala, and published by New Blood Interactive. It has been available since early September 2020, and is still in early access as of writing. Since its release, it’s been rapidly gaining traction in the old-school shooter community, along with other games from New Blood like Dusk and Maximum Action. Let’s see what it’s all about.
Nine circles of hell.
“Mankind is dead. Blood is fuel. Hell is full” is the main marketing material for the game, but is also a very apt description of the story so far. Robots and other mechanical entities have killed everything on earth, and on their hunt for blood, have started taking over Hell. The player takes on the role of V1, a robot determined to stop, well, other robots. It’s not quite clear why V1 does what he does, since he is also a robot and is also fueled by blood. Regardless, the game so far holds four levels; the Gates of Hell, Limbo, Lust, and Gluttony. The level sequence follows the depiction of Hell found in Dante Aleghieri’s Divine Comedy, more commonly known as Dante’s Inferno. Every level is home to different color palettes and textures; Lust features pink neon and glass panels, whereas the walls of Gluttony are made out of stomach lining, muscle, and teeth. A small number of books can be found, giving a glimpse of the chaos caused by the robot hordes. The descent into hell is accompanied by new enemies and weapons in every level, but more on that later. The story starts making sense right at the end of the fourth level, after which the player is reminded of the early access badge sported by the game and sent back to the main menu. This is easily forgiven, as the story isn’t what drives the game. Gameplay is.
It’s not easy being cool.
In order to properly talk about ULTRAKILL‘s gameplay, we must look at its elements in the same sequence as they are presented in-game. The player starts with a pistol, the ability to jump, dodge, slide, and punch. The first enemy met is relatively weak, but can leap and bite, which is the player’s introduction to the over-arching mechanic of the game: every enemy is deadly in their own way, and movement is the key to success. Most enemies either have projectile weapons or wind-up attacks, so dodging is the most reliable way to avoid damage, if not the only way. Punching is another important mechanic. It makes enemies bleed, and blood is the only way to heal. Most robots don’t have melee attacks, so getting close isn’t such an ordeal. Punching can also parry enemy projectiles and return them to the sender, but the timing required is so tight that straight up dodging is better. Getting airtime, sliding and killing multiple enemies quickly will grant the player points, which can be spent on V1’s armament. The point system is very much akin to the one found in Devil May Cry. Style, speed, number of enemies killed, and number of deaths all factor into the final grade (D to S) and the amount of points received. A more challenging playstyle will grant more points, but a more careful approach like picking off enemies one by one will generally result in less deaths. The only difficulties available are medium and medium +. But don’t be fooled, as medium difficulty can be compared to ultra-violence from Doom. 4 other difficulty levels will be released in later updates. The player can also tweak certain parameters in the settings in order to make the game easier. Ultrakill has a very steep learning curve, and it takes a few levels to get acclimated. Or at least, up until the player finds the nail gun.
I miss my super shotgun..
The available armament is a mixed bag. There are four weapons available, and each of them have secondary fires that can be bought and swapped. The pistol is the first weapon, is hitscan, and comes with a charged shot secondary. It’s other secondary is a coin, which when shot will deflect the bullet and hit the closest enemy’s weak point. Overall a good starting weapon, even if the coin requires some training to get used to. Next comes the shotgun. Its very wide spread makes it only useful at point blank range, and even then struggles with early enemies. It’s possible to punch the shotgun’s projectiles, but the timing is very tight, making it unreliable. It’s secondaries are ok, one being a grenade, the other shooting multiple shells in a row. Now is a good time to point out that there is no ammo in this game. The pistol and upcoming nail gun can fire forever, and the shotgun, despite having a reload ammunition, doesn’t use ammo. Next up, the
minigun nail gun. It fires indefinitely and doesn’t overheat. It’s very accurate for a couple of meters, after which the nails seem to just fall out of the air. The first secondary is a magnet, which attracts nails, turning the nail gun into a fire and forget weapon, a welcome feature when dodging attacks. The other secondary is, you guessed it, another charged shot. The fourth and final weapon is a railgun, and has a cooldown so long that the best tactic is to use it at the start of a fight, and then forget about it. All in all, the shotgun and nail gun are ok weapons, whereas the two other were fairly situational.
A decent story that doesn’t get in the way of gameplay. Unique levels. Fast movement speed. A point system based on speed and level of violence. Weapons that are alright at best. Ultrakill aspires to be a solid arena shooter like Doom and Quake, and so far, it has what it takes. The game runs smoothly, only stuttering on me once. I died plenty of times during my first run, and still clocked in at 2.2 hours to finish what’s released of the game so far, though for a completionist it may take up to 4-5 hours to complete. Its current sales price is 20$, which is a bit steep for what is has in store at the moment. However, it’s a promising game with an active community and dev team, so there’s no doubt the game will only get better with time.