PAX South 2017: Work Together to Not Kill Your Friends in Death Squared [Preview]
When’s the last time you talked through a puzzle with your friends? There are plenty of games where communication exists and can help you succeed, but when’s the last time you played a game that absolutely required it? We’re talking about the kind of game that required engagement, input and participation for all parts in order to beat a level – a game where everyone can feel like part of the solution. This is certainly how we felt in our time at PAX South with SMG Studios and their upcoming multiplayer puzzler, Death Squared, in which the only way your cute little robots can gain their sweet freedom is to cooperate or die.
Death Squared is deceptively simple with an astronomically high ceiling for complexity and difficulty. It offers one mode that features single-player and two-player co-op and another mode for four players. In the first mode there are a red and blue box to control and in the four-player mode, there are red, blue, yellow, and green boxes that must be maneuvered. In single-player, each box is controlled by the same player where in two-player mode and four-player mode, each player controls one of the boxes. There are specially-colored platforms on each level and all you have to do to move to the next level is move each box-bot onto its appropriately colored platform.
Simple, right? Well it starts out that way, but each level offers up new obstacles and puzzles that will ramp up the difficulty from fairly easy to almost mind-numbing. Death Squared guides you into these mechanics little by little until you’re navigating puzzles of such complexity that the slightest misstep could send one of your boxy comrades to their death. This might sound a little unforgiving, but while the puzzles get complex, none of them are ridiculously long and restart is instantaneous. The longest puzzle we saw probably only took around five minutes at most to complete with some careful maneuvering among our fellow players once we knew what the solution was.
The level of variation in Death Squared, even for the handful of puzzles we saw, was quite refreshing. Early puzzles introduced us to buttons that would move blocks around either making paths for our fellow box-bot or pushing them off their small platform into oblivion if they were in the wrong space. Other mechanics introduced colored blocks that could be moved through by the bot of the same color while they acted as a barrier to others. The more you get into Death Squared, the more it throws at you to test your puzzle-solving and communication skills.
The folks at SMG Studios described Portal as a strong influence in the way they designed various aspects of Death Squared and it’s certainly something we saw while we were playing. Each of the robots has quirky little noises and features that reminded us of our time with Atlas and P-Body in Portal 2’s cooperative campaign and the levels have that sort of testing vibe similar to the context of Portal levels. It doesn’t just stop at artistic and mechanical design though. SMG teased that Death Squared will be featuring a fully-voiced story campaign for the two-player mode. While we didn’t get the opportunity to see this in the demo, the extra context for what we’re doing with these cute little robots and why sounds cool.
Those worried that the fun will run out too soon have little to fear. The two-player mode of Death Squared is slated to contain around 80 levels arranged randomly in specific categories of difficulty that will keep you guessing as you traverse the laboratory. Meanwhile the 4-player mode will be featuring around 40 of its own challenges arranged in a similar manner. If that wasn’t enough, there are also special “Vault” levels deemed too tough for the main two-player experience that will feature even more unique and mind-bending levels for players to conquer. We played a Vault level that had one of our bots controlling a rolling, spiky cylinder of death while our bot was forced to navigate a maze with beams of electricity blocking our path. The only way to get through was by pushing the cylinder close enough to deactivate certain beams. The curious challenge of these maps is sure to please well past the core experience. More levels are planned post-release as well to ensure the fun won’t stop anytime soon.
Death Squared presents a kind of dynamic you don’t often see these days in cooperative play. It’s the kind of experience where talking it out with your fellow players isn’t just a good idea --- It’s mandatory to your survival. During our time with the demo, we found ourselves making camaraderie with strangers as we all gathered together in both the two and four-player mode to figure out what works in each level and make it to the goal. The arrival at each goal was a celebration of our cooperative efforts and an optimistic jump into what challenge came next. When such a thing can be attained among strangers, we look forward to seeing what we can do with our friends on any given get-together with Death Squared.
Death Squared is set for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Mac on March 14, 2017.