PAX East 15: Slicing, Dicing and Styling in Drinkbox’s Severed
Announced late last year, Drinkbox Studios' Severed feels like a natural extension of the company's unique style. It's unfair to call Severed a departure for the studio, since all three of its games thus far (Tales From Space, Guacamelee and now Severed) have been rather diverse, but Severed definitely feels different. That's probably because it relies almost exclusively on touch controls.
Severed is a bit of an amalgam of different genres, with some light dungeon-crawling adventure mixed with a bit of first-person hack-and-slash combat sitting firmly at the core. The exploration aspects fall much more in line with what you'd see in something in the Zelda franchise than the Etrian series, which makes Severed a bit more accessible for just about everyone. The simplified control scheme, which boils down to swiping your finger to attack, should also aid in Severed's accessibility. It's not that Guacamelee had an overly-complicated control scheme, but any time a developer can streamline the combat process is a welcome one.
That's not to say Severed's combat will be too easy, either. In my time with game, I played through the first area and boss encounter, and though I was never overwhelmed by the opposition, there was a lot of nice variety in how I was supposed to engage. Some foes required me to just slash away, whereas a few required some different timing or a bit more precision in how and where I attacked. There's a parry and counter system in Severed as well, which adds some variety to the constant hack-swiping. Eventually, you earn the ability to use a high-powered slicing attack. Activating this power slows time and opens up the enemy you're facing for a more surgical attack. Cut lines will appear on key parts of the enemy's body, and cutting them does an inordinate amount of damage.
The boss fight provided a look at even more depth to the combat engine, as not only will you have to contend with a big bad staring you down, but additional enemies attacking you from all sides. Each enemy has an attack timer that you'll have to keep a close eye on. You can rotate around rather easily, and make short work of minions, but you've got to be careful to return your attention to the boss when the time is right. The crow boss I encountered had a familiar pace, with a few different stages to combat before he was finally felled. The fight made use of all the techniques I'd learned up to that point, and did provide a decent challenge despite the ease of combat. After taking it down, I took a part of the boss for myself, and added its special attack to my arsenal. Another familiar mechanic, but one that will add another layer to the combat as you progress further into Severed's story.
Severed's vibrant and beautiful aesthetic hides a darker narrative beneath its veneer. The heroine of the tale awakens to find her family home destroyed, and the members of her family perished. As the sole survivor, it's up to her to get some answers and revenge on the mysterious monsters that have caused all this trouble. Even though the story's foundation may not be all that original, the wonderful presentation surely sets Severed apart. The South American artistic influence is immediately obvious, and the visual tone is reminiscent of Guacamelee. However, this time the art direction is going a bit more weird in its design, and the world and creatures bring a new twist to what is quickly becoming Drinkbox's signature style.
The Vita has been longing for more quality titles, and Severed may very well fit that need. Its mechanics are simple and intuitive, and the bite-sized sequences are perfect for the portable format. It also happens to be one stylish and beautiful piece of work. Whether or not the gameplay will hold up over multiple hours remains to be seen, but Severed is on the right track to establishing itself as one of the Vita's most promising releases this year.
Severed will be available on the PS Vita this summer.