Reviewed on: PC. Copy supplied by publisher.
Blood Alloy: Reborn sure travelled a rocky road to release. Developed by Suppressive Fire Games, it began in 2013 as a Kickstarter for a much larger project called Blood Alloy that failed to raise the required funds, but the positive reception of its fast-paced, 2D retro combat system inspired the team to continue developing it. Several years later, they’ve released Blood Alloy: Reborn, which they say on their website acts as a means to “introduce [their] fans to the [original larger project’s] world, expose new players to [the] combat mechanics, and gather feedback about every aspect of gameplay that [they] can.”
And for me this was the game’s biggest problem: that while the mechanics they’re introducing are for the most part fun, the whole thing really feels like a small amount of content unnecessarily padded out to try and make you invest more time in it. Like they tried to do a Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and turn a demo into a full release only they don’t have an engaging enough game to pull it off.
In Blood Alloy: Reborn, players are chasing high scores by battling against an endless horde of robots in one of three environments set to a sweet 80s synth soundtrack. The combat is fast and ruthless as things tend to get very overcrowded extremely quickly so keeping on your toes is the key to success. Attacks can be strung together to create physics defying combos, like sword attacks keeping you up in the air and dodges allowing you to pass through opponents, which leads to some super satisfying badass moments. The longer you stay alive the more variations of enemies appear, with harder enemies rewarding you with more points and the more killed in quick succession increasing your score multiplier.
At the end of each round your score adds to your overall experience bar which goes to unlocking new weapons, background music and areas to play in, and it’s here that the aforementioned padding becomes evident. As an example, the game only has three stages so you have to repeatedly play in the first one until you reach level seven when the second is unlocked. Once you pass the first few levels it suddenly takes a long time to get anywhere thanks to the required experience growing at an insane exponential rate. By the time I’d reached level six I was well and truly sick of running the same damn area over and over again that I was continuing on just for the sake of seeing whether a new area would improve the experience any, not because I was having any fun. And after experiencing the second map a couple of times, which granted changed things up a bit by focusing on verticality, the prospect of going through another seven experience levels before I’d see the third level was incredibly deflating.
Now an experience points based unlock system like this isn’t a bad thing in principle, but when the ratio of reward to time played is this out of balance it just becomes a frustrating grind.
The combat gameplay that Kickstarter backers positively responded to is fine for the most part, and actually quite good on the occasions where a string of combos came together. I found the controls to not be as responsive as I would have liked, for example double jumps didn’t always register, but there was at least a decent variety in the attacks/abilities at your disposal. But my biggest problem with the gameplay in general is the only way to recover health is to achieve a times 10 score multiplier and then rescue the trapped solider that subsequently spawns. I think I only ever successfully regained health this way maybe twice in the hours I spent playing Blood Alloy because the overwhelming amount of enemies, while ripe for racking up kills to add to my multiplier, makes it nigh on impossible to do so without losing the little health you have left in the process.
Granted one can say “git gud” here, but the fact of the matter is that setting the bar so high in order to recover any health leads to quicker, more frequent deaths, which in turn means more retries. And thanks to that tedious unlock system acting as gate keeper to all the content, more repeated attempts yielding little results makes for an infuriating experience.
Based on what I’ve seen here, the full game that Suppressive Fire Games want to eventually make could be a really fun platform shooter. The touted combat mechanics are decent if slightly negated by the obtuse health recovery system, the visual design is engaging in a retro arcade game kind of way and the soundtrack is kickass. But as a standalone Blood Alloy: Reborn very quickly becomes a grind thanks to what little content it has being dragged out behind a lengthy and unsatisfying unlock system. Other games have done a similar thing by having really engaging and variable gameplay to warrant repeat playing, something Blood Alloy: Reborn just doesn’t have right now.
Pros: Cool visual design. Awesome soundtrack. Promising fast-paced combo-based combat…
Cons: …that is negated by a frustrating health system. Repetitive matches yield little reward in tiresome unlock system.