It sounds like it should be a well trodden cinema path – a man with violent past isolates himself to calm his ways and enjoys a life of tranquillity until his demons catch up with him. His new found peace is shattered as what he’s come to hold dear is destroyed in front of him, and all that’s left is a return to his old ways to avenge those he’s lost. It’s the type of movie that would sit comfortably in the early 90’s, starring Steven Seagal, and would probably have gone straight to video. This is where Redeemer pitches itself, and whilst success as a film is dubious, it definitely works as a game premise. Kung-fu monks vs an evil PMC, what’s not to like as a gamer?
There’s little preamble with Redeemer, it’s all about immediate action and the short stylish cartoon intro sequence just serves to get into Vasily’s robes in order to smack nameless troops about with meaty fists. This is a semi-top down brawler that wants the player to feel like a bad ass that’s rediscovering his anger. Starting in a monastery that’s been attacked by goons, the loose story moves Vasily from this once safe retreat, to an experimentation lab, and on to the archetypal head honchos underground lair. The journey is one of discovery for our hero, taking him to dark places from his past, but it’s not something to really dwell on as there are 15 levels of punching, kicking, battering and shooting to get through before the conclusion.
There’s some commonalities with a twin stick shooter in that the controls are mapped that way for guns, though really Redeemer is more about punching though the waves of enemies. Bare fisted fighting will only take things so far though, and fortunately for Vasily there are plenty of items lying around to use for bludgeoning whatever’s in his way. Branches, axes, staffs, knives and shock sticks litter the levels so more damage can be dealt, though each has limited use as it disintegrates with every hit. When troops come into the mix there are pistols, shotguns and rifles as well to use, though don’t expect John Wick levels of ammo on hand – a few unspent rounds in the clip is all there is. Using these restrictions actually makes the combat seem more fluid as there’s a need to flow between melee, firearms, hands and feet. Everything is upgraded through use too, and perks become available that make Vasily a more formidable opponent.
Full frontal assault isn’t the only tactic available though, there’s quite a bit of stealth play so that guard numbers can be thinned out up front. One hit kills are available on the unsuspecting, and the environment itself can be used as a weapon if there are special interactive objects in range. These typically result in bloody finishing moves where the camera zooms in to pick up all the gory details. Not that any of the other fighting methods are tame, Redeemer is brutal all the way through and even a simple double-fisted combo end can pulverise an enemy. The variation in enemy type though means that it’s a “rock, paper, scissors” approach the deeper into the game it goes. Unarmed attacks will start to be less powerful or not work at all, and there becomes a reliance more on guns and distance. It balances it all well enough and doesn’t feel like it drifts from the core gameplay idea.
As expected with a top-down brawler, the level of detail on the environments is impressive, and as they start to get swamped with bodies and soaked in blood it really rams home the visceral nature of the game. Enemies get crushed against walls, squashed under thrown rocks, cooked on grills and spliced with saw blades, and each small animation fits really well. The accompanying audio is as grim as it needs to be to punctuate the popping heads and breaking limbs, and the soundtrack works well keeping the pace up. Levels aren’t particularly long in the early stages, though the exploration elements start to come in later as things get bigger and more intense. Boss fights are fairly well telegraphed too and each has a unique way of defeating them (along with making sure the tools are in the arena), so they never feel like a chore, but they do slow the action down a bit.
In terms of structure Redeemer has a good balance and progression with things ramping up at just the right rate, though it’ll never be a lengthy game to complete. There’s generous enough checkpointing and because the combos are so responsive it’s possible to manage upwards of 5 enemies attacking at once, so it’s never long before mastering a difficult section. An arena mode outside the main game can be opened up where it’s a fight against waves and waves of different enemies, and the whole game is couch co-op compatible as well. There are some things that stand out as being a bit rough, though all of these are centred around the loading screen and cutting into cinematics – that could be optimised better. As they’re not affecting gameplay it’s easy to overlook them, and just be aware that if it pauses for a while when loading it’s not actually crashed.
It’s an interesting game is Redeemer in that it doesn’t have pretensions of trying to be anything but a slick and enjoyable beat ’em/shoot ’em up. It pulls this off admirably and reminds that there’s a lot of fun to be had in the budget realm. Though maybe budget is the wrong classification here as the Sobaka team is only 5 strong, and they’re clearly chock full of passion and talent. Those looking for something to let out their bloodlust at the end of a rough day will find release here, and anyone wanting to be reminded of the hey day of the 90’s action genre will enjoy the ride.
A PS4 review copy of Redeemer: Enhanced Edition was provided by Raven’s Court’s PR team, and the game is available now on Switch, Xbox One, PC and PS4 for around £25 depending on the platform.