Severed Steel is really fucking cool. It is, mechanically, the best of the beautiful wave of Indie FPS games that emulate the frantic Max Payne/John Woo action that is the bane of any little white dove’s existence. As great as Superhot and Maximum Action are, this really feels like the most honed version of this type of FPS gameplay that I have played in recent memory. I have beaten the campaign and played through 4 or 5 of the firefight mode missions on the hardest difficulty, of which there are 60. This only took me roughly 4 hours, and yet I still feel plenty informed enough to write this review. That might be concerning to you, but hear me out.
You play as a badass who escapes prison. That’s about as deep as the characterization of our protagonist gets. Pretty much the only thing we know about her is that she is missing an arm (hence ‘Severed’ in the title), and these bad dudes really don’t want you to escape. This does have an effect on the gameplay because, while it would be bold game design to have to reload a grenade launcher with one arm in slow motion, It’s probably more fun the way they handled it here. Instead of reloading you have the option of using your empty gun as an unga bunga to throw and bash directly into the faces of your opponents. This creates the crux of the gameplay loop that makes the game somewhat unique. You have to advance on your enemies to stay alive, not only because of the movement mechanics, but because your character is only able to replenish ammunition by picking up a gun from the ground or stealing an enemies side arm directly from their holster, which is fucking sneaky and neat.
The quality of the movement systems in Severed Steel is the other way this game sets itself apart. It’s not entirely unique, being heavily inspired by Max Payne, Super Hot, and Stranglehold. However, Severed Steel leans on this mechanic maybe more than any of the aforementioned titles. You have the ability to dive, slide, wall run, double jump, flip and drop kick. While doing any of these stunts, you are 100% invulnerable to enemy fire as long as the action is being performed. This means you “Gotta Go Fast” around your enemies while they helplessly try to keep their aim on you. It also means that the gameplay requires you to use these mechanics as much as possible to stay alive.
Your enemies will drop your ass faster than a New York cop can down an entire bottle of painkillers if they catch you doing any sort of movement that a regular human is capable of. That could end up being really frustrating if these mechanics were not implemented properly, but luckily for us, this is one of the best implementations of these mechanics I have personally seen in this caliber of game. Not only is it accessible and satisfying from the start, but its depth rivals that of the movement system in Warframe. Slides can be combo’d into dives, wall runs can be combined to scale a lot of vertical space in a short amount of time, and a well placed dropkick can change your direction in mid-air. It’s so satisfying to go full Path of Neo on all of the vaguely evil soldiers that apparently do really bad things. This system gives the player a lot of movement options which are easy to pull off, has a lot of depth for those who wish to master it, and forces you to involve yourself in it to succeed.
The last piece of the gameplay that ties everything together is the slow motion mechanic. This game is fucking fast. When you boot up the game the FOV is defaulted to 110, and from the time you start playing to the time you stop, you are absolutely zooming. It would be damn near impossible to maintain the accuracy necessary to complete any of the levels in a reasonable amount of time. The way that slow motion is implemented is also somewhat unique. Much like the 100% damage reduction while performing stunts, your slow motion meter will only deplete while doing something stupid, like walking or standing. This means that you can essentially maintain slow motion for an entire level if you are engaging in the stunt system properly. This gives you the ability to easily, and literally, kick ass at the level that this protagonist is meant to operate at. Slow motion ties the gameplay together by further encouraging the player to engage in the movement system and allowing them to fully participate in the protagonist’s power fantasy.
Severed Steel’s presentation is also really well done for this caliber of game. Visually the game is super sleek. Very simple textures combined with cell shading and good lighting make for a cool Tron-esque setting. The simplicity of the visuals also provide clarity, which is much needed considering the pace of the game. The music is top fucking tier, and the game knows it. At any point you can press a button to shuffle to another track if you’re not into what’s playing. The dark-electronic music really does a good job of elevating the simplistic visuals.
This simple art style also allows for fully destructible environments that gives the player a whole slew of additional options. And I mean fully destructible. Giant holes can be blasted through walls and floors, and larger caliber ammunition punch small view holes through most materials.
One last thing to note is that this game’s difficulty is really scalable. The lower difficulties make this game so great for wasting time, or having deep, yet very disturbing Discord conversations. The higher difficulties on the other hand do not break the game’s balance at all and makes the game feel more akin to a Super Meat Boy or Doom Eternal. This scalability is a real testament to the execution of the aforementioned gameplay mechanics, and makes this game more accessible to a wider range of players.
Severed Steel is 25 dollars. I personally feel like this was money well spent for me, but your mileage may vary. On top of the very short campaign, there is a “Firefight” mode which allows you to replay the campaign missions with mutators and a custom weapon selection, which does facilitate some good replayability. It also includes an in-depth level creator and Steam workshop integration, but this isn’t really my thing so I am going to refrain from commenting on that. Short, sweet, and really fucking cool. That’s Severed Steel!