When growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a father with a piqued interest in video games.
After receiving our first home computer around 1994, he was quick to fill it with any and all games including Fury of the Furries, Jazz Jackrabbit and DOOM. I adored the first two but was never allowed to play DOOM for obvious reasons. It didn’t stop me though, and never failed to reduce me to a shaking mess. It was far from a scary game, but the atmosphere it presented was beyond creepy, and for a young naïve child, was very disturbing.
BUTCHER has been designed to re-create the atmospheric feeling of wandering round the corridors of DOOM and Quake. And it has done so perfectly.
This is evident right from the word go as at the start of each level, the level select screen drips downwards like blood to reveal the start of the level – just like the DOOM screenwipe did all those years ago.
BUTCHER is a 2D shooter with an emphasis on fast-paced, violent and brutal gameplay. The tagline at the beginning of the game is ‘The easiest mode is ‘Hard’’ and after only just managing to complete the game before rage-quitting, I can confirm this is true. There’s a really fine line between being hard but fun, and being too difficult, and BUTCHER straddles both sides of the line frequently. Thankfully when the game seems to be a tad too difficult, the following level is much shorter and calmer, at least relatively speaking.
In the game, you play as a cyborg tasked with destroying humanity using a variety of weapons including chainsaws, flamethrowers and a railgun. The first gun you pick up is a shotgun with a range that borderlines that of the assault rifle. It remained my default weapon and about 90% of my kills came from its barrel. The other weapons are still very useful, but the shotgun is very over-powered. Of course, the closer to your enemy, the bigger the blood splatter.
Blood is a frequent theme in the game. Much like Super Meat Boy, blood will remain on the platforms and walls of the level every time you restart things. And restart the level lots you will. Developers Transhuman Design claim to have placed 4 million pixels per level to be ‘painted’ and it certainly comes across that way with the amount of gore generated after every kill. Most enemies do not die straight after a shotgun blast to the face though, preferring to bleed out with blood curdling screams ringing throughout the levels. In the first area, as I was running through an industrial set-up I thought it was the machinery working overtime, but when I realised what it was, it began to be a noise I couldn’t stop hearing after every kill.
To accompany all the blood and gore is a thumping soundtrack. The industrial design of all the levels fits perfectly with the pixel art style, with a host of straight and diagonal platforms to jump up and down, and the soundtrack is the icing on the cake in terms of the aesthetic.
The game takes place on a space station, but includes portals to transport the player to factories, jungle outposts, volcanoes, and the last city on Earth, all whilst maintaining this industrial theme. These locations are all varied enough to keep the game interesting and fresh over the 4-5 hours it should take to run through the first time. New areas means new enemies, and in addition to the standard enemies you encounter such as regular grunts, jetpack grunts and melee grunts, the further you progress you will run into jetpack-equipped enemies with circular saws to swing round, bigger cyborg enemies and even transportation vehicles equipped with rocket launchers. These, when destroyed, will drop a couple more enemies, one of whom wields a railgun of their own.
BUTCHER may seem short, but it is designed to be replayed over and over again, to the point where there is an achievement for finishing the game within 45 minutes. It is possible, with knowledge of the levels, to do so but is tailored very much towards the speedrunners. If you prefer collectibles rather than speedruns, then you are in luck also. Each level has a number of secret skulls to find, and there are 35 in total. Any skull found will stay found, meaning that you can collect them all across multiple playthroughs rather than all at once.
The speedruns and collectibles all factor into the achievements as well, but be warned, due to the difficulty of the game this will not be an easy completion. There are achievements for completing the game on each of the four difficulties, with the hardest difficulty being named ‘Impossible’. Killing in different ways other than with standard bullets, such as burning enemies or impaling them on hooks, also unlocks that precious gamerscore. Oh, and there is one for dying 200 times in total. Make of that what you will.
It’s all pretty good, but one issue I had was with the controls. All were fairly standard apart from the jump button. This is assigned to the left trigger and there is no way to change it, making the game really awkward at first. Eventually I got used to it, but it seems a strange choice and definitely contributed to some of my many deaths in the beginning.
BUTCHER describes itself as a ‘blood-soaked love letter to the cult classics of the genre’ and it is exactly that. The team at Transhuman Design have faithfully re-created the early FPS games such as DOOM and Quake in a 2D style that is brutal in both design and gameplay. The difficulty will punish you for every wrong decision you take and the level design requires attention to every corner at all times. The game is tailored much more to the hardcore gamers and speedrunners, so the more casual gamer may not get their full monies worth – even though it is at the cheaper end of the price spectrum – especially as it is a bit on the short side.
With the gratuitous violence that is included, it certainly isn’t a game for everyone but if you are comfortable with the destruction of humanity in your cybernetic hands, then BUTCHER is a game well worth keeping on your radar.