Some of the best games in the world can make you feel like you’re a pro-gamer, pulling off the unthinkable with your gamepad. Through design alchemy, your button-mashing translates into something effective, or perhaps even artful. Brawlers like Bayonetta do this, SUPERHOT does this, and Foregone is a poet laureate at it. You WILL feel like you’re unbeatable, and you’ll look undeniably amazing as you do it.
Foregone achieves this in a few ways, all of them worth enumerating. It looks exceptional – one of the most stupendously beautiful games out this year. That’s not because it looks photo-realistic or next-gen in its visuals: Foregone is created out of pixels. But instead of using these simple building blocks to create something nostalgic, developers Big Blue Bubble have made something breathtaking. Every landmark, enemy or boss has been meticulously authored, similar in effect to a hand-drawn cartoon, and it makes Foregone sumptuous.
Then there are the animations. The modern comparison is Dead Cells (this comparison will repeat over the review, but more on how they differ later), but Foregone personally took me back to my first moments with the original Jordan Mechner-developed Prince of Persia, Flashback and Another World. There is a flow to the animations, exaggerated but also human, that makes you feel balletic. When you are moving seamlessly from attack to dodge to pistol and then to attack again, you can’t help but feel badass. The sheer effort put into the animation – just watch the trailer if you don’t believe us – makes that possible.
Finally, there is the combat. Deceptively simple at first, you have a melee and ranged attack, accessible at the press of a button. The simplicity will worry initially. The ranged attack in particular doesn’t even have an aim function: you fire and your character takes aim at the most suitable target in the vicinity. However, the melting pot of all the different elements – the acrobatic movement of the main character, the diversity in the enemies, and the wonderful level design – gives you more than enough to make moment-to-moment combat thrilling. A character with a minigun levels at you: do you skid beneath them, risk a jump over the arc of bullets, or hope that your stock of bullets will take them down before their magazine starts emptying? Kill them and you will replenish bullets for the next fight. Every encounter fosters these split-second decisions, and you will often be moving from one to another in quick, slick sequence.
There are still issues with the simplicity – the auto-targeting often fails to find creatures that linger on ceilings, and fast-moving creatures cause it headaches – but they can be overcome. It regardless becomes less of an issue as the game starts stacking its systems and mechanics on top to create something deep.
Foregone is a game that is heavy on loot. Each level will burden you with a dozen-or-so melee blades, ranged weapons, armour and trinkets in your inventory, and you’ll be upgrading them at a blacksmith in the hub area (teleport rooms can take you back mid-level). The weapon categories feel varied when compared against each other – we ran a gunchuk-build, which splashed bullets as you carved into an opponent – but they never feel varied enough within a weapon category. While power and DPS fluctuates, and some crit/elemental-style effects might roll on two separate pistols, for example, you won’t feel the difference. A purple shotgun feels like another purple shotgun, and that is one of Foregone’s big misses.
You’ll be upgrading the weapon and armour with the credits that shower off your enemies (another reason the game feels so good – the loot confetti), and you’ll be doing much the same with your own abilities. There’s a Borderlands-like tech tree with three axes of improvement, and each branch forces a decision out of you: will you go for leeching abilities or better crit management, for example? As you gain abilities – and only two can be equipped at any one time – you will be able to upgrade these in much the same manner. It’s satisfying to make lasting, impactful improvements on your character, especially when you’re butting your head against a difficult section of the game, but there was still a nagging sensation that Big Blue Bubble could have offered a little more in the way of progression tracks. It might be because I’m a grindaholic, but I maxed out the core progression well before the game’s end.
But what does Foregone feel like to play? It should be noted that this is not a Metroidvania or roguelite. We’ve been reading that a lot in preview work, alongside the Dead Cells comparisons. This is actually a straight up action-RPG platformer; there’s no backtracking, and no areas that need abilities before you can access them (although, you will be gaining the odd functional ability). You enter a level, you complete it, and then you move onto the next, all with a winding linearity. Sure, you have a haven area that feels incredibly Dead Cells-like, but this acts as no more than a respite and progression hub.
The pattern of play does however borrow something from roguelites. You will die a fair amount, and that’s okay – the game is built for that. When you fall, you drop a vessel that contains your accumulated credits and experience. You can then talk to the Ferryman, who will offer a fraction of what you accumulated, or you can head back into the wilderness to reclaim the vessel and its full contents yourself. The levels feel built on this pattern of incremental progress too. You’ll open doors that create a straight line through the level, as you make the game simpler for your future self. There are ‘key creatures’, who will open doors upon death, effectively making them walking switches. They’re bulkier than other enemies, but their death is permanent, so you’ll make headway that you won’t have to repeat. All of these elegant, Cells-like mechanics make even the lamest death a springboard to the end of the level.
We should take note of the bosses, which crop up every few levels. As you’d expect, they splatter you across the walls with real joy, and – at their peak – I was replaying them a dozen times. But never did I feel that the deaths were cheap: the bosses were telegraphed perfectly, beautifully animated, and always fair. Beating them was some of the greatest moments of satisfaction in the game.
The story, too, is atmospheric, if not spectacular. You are the First Arbiter, the most powerful of the guardians of Calagan. You’ve been awoken to face The Harrow, a virulent strain that’s taking over the world and twisting life into grotesque shapes. As the story progresses, the source of The Harrow comes into view. It’s not a game that you’d buy for the story, but it bubbles up in dialogue and drops journals to add a bit of colour.
We’ve invoked Dead Cells several times already (Big Blue Bubble is probably putting a pound in the jar for every review that mentions it). The combat, look and hub structure is undeniably similar, but Foregone reminds of Dead Cells largely because it achieves a similar quality bar. It’s not as if you can copy and paste that quality – the developers have had to reinvent their own wheel, and create their own super-smooth experience. Lest we forget, Foregone is also different in structure – a linear experience that’s more akin to Metal Slug than it is Cells.
It all becomes moot when you take Foregone on its own merits. This is a game that feels unbelievably good to play, and equally so to watch. You will want to step back into its clutches over and over again, just to master a boss, clear a section with less damage to your health, or break through a wall of enemies to get to that switch that’ll open a new path forever. Incremental joy in Foregone gives you more than incremental chunks of joy. This is a game that you’ll be dipping into for a long time.
Foregone on Xbox One will make you feel like you’re God’s gift to gaming – a cartwheel of bullets and blades. By the time you reach the end, you might even have earned it. Don’t give in to the easy comparisons with Dead Cells – this is a sumptuous, furious and rock-hard romp that’s better seen as a partner to that brilliant game.