Brawlers are one the main genres I cut my teeth into during my formative gaming years. Favorites such as Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and the TMNT series let me gleefully take out my aggression by taking down scores of goons, one uppercut at a time. The genre had an amazing heyday in the 80’s and early 90’s before plummeting off a cliff in the following decade. Then Castle Crashers came along in 2009 and suddenly a wave of new brawlers punched their way into the scene, many of them featuring the RPG elements that Behemoth’s successful title popularized. But once that Renaissance came and went, brawlers began to slide out of favor again. I think that’s largely because there hasn’t been much meaningful innovation in the format since then.
Enter Redeemer , a top-down beat 'em up created by Russian development team Soboka Studio and published by Gambitious Digital Entertainment. The team's goal is to breath new life into the genre or, in their words, “make a brawler for 2017”. The game puts players in control Vasily, a former top-notch mercenary once employed by an evil corporation who has since walked away from that blood-stained life to find peace within a monk monastery. However, after decades of solitude, the corporation has tracked and located Vasily at his new home, sending the reformed monk on a brutal quest for revenge and redemption.
After getting some hands-on time with Redeemer at E3 2017, I almost had to be physically pried away from the controller. The game was a blast, hitting all the right notes for a brawler fan such as myself. Here are the biggest takeaways from my session:
Combat Is Deeper Than Mere Button Mashing
The brawler genre’s primary appeal, mindlessly punching the snot out of bad guys, has also been its greatest weakness. You can only mash that same hit button so many times before it grows old, especially when every enemy can be toppled in the same manner. Redeemer looks to solve that problem by offering a more refined combat system that emphasizes player skill as well as a variety of methods to put people down.
Imagine the Rocksteady Batman combat system applied to a top-down brawler. That pretty much defines Redeemer’s fisticuffs. Chaining together punches and kicks to form bone-crunching combos while performing split-second counters gives combat a similar flow to that of the Caped Crusader’s. Fighting felt great thanks to the smooth animations and transitions, as well as the satisfying sense of weight behind every blow.
Different enemy types require different tactics–players can’t mindlessly punch their way through everything. I learned that quickly after certain adversaries blocked my barrage and responded with vicious counter-attacks. One way around them is by using two special attacks that can either drop enemies directly in front of players or a ground-pound that wipes out everyone around you. Since roughly 30 enemies could be on-screen at any time, those room-clearing attacks will be valuable. When opponents are vulnerable, executions moves let players finish off the opponent in savage fashion.
Vasily can also perform stealth kills. I entered a room occupied by a couple of soldiers and snapped their necks from behind, preventing them alerting their comrades. Though not a stealth game by any stretch, I appreciate the option to quietly pick off certain foes before going in guns blazing. Speaking of which...
Guns Are Helpful (And Deadly) Extensions Of Yourself
Vasily’s fists are lethal weapons in their own right. However, that doesn’t stop him from picking up a hot piece and laying down fire. During my demo, I grabbed machine guns and mowed down targets with the tight twin-stick controls, which felt as gratifying as knocking someone’s teeth out. Players can wield arms ranging from handguns to high-tech laser rifles. Even though melee combat is Redeemer's bread and butter, gunplay didn’t feel like an out-of-place or neglected feature.
One of the slickest maneuvers in the game is a “John Wick” style move where Vasily can swiftly disarm armed foes and turn their weapons against them. Not only is the action simple to perform, but I felt like the coolest guy ever by rushing a room filled with thugs packing heat, John Wick-ing the nearest goon, then smoothly popping off rounds to the remaining guys without breaking a sweat.
Your Surroundings Are Your Best Friend
Anyone who’s watched enough Jackie Chan films knows the martial artist is nigh invincible when surrounded by objects he can use to his advantage. Vasily is no different. Deadly environmental kills that evoke Mortal Kombat in their brutality can be performed near highlighted objects. When I wasn't impaling soldiers on tree branches I used them to feed the flames of stone furnaces. Upon entering an area, I gleefully twiddled my fingers Mr. Burns-style plotting how and where I was going to make the most of my surroundings. Additionally, crates and other objects Additionally, crates and other objects and weapons (including sledgehammers and stun batons) can be picked up and hurled, which can be a life-saver when you need to attack from afar but don’t have a firearm. As the developer kept reminding me “crates are always your friend.”
The Premise And Tone Is Delightfully Dumb
In case you forgot, the game’s premise is a soldier-turned peace-loving monk who embarks on a murder rampage. The campaign's three chapters begin with Vasily taking on human soldiers and escalate to punching mutated monsters in the face. I played a section of the third chapter, which was set in a science fiction-style facility and was gunning down failed, hostile experiments with a laser cannon–while still wearing dusty monk robes. Redeemer has an absurd atmosphere and I love it. The game also sports a fair amount of style thanks to to the comic-illustrated cutscenes and exaggerated character models courtesy of Unreal Engine 4.
Redeemer’s single-player campaign consists of three chapters. A two-player horde-style Arena mode will also be present, and Sobaka Studio isn’t ruling out adding co-op play to the campaign after the game launches. I found the game to be a riot and look forward to spending 4-5 hours laying the smack down on fools. Redeemer is slated to hit PC between late summer and early fall of this year for $14.99. Console versions are being considered post-launch.