What do you get when you take two parts Grand Theft Auto, a spoonful of Blade Runner and a sprinkle of frustration? A recipe for assassination so sweet it would bring a tear to Boba Fett’s eye.
Metrocide, a noir top-down hit-man simulator created by indie developer Flat Earth Games, is aesthetically reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto of gaming’s past. Players follow T.J. Trench (alliteration makes everything better) as he takes out unsuspecting contracts in order to obtain enough cash to escape the slummy city the game is set in. Gang members, vigilantes and everyday citizens are all up for target. However, although you have the goods to take down whatever comes your way, everyone you encounter can just as easily snuff you out. The only catch is once you’re dead… you’re dead – no checkpoints, you don’t retain your money and your weapon will always revert back to the seemingly useless starter pistol you get stuck with. So you better be good.
Three levels make up the early access game that we played, and each of them comes with an increase in difficulty. Obstacles in Metrocide come in many shapes and sizes; from the gun-toting vigilantes that could be disguised as any regular citizen, to the Robo Cop-voiced patrol drones that spell certain death for anybody who gets on their bad side. It is your task to not only take out each contract, but do it with grace and precision; a challenge much harder than you might imagine.
For example, try to kill somebody on a crowded sidewalk? Random citizen goes all Blue Angels and blows you away. Dead; start over; you learned the hard way. Next life, successfully ice a guy on a deserted street and hide the body in a sewer. A surveillance unit spots you, notifies the authorities and the next time one sees you… boom! Dead without a moment’s notice. Again, you’ll be wiser from the altercation, but tell that to your declining ego.
Eventually, your kills will begin to far surpass your deaths and there’ll be a rare moment wherein you complete a contract quickly and quietly. Not only does this get you one step closer to freedom, but it also makes you feel like an actual assassin – trained mostly by your past failures. Never have we played a game that so closely walks the line between making its players go from feeling like a dumb ass to making them feel like a hard ass, and then back again. Frustration is expertly mixed with delight in a beautiful way, and the only aspect that separates the two emotions is the player’s decisions and overall execution of those choices.
Our prayers have finally been answered: a game about mindless killing that isn’t so… well, mindless.
This title of diligent decision making is complemented with a myriad of extra guns and tools to help you with your missions and very different strategies that suit each. The saying “you have to spend money to make money” rings its truest in this game, as spending a bit of your hard-earned cash can make the experience all the more easier. For example, if you are spotted committing a crime and are wanted by the cops, all you have to do is spend a few hundred dollars to wipe yourself off the radar. This is a great way to lessen the impact of mistakes while still setting you back when you make them. This trial and error, back-and-forth of skill above money creates an insanely addicting experience where you’ll be begging for just one more try. Twenty tries later you’ll beat the level and be on your way, still refusing to take a break.
Despite failed attempt after failed attempt – resulting in painfully quick deaths – the disappointment of dying multiple times over in Metrocide is eclipsed by the most uplifting success you’ve ever felt upon finally completing a contract. It’s this experience that makes the game what it is, and gives it the personality and appeal any enjoyable title should have.
Apart from that, the controls are basic, but effective. A simple WASD control scheme dictates T.J.’s movement, while the mouse is used to control aiming, holstering and firing weapons – pretty standard stuff.
One of the more standout aspects of Metrocide, besides its gameplay, is the level design. If the screenshots didn’t make it apparent enough, this game has a very strong cyberpunk feel to it. Rain showers, laser blasts and futuristic vehicle design( everything flies in the future!) give way to a Blade Runner–esque atmosphere. This is supported by intricate details that give the game its own personality. Mangled dog corpses, potholes and neon nightclubs litter the cityscape. Players can feel the poverty and despair within each pixel, and although this might not be the best example of pixel art in an industry obsessed with the familiar retro style, it does hold its own.
Flat Earth then kicks it up a notch with Metrocide’s sound design; giving players the full sensory treatment. The constant rain is accompanied by looming thunderclaps; vehicles whir by overhead, only to fade away in the distance; and the booming thump of nightclubs in the distance grow louder as T.J. nears them. Although there isn’t a common soundtrack throughout (from what we could hear), the atmospheric sound effects are far more appreciated in a game that does such a wonderful job of making the player feel so close to the action. The noises of this grimy city paired with Flat Earth’s attention to detail intertwine to a tee. If smell-o-vision was invented, we have no doubt that the aroma of polluted air and soggy garbage would be filling our nostrils.
Replayability was clearly taken into account during the development of Metrocide, as each stage has a score attack and a few other modes we wouldn’t want to spoil for you all. There‘s also a leaderboard system so you can see how poorly you’ve done in comparison to all of the other cyber assassins in the world.
Speaking of which, expect to see speedrunners fighting to be the quickest killers. The three-stage system and ability to gain money quickly with subtle kills will give a fun challenge to any serious gamer.
Metrocide is a thoughtful, addictive, luring experience whose call for skill and thin line between success and failure will have you screaming one second and smiling the next. Above all else, the game is insanely fun and easy to just pick up and play. If you have more restraint than us (believe us, you do), there’ll be no problem simply messing around for 30 minutes and being completely immersed. However, if you’re more of a perfectionist, the hours will fly by as you fight for the quickest time and best score.