Okay, Teleglitch Is Amazing(ly Hard)

By Jim Rossignol on February 22nd, 2013 at 8:00 pm.


This is the problem: there’s too much other stuff. I run a PC games site, and even I missed this one arriving late last year. And I shouldn’t have. A top-down, claustrophobic horror-shooter with procedural levels. It’s brilliant, horrifying, commanding, excruciating. We’ve posted about Teleglitch before, of course, but last night the boy Quinns told me that we hadn’t written enough about it, and that it was “a phenomenon”, like a top-down System Shock, he said. Coming back to it today, I realised I’d played a few minutes of it and become distracted, thinking to return later. Short-term memory was over-written. Forgotten. The old beta is still here, installed and abandoned on my gaming desktop. I had no idea. I grabbed the latest version and went back for the afternoon.

Well. Quinns wasn’t wrong.


Look, there’s a demo. You don’t have to bother reading my wittering.

Here are the important bits, though:

LIGHT

And dark, obviously. It’s top down, but you can only see what’s in line of sight. So there could be things lurking around that corner. There could be death. There is death. It creates a flowing world, a constant dynamic blindness to what is out there. Or what isn’t out there. You glimpse cracks of light where you can break through into secrets. Scenes open up. It’s more about negative space than what you can actually see on screen. That void and the constant play of distortion effects sell a convincing atmosphere of altered reality. It’s sketchy in the sense that it is impressionistic and pixellated, and it’s sketchy in the sense that the place as a tenuous grasp on its reality.

And it’s packed with details. These fragments of text are sometimes beautifully written. Each death message made me smile.

FEAR

We’ve been here before I think, and you are probably familiar with a similar timbre of lo-fi threat. The game is tough, and the things that come for you are fast and vicious. It batters you like Hotline Miami’s masked fuckers. And you have limited resources. It’s not just the hit-points that are going to run out, it’s everything else. Overwhelming. Overwhelmed. Quitting out, exhausted.

Then there’s something else here, the sort of dread hum of it. Games do this so well: the sort of sci-fi that works best by not explaining anything, and not really showing anything, but just doing enough to make clear that THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH EVERYTHING. That super-natural aspect of sci-fi fictions which deal with inhumanity and underlying complexities that are of a magnitude beyond our intelligence: stuff, like the alien of Alien, that is both impossibly sophisticated and bestial, or something that is both incomprehensible and liable to tear us apart in a way that we can’t even understand, like black holes. Crushed by maths: threat, the horror of unknowable, implacable forces.

PROCEDURALITY

The levels are the same and yet different. Procedural randomisation of world elements means you might learn the beat and components of a level, but you can’t learn the layout. You can’t know.

CONTROL

People will say this is like Alien Breed, of course they will, but this manages to be the game those games wish they were, whilst being even more lo-fi. It has a fraction of the fidelity of a 16-bit era Alien Breed game and yet it contains multitudes more. This game is their failed intention. The tight control of slowing and aiming with right click, firing with left, and then just turning and releasing the button and fleeing is something perfect in this kind of top-down shooter design. It feels convincing.

You also have an inventory in which you can combine found items. This is critical to how the game works: you will need some of the things you can make, and others might be a waste. I made a gun that I didn’t have ammo for. A brilliant gun, but my old gun was gone, of course. I died. Next time, I had ammo, and that gun took me to the next level. Bombs and guns and rockets: there are a lot of mad, noisey toys here. It’s loud and extremely violent. You will kill yourself with explosives. Smashed into fiery scraps.

There’s another layer of physicality there too, that is almost pointless, and is certainly unnecessary: you can push items around in world. You have weight. The world is not a static, untouchable set piece. There’s not much use for this. But it’s there. Boxes move. And it adds life.

If there’s a major downside it’s that the shapeless pixel world makes it tough to read, and it becomes hard to see what anything might be. It’s also brutal. Brutal. You will die in a corner because you ran out of ammo. You will realise you could have used X or Y to escape that situation. But you didn’t. It’s too late now.

You will plummet backwards and silently screaming down the open elevator shaft of progress through the game, because it defeated you. Procedurality lends itself to having good runs and bad runs due to circumstance, and never more so than here.

It’s going to kick my ass. There is almost no chance of my finishing it. And not just because there’s too much other stuff.

, .

80 Comments »

  1. Nickless_One says:

    neat game, but beware: it has sudden difficulty spikes

  2. dE says:

    I want to love this game, but the constant rotation screws with my motion sickness to a rather extreme degree. Is there a way to deactivate it?

    • Phantoon says:

      Your motion sickness? No, I’m afraid that’s genetic.

      • AshEnke says:

        I found it was both extremeley useful (you can navigate more precisely without having to struggle with the lack of finesse in the 9 directions of a WASD setup) and completed quite nicely the distortion effects.

        I think the game would be harder without it.

        (But I disabled the autozoom, because that screwed with my head a bit.)

      • Mirqy says:

        harsh but funny.

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    • MOKKA says:

      I think you can turn it off in the options menu.

    • Lim-Dul says:

      View Rotate: Off in the options is what you seek. It might have been introduced in a version of the game that is newer than the demo though. Not sure.

  3. jonfitt says:

    Oh this is the one they were talking about on the PCG podcast. It sounded good.

    • jonbro says:

      I was really hoping that was going to be the procedural content generation podcast. Now I want to listen to that non-existant podcast.

  4. Bhazor says:

    “Old school survival horror”
    Judging by the video I don’t think that means what you think it means.

    Edit: having played it, I can sort of see what they mean. It’s got the same kind of atmosphere as the early Resi games but really it’s far too slick and fast paced to be an “old school survival horror”. For a start I didn’t need to solve sliding tile puzzle or push a neo gothic statue through a police station for a unicorn medallion. It just strikes me as a bizarre choice to advertise with that phrase when it’s more likely to put people off than attract them.
    The game is also really really good.

    • Phantoon says:

      Resident Evil 4 launched over 8 years ago.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Who are you quoting? Oh, the video.

      It’s less Survival Horror more Smash TV Horror.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I don’t see why puzzles and survival horror are related? Sure, they work well with the horror theme, but as long as you’re managing resources carefully in a slow paced and very atmospheric game, you’ve got yourself a survival horror.

      I guess Teleglitch is too fast to really be “Horror” but it works for the “Survival” which is an important half of the equation. It’s much better at that than amnesia, actually, so maybe we should call this “Survival” and that “Horror”.

    • Premium User Badge golem09 says:

      My problem with the “Survival Horror” description is that survival horror isn’t fighting against 20 enemies at once, holding down the trigger of your gun.
      In Survival Horror I sometimes counted every single bullet I shot, and had to decide wether I not I even kill an enemy.

      • Premium User Badge Sunjumper says:

        According to that definition Teleglitch is pretty much survival horror.

        Playing the game there were many situations where I counted my self lucky if I could avoid a large area full of enemies either by being able to ignore it or sneaking past its outer perimeter. I have been counting ammo more than one time and have been running around in a cold-sweat lubricated panic knowing that any encounter with an enemy before finding a cache of supplies would be my end.

        • Premium User Badge golem09 says:

          Seems like that trailer was misleading then.
          Weird to advertise survival horror only with full frontal assault.

  5. Angel Dust says:

    I remember really liking the feel of the shooting – it had real punch and the weapons sounds were great. I might give it another spin this weekend.

    • DellyWelly says:

      The feeling of the shooting is what makes it for me, lovely and heavy, I think it’s the sounds. Totally massive. The teleglitch warpy effect when you do a bomb is also excellent. Boooom.

  6. rapchee says:

    wasn’t there supposed to be multiplayer for this? or just a planned feature? or perhaps i’m just hoping? alternatively i just like asking questions?

  7. aliksy says:

    Looks interesting…

  8. mikmanner says:

    I adore this game

  9. MOKKA says:

    Got it yesterday, it’s great. I died a lot and was pretty incompetent, but it’s great.

  10. Terics says:

    Yes ,this game is amazing. I got far enough to where the enemies were so strong that they rendered the early game weapons more or less obsolete. I love the visual effects. I think with that combined with the right click to aim make the game feels super tense and chaotic.

  11. OmNomNom says:

    Saw this on RPS months ago and played it solidly until I completed it. I’m a little upset that there is no new content tbh :’(

    • Skabooga says:

      Me too. I was straight up obsessed with this game for two weeks until I finally beat it. Now I still go back to it every now and then for fun little jaunts in random levels.

  12. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I’ve tried it several times (because it really is good) but can’t last more than 10 minutes due to my poor aiming and a sparsity of ammunition (that’s what she said last night!). I shall persevere.

    • OmNomNom says:

      The trick to it (at least early on) is ammo conservation for sure.

      Also, make sure not to miss any secret areas (usually the cracks in the wall) as thats often where the cool shit is at.

  13. Premium User Badge amateurviking says:

    It really is rather good. Go buy it.

    • OmNomNom says:

      I concur. This and FTL are my games of 2012 really.

      All the other ‘top rated’ games like Far Cry 3 or Mass Effect 3 were already done better by earlier games in the series. Seems like we have to look toward the low budget indie games developers for any originality these days.

  14. internisus says:

    Indeed, Teleglitch is outstanding. Which is why I find it maddening that the developers have still not put it on Steam Greenlight. I hope that they have some kind of inside hook-up because all of the press and youtube attention that the game has received will in a sense have been wasted if they eventually get around to it after that has all died down.

  15. Turin Turambar says:

    I like the game, but a bit too hard for me, and let’s not talk about the save system.

    • Eukatheude says:

      Is there a save system at all?

      • OmNomNom says:

        well, you can carry on where you left off… if you don’t die. None of this pussy ‘quicksave’ nonsense :)

    • JuJuCam says:

      Well it does come from Roguelike genetic stock on its mothers’ side, and that whole family is known for its inability to save at will.

      • Turin Turambar says:

        I know. Honestly, I wold prefer it being less rogue like in that sense, and more a traditional game.

  16. Premium User Badge Xantonze says:

    I like your writing Mr Rossignol, always on the edge between the technical and sensible. Don’t abuse italics though,leave it to the Dan Browns of videogame critics…

    • Premium User Badge amateurviking says:

      Italics in critical writings always remind me of Martin Amis :)

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I don’t see any reason to give up on italics just because bad writers use them. Italics are for emphasis, which is how I use them.

  17. Baines says:

    Graphics kill it for me. Not in a “I have to have Crysis 3″ way, but in a “The lo-fi graphics interfere with my ability to tell what is happening” way. Text that is harder to read than necessary, action that is harder to determine than necessary, etc.

    Maybe it helps the “horror” aspect, but people used the same excuse to defend terrible fixed camera views in early survival horror games.

    • Shooop says:

      Congradulations, you’re not a hipster.

      • JFS says:

        But if lo-fi has become a big part of the mainstream, doesn’t that make Baines exactly …. a hipster?

  18. Premium User Badge Tunips says:

    I am going to buy this game, but not until I beat the bloody demo. Nearly a dozen runs, so far.

  19. crinkles esq. says:

    The gameplay looks interesting, though I’d say more “top-down version of DOOM” than “survival horror”. The lo-fi graphics might be a bit too smeary for long-term playability.

    Odd that they bothered to make a Linux version, but not a OS X version.

  20. Crosmando says:

    It’s not hard. You are just casual.

  21. grundus says:

    Alright FINE I’ll buy it, jeez

  22. AaronLee says:

    Love this game! Glad to finally see it get some more RPS lovin’

    The game always felt compelling and solid in the way only older games do now. A full roster of enemies and discoverable items, an encyclopedia to see your progress and get hints at what to do next. An uncoverable backstory and a crapton of replayable levels.

    Most games these days feel like a single run rather then an explorable, changing world. Totally not the case here IMO

  23. JoshuaMadoc says:

    I broke this game trying to mod in new guns and recipes. I quit the game indefinitely after that out of shame.

  24. riverman says:

    once you se the black spaces as simply tall pitch black walls, you can never unsee. damn.

  25. trjp says:

    I thought the demo was OK but the game seems to like being a twat and killing your arbitrarily sometimes, which would annoy-the-hell out of me.

    I also ran into ammo shortages – and there are 2 things in games I cannot stand

    1 – being short of ammo (I’m talking to you, Resident Evil, YOU)
    2 – being expected to juggle ammo types or even buy ammo types (and that’s BioShock RIGHT in the crosshairs)

    These things deterred me from hitting the ‘buy’ button, frankly.

    • geldonyetich says:

      And yet, ammo shortages existing is what defines “survival horror” for many people. If you’ve got plenty of ammo to just indiscriminately shoot everything, it becomes an action game. That’s certainly been the complaint we’re hearing about Bioshock 3. Considering how few games seem to generate genuine ammo shortages these days, people who like that kind of survival horror are probably quite offended you’re attacking the game for having one.

      That said, there’s a trick in Teleglitch, and that’s just to get really good at meleeing. Monsters seem to have fairly predictable movement patterns, and if you’re good and practiced you can slice and dice whilst taking nary a scratch, and so save your ammo for the real threats.

      Overall, I like this game, it’s one I had thought of making from time to time – a top-down, Sci-Fi, action roguelike with some hints of System Shock. But I will say that I don’t like retreading old ground to find stashes I missed, and unfortunately I find doing so to be fairly essential to success. It’s just boring walking through old corridors with only the corpses of former threats to keep me company.

      • OmNomNom says:

        Count me offended :D

        Resources being scarce is part of the fun it means you really have to hunt for that next ammo box or gun instead of just assuming you can kill anything you come across with enough persistence.

        Juggling ammo types isn’t really a thing here, juggling weapon types is but really you can kill anything with any weapon (armoured enemies can be killed with normal guns, just requires more bullets). Are you just saying that you didn’t like having to swap weapons at all? The finding guns and building new ones out of spare parts is a large part of the RPG in this game (like Fallout) so if you don’t enjoy that maybe its better to look elsewhere.

        What I LIKE about Teleglitch is as opposed to some games that are considered quite ‘hardcore’ every time you die is your own mistake. There is no unbeatable monster that requires a trick to kill that you can only learn from dying to it a few times (a horrible gameplay construct in any game tbh).

        • trjp says:

          and there you have my problem y’see, I was being careful with ammo but on one runthrough I came into an area with a LOT of enemies and I had very little ammo – forced to flee the last couple of enemies I entered a room with a LOT more enemies.

          So I’m screwed.

          That’s “procedural generation” for you I guess – one the things which made the original DOOM so good was the way that it always seemed health and ammo were in ‘just the right place’ – and that wasn’t accidental, it was designed.

          When you throw your game open to ‘randomness’, you risk situations where the player feels cheated. Even survival horror is designed so you CAN succeed by being careful – I got the impression here that the game is happy to throw you into impossible situations sometimes and that’s annoying.

          • tangoliber says:

            Actually, that’s one of the things I love about procedural generation. No benevolent level designer gods to look out for you, which makes the experience feel manufactured to me. You have no idea if what sort of challenge might be around the corner.
            But of course, lots of procedural generation does control the difficulty and resources appropriately…
            I play procedurally generated levels in Doom all the time…I love them, and I love finding ways to survive when the ammo provided to me is not appropriate for fighting the horde I am facing.

      • AaronLee says:

        I gotta’ agree here. Part of the main dynamic of Teleglitch and other survival-action games is resource conservation and rationing. I can respect your decision not to buy if you don’t like it (as once again it’s a key concept) however.

  26. Cronstintein says:

    “Finished” the demo, pretty badass game I have to say.

  27. Radiant says:

    Nice!
    I did find an awful trick where, if you find brain killing spacetime out in the open, to lead the enemies to it and dodge out of the way.
    I did the entire first level without taking a shot!

    I still can’t find secrets. Is it where I can kind of see through the walls through a gap?
    Do I need explosives to destroy the wall?

    • geldonyetich says:

      Yes, actually. Those gaps in the walls are not a bug: throw some explosives at them to get at the secret room behind them. The sticky grenades from an AGI-1 are not enough, it has to be an explosive pack.

      However, this does not work on stacks of crates (with the rare exception) so don’t waste your explosives trying to see if there’s anything past the crates stacked at the end of the hallway.

      • njursten says:

        Actually you can just shoot them open using a projectile weapon too, like the pistol. Takes a few shots, though.

  28. der_Zens0r says:

    I truly want to love that game. I see the potential it has, but its not playable for me because of the pixels! Sorry, but the graphics are just bad. Everything would be fine if has a proper resolution and no textures at all, just different colors. But the way it is, I just cant stand it. :(

    • Advanced Assault Hippo says:

      I agree, it’s almost a bit *too* knowingly retro for its own good. The idea is strong enough in itself – it seems a decent showcase for a future version of itself.

      I find it’s been hamstrung a bit. I’m not going to buy it, I’ll just view the demo as an interesting oddity and move on I think.

    • AaronLee says:

      I personally applaud the lo-fi style. It’s minimalism in practice and it’s the same reason I fell in love with minecraft. I guess one man’s feature is another man’s bug.

  29. tangoliber says:

    Great game, and a well executed concept that would work well as an FPS.

  30. carlthuringer says:

    The one thing that infurates me about Teleglitch: Is it Windows only, or does it support the Mac?

    I’m just going to assume it’s Windows only.

  31. TSA says:

    So, where’s coop?

  32. Brian Rubin says:

    Thank you for this article. Two days after I read it and then tried the demo, I purchased the full version. It’s just too damned good.

  33. Leonard H. Martin says:

    After 15 failed attempts to complete level 1 in the demo, I’m thinking this is not the game for me.

  34. Flea says:

    I don’t know. I keep trying to make myself like these games and play these games, but I just don’t understand why in 2013 we’re DELIBERATELY making games look like it’s 1986. And more importantly, these games get great reviews when really they’re not THAT good. They’re just from another time and they make us remember that time, but really they’re not THAT good.

    I mean, what was so terribly wrong with making this game look like it’s actually made in this century instead of a dozen squares chasing a square of different color? It could have still been a top down game, but with better graphics, shaders, and still have the same playability. It would even be able to look and feel scarier, which is the ultimate goal of this game.

    Maybe I’m missing something. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a gamer since 1984 and the times of ZX Spectrum, I’ve gone through a crapload of games, I’ve seen gaming then, I know gaming now. I so respect the old games, I have copies of them, some of them I replay… but I can’t for the life of me make myself play something that is trying so hard to look like it’s made on a 30 year old computer.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      Abstraction is not always bad. As someone (I’m 24) who wasn’t gaming much when games looked like Teleglitch, it has no real faux-nostalgia for me, yet I still really love the art style. I grant you, I do often find retro-y games offputting when they are pixelated simply because the assets are easier to create, which has become something of a trend in the last few years.

      But in this case, I think the pixelation is good. The unknown is scarier than the known, and I feel like Teleglitch’s creator did a great job suggesting horror just enough to let your brain pick up the theme and run with it; the ease of asset creation probably did play into the decision for the aesthetic too because complex assets take time to make, but in this case I don’t mind simply because it’s executed well.

      Besides, wouldn’t it be boring if every game out there was just chasing photorealism? I’d like to see more games with more abstraction, though branching out from abstraction-as-rave and abstraction-as-pixels would be nice.

      • tomeoftom says:

        I agree with this completely. For instance, compare the Zerg in StarCraft 1 vs 2 – the horrible, bug-like grain of the low-res sprites works far better than the full 3D models; mostly because it implies a physiological complexity and mystery which is intrinsically repulsive.

  35. tomeoftom says:

    Just finished it. Really, really stoked with it. Fantastic game and well worth the ten bucks or whatever it was. So much tension and intensity for the duration of the (actually pretty extensive) narrative. They just absolutely nailed the bleak techno-horror feel. It’s genuinely fucking frightening on many occasions, and every time the shit hits the fan it’s so desperate and exciting. Totally brilliant.

  36. SabreWolf says:

    I’m sorry, but i will never find a harder game than VVVVVV. Veni Vidi Vici