The Bullet Hell Of Isaac: Deathstate

Deathstate [official site] is dangerous. Set in and around Miskatonic University’s library, it’s part Binding of Isaac and part bullet hell shooter. As anyone who’s ever tried to check a flesh-bound tome out of the stacks at Miskatonic can tell you, the areas ‘in and around’ the library include several shuddering dimensions folding onto our own reality. You’ll move through them, controlling your chosen character with a single stick while they automatically launch magicks at any monstrous sorts that approach. It’s packed with unlocks that have delicious flavour text and it’s a dangerous game because I want to spend all day playing it and that is not what today is for.

Using a controller, the left stick moves you around the screen and the right stick activates a speedy dodge. Special abilities are activated using the face buttons and they take the form of screen-clearing mega-rituals as well as the quaffing of unidentified potions. Your main weapon fires automatically at the closest enemy on the screen, which introduces an element of tactical positioning. I’ve only played the first few (randomised) levels but there are already enemies designed to exploit the control system – speedy skeletons rush forward and absorb your fire, redirecting it from the projectile-hurling bastards at the back of the pack.

The bestiary has 40 spaces to unlock so I’m hoping for around four themed groups of monstrosities. The first area has undead blighters as well as some lovingly Lovecraftian geometrical horror-shapes. Things get a little fishier later on, judging by the trailer.

I might not be able to spend a day with Deathstate but I’ll be returning to it this weekend. It’s paced just right for me – not so fast as to be overwhelming, allowing me to learn patterns and make positional mistakes rather than simply relying on my reflexes. I find the player characters’ hitboxes a little difficult to read at the moment but that’ll come with time, no doubt. The most important thing is that the core loop of shooting, dodging and collecting works superbly, and there’s always something new waiting for me at the end of a run.

It’s also important to note that the entire game looks like it’s being streamed from a cursed VHS tape. Deathstate is out now for Windows and Mac from Steam for £9.89.

14 Comments

  1. Nevard says:

    I can see what they were going for but those levitating static poses with weapons similarly orbiting the character are really unappealing.

  2. Doghaus says:

    Sorry not directly related to this game (which looks entertaining in a bullet helly/Nuclear Throney kind of way) but:

    Does anyone know of any up-current “serious” mythos titles that are in the works or have been released? It seems as though a lot of recent titles that use the mythos setting do so in a comedic or “silly” way (Eldritch, this game, Cthulhu Saves the World etc). I prefer my Lovecraft played straight, any suggestions?

    • tormos says:

      Clockwork empires (by the people who made Dungeons of dredmor) is in early access now and is attempting to get at least some eldritch horror feelings into a colonial simulation game. It’s definitely slightly goofy in general but the approach to Eldritch Mysteries is a lot more pragmatic and interesting than the “isn’t Cthulu cute” genre. For example, a major tradeoff in your decisionmaking is that allowing Cults to form and spread will generate cheap happiness (because cultists tend to be irrationally happy) but also comes with its own downsides (because cults tend to murder people). I’m honestly not sure if this is exactly what you’re looking for but it seems like it comes closer than the stuff you’re complaining about. (also the game’s in early access right now and I am holding off buying it until the full version is released so this information is garnered mostly from previews and player tales.)

    • Turkey says:

      I’ve been tempted to try out Elder Sign: Omens on steam. It’s basically a digital version of the board game by Fantasy Flights.

    • Doghaus says:

      Brill, thanks for tips – will definitely check out Clockwork Empires. I’m a fan of Arkham Horror – would love a PC version of that, so Elder Sign: Omens looks like it’d scratch that itch.

    • neckro23 says:

      Darkest Dungeon isn’t explicitly a “mythos” game, but the Big Baddie is obviously an Elder God analog, along with the accompanying death-cultists and dangerous arcane arts.

      (Cthulhu is the new zombies, at least in video games.)

    • JB says:

      That Which Sleeps [ link to kickstarter.com ] is a strategy game that involves elder gods, it’s been Kickstarted and will be out at some point next year I think. Worth a look if you like the idea of being an elder god and pulling strings from behind the scenes while you awaken and get strong enough to devour the world.

  3. amateurviking says:

    The header image made me think immediately of excellent SNES game ZOMBIES ATE MY NEIGHBOURS. But it’s not like that. At all

    :'(

  4. clippa says:

    Took me 50 minutes to beat this. I wouldn’t bother. “Bullet hell” it is not.

    • Arion says:

      If you’ve unlocked Planar Altars you can take on hard mode. Try activating as many as possible in one run and see what happens!

  5. Assirra says:

    Bullet Hell? Since when was shooting 1 line of small bullets considered bullet hell?
    Search for “Danmaku” and check the first image. THAT is bullet hell.

  6. Zev747 says:

    Since the only people who post on articles like these are ones with negative things to say, I’d like to pose an opposite viewpoint.

    My roommate and I were stuck playing this game for hours; it’s quite addictive. The difficulty scales well, being quite easy in the beginning and becoming harrowing around halfway through. You feel like it’s your fault when you die, not the game’s. Your average player won’t last through World 2. The people complaining about “easy” difficulty are people who find most video games easy, so don’t assume you will have the same experience; they represent about 1% of people I’ve seen play this game. I watched a lot of Let’s Plays and streams the day it came out. They’re also ignoring most of what makes this game fun; the crazy variety of items/pickups, the atmosphere & music that gets eerier the farther you go, the oodles and oodles of unlocks, the secrets… I could go on.

    I think this game is worth a solid look, not just a cursory pass because it doesn’t fit someone’s extremely high standards of difficulty.

  7. workinman says:

    Developer here.

    It’s awesome and surreal to see our game up on RPS. Thank you for the super positive article Adam, I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed DS so far!

    We’re proud of the game and want to support it, so if you (or anyone) have feedback just let us know and we’ll work to make this the best little creepy-shooter-roguelike-thing it can be. Thanks again!