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.