Tormentor X Punisher killed me with unkindness

Tormentor X Punisher [official site] is projected onto a wall in a dark space in San Francisco and it fills the room with “fucks”. Some are triumphant (FUCK YEAH), some are awestruck (Fuuuuuuuuuuck) and some are short, sharp exclamations of frustration or despair (fuck). Some of these come from the person playing the game, some come from spectators, and there’s another variety that come from the game itself. They are the snarling aggression of the marine character, as she tears through the hordes of hell.

“Let’s fucking do this!” she yells at the beginning of every round.

Yes, let’s.

Top-down Devil Daggers was the phrase that popped into my brain when I first played Tormentor X Punisher back at Gamescom last year. Visually, the two games have very little in common, beginning with that change of perspective but going straight through to Tormentor’s artstyle. Where Devil Daggers is nightmarishly surreal and unnerving, Tormentor is like an explosion in a blood bank that takes out the neighbouring comic book store and guts factory for good measure.

The similarities are found in the small, flat and featureless arena that is the entire playing field, and the one-hit kills that will make your play-time on each attempt brief and tense. I’ve been shanked, shot, burnt, flattened, stabbed and exploded. Whatever the specifics, demons are always the perpetrators. They’re the only other living inhabitants of the arena in solo mode (there is two-player co-op, of which more later) and they’re awful things.

Rather than spawning in a series of waves, the horrible bastards spawn in a single wave that goes on forever, as far as I can tell. They arrive via burning portals, which appear randomly across the arena floor, and at first they’re simple creatures that only have a melee attack. Soon, there are weird purple wizards that launch projectiles, shield-bearing strikers that must be attacked from the side or rear, and eventually boss monsters, which appear in a random order and have unique attacks and weak spots.

Survive for long enough and the bosses cycle, appearing two at a time.

There are only two weapons in the game and to reload either one, you have to fire the other. That’s a pretty good summary of Tormentor’s tone – you reload the shotgun by firing the machine gun, and the other way around. It’s a very silly game, tongue crammed so far into its cheek that its penetrated straight through the flesh and is flopping out the side of its head. It’s like the version of the Doom box-art come to life that I imagined when I was sixteen years old.

The small pool of monsters and lack of weapons or equipment to grab made the appeal a little short-lived back at Gamecom, but the new build, which I’ve had my mitts on at GDC, adds plenty of wrinkles to the flow of carnage. Lovely, wrinkly carnage.

First of all, while you’re still limited to two guns, they’re capable of evolving as you play. Tormentor rewards style, in the form of combos, shots bounced off walls and multi-kills, with perks. You’re not told what these are and there’s no pace-killing inventory or trait screen to manage or check them, they just change the behaviour of your weapons on the fly. Bullets start to boomerang or burn, or maybe other things that I cannot report on accurately because the screen was too busy with blood and bodyparts to understand everything that was happening.

That’s intentional. Tormentor relies on the player getting into the zone, reacting before they’ve registered the thing they’re reacting to, and playing without the comfort of a pause for thought. There’s an unusual quality to it. When I played at Gamescom I improved steadily, chasing higher scores, but at GDC I felt like I was starting again from scratch. My journey up the learning curve was slightly faster, perhaps, but I was out of practice and it showed. Acclimitisation is necessary.

Further complexities come in the form of reactive enemies. Most of them don’t last long enough to learn anything about your playstyle, but every new creature that spawns has the knowledge of the ones that came before. There’s not a great deal for them to think about, but if you play Pied Piper of Damnlyn style, as I like to do, your predictability becomes a vulnerability.

The Pied Piper method – the name is my own creation – involves holding fire and leading enemies around the map until they’ve formed a giant pursuing mob, and then cutting them down en masse. It’s a great way to rack up loads of points in one burst, because you’re rewarded for a quick series of kills, and you can double up on bonuses by facing away from the horde and firing a shotgun straight into a wall so they’re all taken out by a rebound shot.

Do it too often and they’ll figure out what your game is, single enemies splitting off from the pack and attacking from the side to avoid the massacre. Then they’ll rip your face off.

Thanks to the changes to weapons and enemy behaviour that take place in the fleeting moments between deaths, Tormentor feels larger than its constant stream of kills suggests. Add in bosses that can change the terrain of the arena, leaving walls and poison in their wake, and the layout at thirty seconds in might not resemble the layout two minutes later at all. That’s assuming you can survive for two minutes. Or thirty seconds. It’s worth repeating that the game is cruel, those one-hit kills making even the feeblest enemy as unforgiving as the mightiest boss.

In the spaces and seconds between death, I felt myself improving. Because everything resets at death and you’re starting fresh every time rather than unlocking new abilities or weapons, the progression in Tormentor is internalised. I found it almost impossible to peel myself away rather than hitting restart. As in Hotline Miami, death in Tormentor is as brief as the time it takes to push a button, and it’s hard not to think that on the next attempt you’ll survive just that little bit longer.

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31 Comments

  1. Scrote says:

    Any game that channels goatse (you know the rest) as in the first screenshot is definitely worth a look. Thanks!

  2. Shazbut says:

    I appreciate that people might like this game, but from that video I can say with assurance that I am not going to be one of those people.

    • Kolbex says:

      Yep, no thanks.

    • wcq says:

      Yeah. The trailer gives me the impression that the devs looked at Brutal Doom and decided it wasn’t HARDCORE™ enough, so they turned up the obnoxious swearing, screaming and general audiovisual loudness.

      • Troubletcat says:

        The trailer gave me the impression that the devs looked at things like BONESTORM from The Simpson and thought “Hey, it might be kind of funny to actually make a game with an aesthetic based on these weird ideas the mainstream has about the levels of violence fetishisation and general absurdity present in videogames.”

        Like, to me it comes of as very tounge-in-cheek – absolutely not a genuine attempt to make something with EDGEGRIT.

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      MajorLag says:

      It has a very Smash TV vibe with some very early 2000s wannabe-James Rolfe Let’s Player level cursing thrown in for no real reason. So yeah, I’m with you, no real interest.

      Unless it has LAN/internet multiplayer, then it could still be cool, but no one does non-local multiplayer in indie games anymore outside of Minecraft clones.

  3. K_Sezegedin says:

    Top down devil daggers? Looks more like the version of Smash TV Satan would make you play.

  4. Behrditz says:

    Holy hell that game looks completely unreadable.

  5. Sin Vega says:

    I am far too old and slow to fool myself into thinking this game would not humiliate me.

    • poliovaccine says:

      At 27 I feel spry enough for such a game, but from the video I feel too old for it for other reasons. I’ve heard people describe stuff like this before as “twitch” gameplay and between the experience and the way those guys talk about it, it reminds me of crack – as in, nauseating just to behold, but clearly some people love it.

  6. JackMultiple says:

    Surely the screen doesn’t “shake” like that in the real game, right? Or the EX-STREME CLOSE-UP(tm) and zoom-in of your score as you play, right? Tell me those are just post-production video FX just for the trailer, please? Otherwise… ARGGHHH!!! No thanks.

  7. JellyfishGreen says:

    Something in the same genre without obnoxious swearing was Kill Monty from Freeverse Games. (pause for nostalgia) Here’s a video review, gameplay starts at 1:23. I wonder if my old Mac still runs…

  8. NailBombed says:

    Yeah, this looks XXXXXXXXTREEMEE. To The MAXXXXXXX. FUXX YEAH.
    -_-. Did the 90’s ever really leave?
    The fact the ‘protagonist’s a musclebound pottymouthed woman rather than the same for a man makes little difference. I’m sure it’ll be fun in short bursts but I’d say the magic wears off fairly quickly. If only we could talk to the monsters etc.

  9. Barberetti says:

    I’ll add this (along with Devil Daggers) to my If It Ever Comes To GoG I’ll Buy It list. Love me some good old 80’s arcade style action now and again.

    Thank fuck for MAME.

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    cpt_freakout says:

    I laughed out loud at that trailer. It’s so, so ridiculous it’s charming and makes me want to play it on a big TV at a loud volume with a friend so we can laugh together. By the way, I thought you were going to talk more about the co-op but you didn’t, unless that “more of that later” was meant for another article altogether.

  11. onodera says:

    I’d rather play Crimsonland again.

  12. ansionnach says:

    Looks like a less throw-away version of this great game I used to play a lot – Phobia II. It was a simple top-down, single -screen shooter where the aliens kept coming until you were overrun. Good fun in co-op and any time you were about to die but would then find a grenade launcher and clear the screen. There was also a Phobia III, which wasn’t quite as good but it was worth a look for the menu screens. While you were out of the action you would see regular announcements from the brutal human regime telling just about everyone to report to the liquidation chambers.

    • Landiss says:

      Oh yes, Phobia. It was a great game, I really wasted a lot of time with it.

      Then there was Crimsonland, which added lots of complications to the simple concept, but it was mostly still quite good. Since then I think it’s a whole genre. I remember Total Biscuit had a WTF is… video about one in heavy-metal dressing not so long ago, last year I think.

      • ansionnach says:

        I’d never heard of Crimsonland. Took the freeware version for a spin and it’s not a patch on Phobia II. I prefer the character-relative controls of Phobia and just about everything else. Phobia is a tighter experience, things get going a lot quicker and you can’t dodge around several close enemies as easily.

        Tormentor X Punisher looks a lot tighter than these free games. I’ve never been into exploitative games that use heavy swearing, blood or anything else to attract attention but this looks like a fun, hard shooter that’s more funny than anything else.

        Thanks for the recommendation, by the way!

      • ansionnach says:

        Another fun top-down shooter was Threat, which I think was for DOS. It had three-player co-op. Definitely worth a look.

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    Robertej92 says:

    Did not think I’d ever see Goatse on the RPS front page.

  14. guy15s says:

    Reminds me of Smash TV back in the day, especially with the gratuity and the focus on getting the high score. Might have to give this a try.

  15. April March says:

    I have only a question: Does it have a shoot button?
    Because if it doesn’t have a shoot button, it looks like a brilliant and fun twin-stick shooter.
    If it does have a shoot button, though… IT IS A FAKER. DIE IN HELL, FAKER

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