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Cyberpunk beat 'em up Spine wants to be Sifu meets John Wick

We chat to the devs about their upcoming action game

A woman holds up a gun as she prepares to fight a group of guards in Spine
Image credit: Nekki

Tonight's PC Gaming Show: Most Wanted stream may have been mostly focused on games we already knew about, but there were a couple of surprises hidden away in there, too. One of them was Spine, an upcoming action game that asks the question: what if Sifu also had guns? The new gameplay trailer shows street artist heroine Redline punching, kicking and shooting her way through a cyberpunk-themed world of thugs and armoured guards, and her fancy footwork and the equally agile camera framing looks like it could be quite the combo when it eventually comes out in 2025. Alas, the trailer doesn't give away much else, but I spoke to developers Nekki ahead of tonight's showcase to find more about it, and how it's taking direct inspiration from Sifu and John Wick to become the next big cinematic beat 'em up.

The eponymous Spine is hard to miss. Latched onto the back of Redline's bright pink and black jacket, this AI combat implant is "a character of its own," chief operating officer and producer Dmitry Pimenov tells me. It will guide and talk to Redline as she goes about her personal vengeance quest to rescue her brother from the game's autocratic AI government, and it will also help her out in combat, providing visual, Spidey-sense-style alerts when she needs to dodge incoming fire, and unlock new abilities for her as their relationship grows and the pair become more attuned to each other.

Cover image for YouTube videoSPINE — Official Gameplay Trailer

The halo of Spidey-like exclamation marks I see during a very early gameplay presentation aren't a coincidence, either. During our chat, Pimenov directly references Insomniac's Marvel Spider-Man games as one of their chief inspirations, along with Slocap's Sifu, the work of John Woo, as well as other action films such as John Wick, The Matrix and Equilibrium. "It's a superhero experience like in Spider-Man where you move between different opponents and feel overpowered," he says. "And then Sifu, we take some of the movie aesthetics from games like this, and John Wick, we like its close-quarter gun choreography."

Yes, he does use the term "gun fu" to describe Spine's overall vibe, but don't judge him too harshly for that. In action, Spine looks like it could be quite the spectacle (even if some of the very early and extremely work in progress footage I see during my presentation makes it clear there's still a lot of work left to go on the game, despite the polished choreography seen in its new trailer). Pimenov says it will have a "casual learning curve", too, which he hopes will make it feel more approachable than its main inspirations - something the studio have no doubt honed over the last 20 years with their string of mobile-based fighting games.

A woman shotguns a guard inside an office building in Spine
Image credit: Nekki

In the early build I see, for example, Redline can fire a pistol at her opponents from afar, but it's the up close and personal martial arts combat where Spine hits hardest. Executing a takedown will see the camera swoop in close with cinematic flair, and it will follow the careening arc of goons being thrown to the ground before slow mo pausing as Redline shoots them point blank in the side of their skull. A little gratuitous, perhaps, but without any wider context on the exact nature of Redline's revenge quest, it's hard to know whether this excessive violence will retain its peppy entertainment value, or become a miserable Last Of Us-style brutality fest. I should also note my demo had no sound either, so I was merely watching this all unfold as a cold and clinical observer.

For now, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, as the rest of its combat looked very light on its feet and frequent camera angle changes to side-on and top-down to help liven things up. In addition to punches and kicks, Redline can also steal enemy weapons to turn them on their owners. In one sequence, she deftly kickflips an enemy's shotgun up into the air before catching and firing it in one single, smooth motion. It's impressive stuff - the kind of cool, John Wickery you'd hope to see in a beat 'em up like this - although it sadly doesn't look like she'll hang onto these additions to her arsenal permanently, as in the next scene she just had her pistol again. Redline can also utilise her spray cans to unleash a circular blast of graffiti paint, dazing nearby enemies so she can leap out of danger. She can also use them to deface government signs as part of an ongoing sidequest in the game, Pimenov says, and they're looking at working with some real-life graffiti artists to help design some of the game's tag art.

A woman walks across a cyberpunk-themed rooftop in Spine
A woman prepares to throw a bottle at a guard in Spine
Image credit: Nekki
A woman throws a guard to the ground and steals their gun in Spine
Image credit: Nekki

The environments look pleasingly destructible, too, with sniper fire shattering floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Pimenov adds that Redline will also be able to pick up other objects lying around to throw them at her opponents, such as chairs, tables and bottles, but sadly this was turned off during my demo. "What good is an action game about gun fu if it won't feature destruction?" he says.

Between missions, Redline will return to a kind of hub location located in an abandoned hotel in the old part of the game's city, which Pimenov describes as being "like the spaceship in the [Star Wars] Jedi series". This ramshackle, graffiti-covered warren is the home of the local rebels, he continues, "who think that personal freedoms matter much more than safety and comfort". It's functional, in other words, and in addition to talking to NPCs to get new missions, Redline will also be able to upgrade her Spine here, and train in the shooting range.

It's still early days for Spine, but Pimenov says the team has great ambitions to build out its universe far beyond this initial beat 'em up game. There's already a web comic available to fill in some of Spine's back story, and "if everything goes successfully, we'll create a sequel, DLC, and think about spin-offs," he says. For now, though, all eyes are focused on that 2025 release window. Here's hoping Spine can stick the landing when it eventually comes out.

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Katharine Castle avatar

Katharine Castle

Editor-in-chief

Katharine is RPS' editor-in-chief, which means she's now to blame for all this. After joining the team in 2017, she spent four years in the RPS hardware mines. Now she leads the RPS editorial team and plays pretty much anything she can get her hands on. She's very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests, but also loves strategy and turn-based tactics games and will never say no to a good Metroidvania.

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