Review: Death’s Gambit (PS4)

Review: Death's Gambit (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Death’s Gambit
Format: PSN (916.85 MB)
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Developer: White Rabbit
Original MSRP: $19.99 (US), £15.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
The opening crawl of Death’s Gambit is deceptive in the way it reassures the player that progression will not be impossibly frustrating. Shortly thereafter, the boss fights are introduced and while it certainly serves the player to study the enemy’s movements and tells, the only thing I mastered was pressing ‘retry’. While I understand that drawing comparisons to Dark Souls has become an industry faux pas, I would only recommend Death’s Gambit to those who can tolerate a Soulsian difficulty.

To differentiate itself though, Death’s Gambit is a 2D, Metroidvania style platformer with RPG inspired skill paths, leveling, and class systems. I chose the Soldier class at the outset of my playthrough because the attributes were well rounded and I could not yet predict the style of gameplay I would lean toward. Starting a second save file as the Assassin for comparison’s sake would prove to me the game’s ability to present notable differences.

One design choice that does actually take into consideration the player’s patience is the forgiving checkpoint system. The statues at which Sorun, your protagonist, finds respite are frequent and I always had enough currency to buy back my Phoenix Plumes (health replenishment items) if I could not or would not collect them from the area I’d last died.

Review: Death's Gambit (PS4)

An interesting risk/reward system presents itself through Sorun’s ability to sacrifice his Phoenix Plumes in favor of dealing more damage. Without the debilitating effects of losing hours of progress upon death, the player is encouraged to attempt tackling tough bosses with either technique.

Regardless of the combat route you choose, the factors that remain consistent are the deliberate commitment of the time consuming attacks which cannot be canceled and the delicate balance of the stamina bar. Successful bouts with the game’s enemies will depend on proficiency in these areas. Button mashing isn’t a viable option as combat demands careful calculation.

The magic of modern video games lies partly in the freedom with which developers have been approaching the tone and depth of a narrative. Games like God of War and Dead Cells can both employ humor where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it while the former is unwavering in its focus on story and the latter barely presents the player with explanations. Games are often praised for not taking themselves too seriously but there is also room for stories on the other end of the spectrum like the one in Death’s Gambit.

Sorun has already died in battle and the demands of the Grim Reaper-esque character responsible for his resurrection drive our actions. Backstory is revealed through flashbacks and memories, some of them eerie snapshots of Sorun’s childhood. Unnerving gothic overtones dominate the atmosphere and illustrate an impossible journey ahead.

Confusion, despair, and defeat turn into triumph, ascendency, and actualization throughout Death’s Gambit by way of impactful dialogue, striking characters, and insurmountable objectives. The level design demands skillful platforming and riding your trusty steed almost seems like a reward for conquering each segment. The difficulty involved in freeing up the path for your horse serves to build a relationship between the characters and a vested connection for the player.

Review: Death's Gambit (PS4) Review: Death's Gambit (PS4)

Death’s Gambit is however not without flaw, though. While some games eventually become characterized by their uniquely clunky controls or inexplicable jank, these factors serve only to detract from this title’s fluidity and charm. By comparison to some of the games I’ll mention below, it becomes apparent that intuitive movement is a must for this style of game and its absence here hinders the experience as a whole.

Visuals:
Since the beginning of the retro renaissance, developers have been creating increasingly beautiful pixel art visuals and Death’s Gambit is no exception. While the technology of our consoles becomes more impressive and graphical fidelity inches closer to photo realism, the concept of an art style that pays homage to games of old is always welcome.

Modern amenities allow even this 32-bit aesthetic the capability of conveying human emotion. Working in conjunction with the atmospheric doom, the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night-inspired visuals create a sort of gothic horror uncommon in games.

Audio:
Utilizing a technique that is common in RPGs with heavy dialogue, only some lines are voiced. Those that are performed seem intent on preserving the player’s immersion and perpetuating the gravitas of the lore. Large images of the speaking character complement the conversations, clarifying what probably shouldn’t be described as plain language.

The music that accompanies Sorun on his journey is as foreboding as the adventure itself. The soundtrack doesn’t let the player forget that he/she is on a hapless quest for the likes of Death himself. The composition builds appropriately and befittingly falls alongside Sorun’s misfortune.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Review: Death's Gambit (PS4)

Conclusion:
Death’s Gambit will likely become lost amongst the onslaught of Metroidvania style games released this summer. The last few months have been packed with quality titles of the same genre be they brand new or rereleased on other platforms. The unfortunate truth for Death’s Gambit is that there are simply much better offerings of similar ilk in this loaded window.

Unlike the perilous platforming of Guacamelee! 2 or the hopeless world navigation of Hollow Knight, the grueling difficulty of Death’s Gambit comes by way of combat strategy and patient parrying. With that in mind, this title is certainly capable of capitalizing upon a niche within the genre. Which type of Metroidvania fan are you?

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
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It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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