There are those that’d argue that the Playstation Vita is slowly coming to the end of its days, especially since Sony confirmed that they’d ceased production on any AAA titles for the handheld. Sure, there are still plenty of indie releases, but most of those aren’t exclusive. There are certainly a lack of new exclusive titles that make the Vita a ‘must own’ handheld.
Enter Severed, the latest release from long-time Vita supporters DrinkBox Studios. Whilst we’ve seen previous DrinkBox Studios titles like ‘Guacamelee’ and ‘Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!’ on multiple formats, Severed has been built from the ground up exclusively for the Playstation Vita. It may well be the last ‘big’ exclusive title for the Playstation Vita, but at least it’s going out with a bang – Severed is great fun from start to finish.
Severed casts you in the role of Sasha, a young girl who awakens to find her home in ruins and her family missing. Unaware of what’s gone on, Sasha has an even bigger shock when she looks at herself in the mirror – her left arm has been ‘severed’. Luckily she gets armed with a living sword that helps her on her journey through the bizarre land as she looks to seek out her family and find an answer to the mysteries that surround her.
DrinkBox Studios’ titles have typically been laced with humour, but Severed has serious undertones from start to finish. It’s oozing with the studio’s trademark vibrant style, but it’s more of a dark game as opposed to their previous releases. It’s certainly a different approach, but it’s paid off – there’s a great emotional story on offer here and the sullen vibes of the game allow DrinkBox the freedom to make a grotesquely haunting world.
Severed’s gameplay is very reminiscent of the classic old-school dungeon crawler RPGs that were popular back in the 80s. Everything takes place from a first person perspective with movement restricted to turning left and right and moving forward. You don’t have the full freedom to explore though, instead transitioning from room to room on a map that is represented by a grid. Each room allows you to look around it fully, but you’ll always be stuck in one position in that specific area.
Whilst this style of play might sound unusual to those who haven’t played any old-school dungeon crawlers, it’s actually really fun. It takes away the need to fill each nook and cranny of an area with unnecessary junk, instead offering the player areas that are carefully designed to only show you what you actually need to see. That’s not to say they aren’t littered with detail though – Severed features stunning environments packed to the brim with oddities.
You’ll want to get used to your surroundings though as you’ll be trekking through them a lot. You’ll unlock plenty of new abilities or find new items that’ll allow you passage through areas that might’ve been inaccessible earlier in the game, forcing you to backtrack through previously explored areas. Backtracking is never really that fun in a game, but at least the environments in Severed are great to look at. There are plenty of puzzles to solve along the way too, so you’re constantly engaged rather than doing nothing.
Of course, you’re not just restricted to exploration and puzzle solving in Severed – the game features combat that takes full advantage of the Playstation Vita’s touch screen. The touch screen mechanics were going to make or break the game for me, so it’s fortunate that they’ve been integrated flawlessly into the game.
Combat consists of swiping your finger across the Vita’s screen, each swipe representing a slash of your sword. Enemies will fight back, but there’s no dodge mechanics in the game. Instead, there’s a cool-down timer that shows when your enemy is going to attack and then it’s up to you to swipe in the direction of their incoming blow, setting up a counter-move that will make the enemy vulnerable to an onslaught of slices. Miss their attack though and you’ll take damage instead.
Whilst the mechanic itself seems simple enough, it can actually get pretty complex during some encounters in the game. When you’re only up against one enemy it’s fairly easy to take them down, but when you’re up against multiple enemies at once it’s a real test of your timing and perseverance. You’re also constantly working your fingers – Severed brought on the sort of finger-fatigue I haven’t felt since the five hour group sessions I used to have with Guitar Hero. I won’t complain too much though, since the combat is so damn fun.
If you can keep up a combo of attacks without getting hit yourself you’ll fill up your ‘sever’ meter. Once full, you’ll be able to hit your enemy with a special attack that will give you the chance to slice their limbs off. It’s brutal, but hey, Sasha can’t be the only one with a limb-less disadvantage in the game. It’s more than just thoughtless savagery though, as enemies limbs are the currency used to upgrade Sasha’s stats and abilities.
You can spend limbs to upgrade things like Sasha’s health, abilities, combat skills and even the equipment you unlock as you progress through the game. Each different piece of equipment in the game has its own unique skill tree too, allowing you the freedom to fully customise Sasha to suit your own play style. If you want to bump up Sasha’s health that’s up to you, but if you’d rather focus on her abilities to ‘sever’ her opponent’s limbs then that’s you prerogative.
Severed’s combat is great fun, but the game makes losses feel like they lack consequence by simply sending you straight back to just before the battle if you’re defeated. Whilst checkpoints are common place in video games, having one right before each battle was a little too forgiving. It took the tension out of what could’ve been tight battles when I knew that each defeat would only cost me a few swipes of my finger.
I’ve always been a fan of the worlds that DrinkBox Studios create in their video games and they’ve really excelled themselves with Severed. Each area is vibrant, both full of colour and full of life. The world around you actually feels alive – I mean that in the literal sense too, seeing as one of the doorways you travel through is part of a beast itself.
Severed features the traditional well trodden locations such as temples, forest and caves, yet there’s no sense of familiarity given DrinkBox Studio’s skills at crafting beautiful, unique worlds. This may well be their finest work yet – it’s dark, it’s eerie and it stuck in my mind even after completing the game’s roughly seven hour story. Just look at the screenshots in this review, the game looks sublime.
With Severed DrinkBox Studios have taken an old-school genre and modernised it with their own unique twist. It’s an excellent example of what could be created if more developers took advantage of some of the Vita’s underutilised features. I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of touch screen games, but Severed is just a little bit special.
The world is as stunning as it is grotesque, combat is simple yet intense and the story is sullen and keeps you hooked in right until the finale. There’s a few issues that see Severed fall short of being a masterpiece, but it’s still an excellent title that simply shouldn’t be ignored. Just expect your fingers to wilt away and die after over-extended use – even typing this review has been painful after my time swiping away with Severed…
– A stunning, haunting world that’s a treat to explore
– Intuitive combat that uses the Vita’s touch screen perfectly
– A fantastic emotional story that hooks you in until the end
– Losses in battle feel inconsequential