WRITHE doesn’t try to over-complicate the first-person shooter genre with intricate mechanics or over-the-top set pieces, with it instead offering a simpler experience that feels a lot more old-school with its focus on running, gunning, and trying to survive. I mean, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and blast your way through a bunch of ruthless and monstrous grubs without having to worry about much else, right?
Well… apart from getting eaten by them, of course.
Mission Ctrl Studios’ debut release sees players battling through hordes of endless grubs across one of three different levels, with the goal being to survive for as long as possible. You’re well-armed for the job too, with the player dual-wielding both a shotgun and a plasma rifle as they blast through their worm-like foes, whilst they’re nimble enough to jump their way around in order to find a safe route across the environment without getting surrounded (believe me, this isn’t as easy as it might sound). You run around, you blast grubs to smithereens, you earn upgrades during each run, and then you die, with your score then being shared on a global leaderboard to see how you compare with the other WRITHE exterminators of the world.
It makes for a simple gameplay experience, but it’s one that’s surprisingly tense in design. See, the grubs are relentless in their pursuit of you and will spawn from different areas of each map, meaning you’ve got to be CONSTANTLY shooting and CONSTANTLY moving if you hope to survive. Stay still for too long? You can expect to be surrounded fast and see your health bar whittle down quite quickly.
Fortunately, the three levels are really well designed and bring with them their own characteristics. The Jungle level is quite open so there’s plenty of room to run around freely, the Factory has a bigger emphasis on verticality and taking higher ground, whereas the Rundown level is a bit more confined with tighter areas to navigate through. Wherever you are, there are always multiple routes to take as you try to escape from the grubs’ wrath and get the upper hand with a constant blasting of gunfire. They all adopt a neat 90s style aesthetic too, which is something I was a big fan of.
There are three variants of grub to face off against: a standard grub that just tries to attack you, a blue grub that’ll explode and causes extra damage, and a vicious orange grub that’s faster and can take more damage. Those orange grubs are a real pain, but they only come from the eggs that spawn across the map – it’s imperative that you destroy those as soon as you see them, because honestly, having a couple of orange grubs pursuing you can quickly see your run come to an end. Besides, the eggs drop health pick ups when destroyed, so it’s definitely worth taking them all out when you see them anyway.
Whilst WRITHE is fun to play and certainly addictive, there isn’t a whole lot of strategy to the experience outside of simply running and gunning. The grubs come from all directions so it’s not really safe to try running backwards to fight them off, they’re always pursuing you so you can’t really trick the AI to get an advantage over them, whilst you only ever have the two weapons at hand so there’s nothing else you can use to take them down quicker. It really is a very simple experience, which might see some players grow a little tired of it after an hour or two of play. It’s really tough too… it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by enemies and there’s not always a whole lot you can do about it.
It would be something if there was some sort of permanent upgrade system in place, but you’ll only earn upgrades to your weapons after killing a set amount of grubs during a run; these upgrades will then disappear after you’ve died, so there’s nothing to progress towards to make each run a little easier for you. Sure, you do unlock new pieces of lore for the game’s narrative as you kill more and more grubs in each run, but this wasn’t really an element of the game that I felt all that invested in – even IF it was clear that the development team did put some thought into establishing a tale behind the history of the grubs.
Still, despite a lack of incentive to progress, I still found myself constantly having ‘one more go’ of WRITHE after each death. There’s something satisfying about lasting that bit longer in each run or earning an additional upgrade to help dispose of the grubs with ease, whilst blasting the worm-bastards to pieces and seeing their remains splatter across the map was grossly amusing. It was fun to play around with some of the graphical filters too, with the ‘Retro’ filter making WRITHE feel even more like it has come straight out of the early 90s and the ‘CRT’ filter making it feel like you’re playing it on an old TV. They’re cool little extras that fit the tone of the game perfectly.
WRITHE might not be the most intricate of shooters and it does lack a sense of progress, but that doesn’t stop it from being a whole lot of fun to play. Sure, it’s tough as nails and you’ll die a LOT, but there’s something pleasantly addictive about trying to survive the wrath of the endless hordes of grubs and blasting them to smithereens with your souped-up weaponry.
Add to that a really neat old-school aesthetic and you’ll quickly find that WRITHE is a cool little shooter that does enough to keep players coming back for ‘one more go’.
Developer: Mission Ctrl Studios
Publisher: Mission Ctrl Studios
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)