Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Ice Station” by Matthew Reilly), I thought that I’d take a look at a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for a while. I am, of course talking about an indie game from 2016 called “Devil Daggers” (V.3, I think), which I happened to notice was on special offer on GOG several days before I prepared this review.
So, let’s take a look at “Devil Daggers”. However, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some mild gameplay SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) BLOODY IMAGES.
“Devil Daggers” is a minimalist 1990s-influenced first-person shooter game and, in true ’90s tradition, there isn’t much of a story. You play as an unnamed person who finds a mysterious hovering dagger in a gloomy room. When you pick it up, you are transported to an arena in hell where skeletal monsters constantly attack you. There is no end, no victory. Only survival until cold, inevitable death.
One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 1990s/ early-mid 2000s FPS games then you’ll really enjoy it. Not only does it do some innovative stuff with a familiar formula, but it is also a game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, like a lot of great classic games, the emphasis is very firmly on the actual gameplay.
And what gameplay it is! In essence, this game is a stripped-down version of a classic ’90s shooter, with the player only having a small number of attacks (eg: a continuious fire mode and a shotgun-like blast attack) at the beginning of the game – both of which are accessed via the same mouse button. These attacks become more powerful after collecting a certain number of crystals dropped by fallen enemies (and there’s an incentive to stop shooting occasionally, since they float towards you when you do).
In the classic fashion, you can also run and turn very quickly. You only have one health point. Various skeletal monsters keep spawning endlessly (in a predicable, pre-set fashion that you’ll have to learn). There is no way of “winning” and, instead, you are scored on how long you managed to survive. At the time of writing, my personal best is 149.7742 seconds.
All of this adds up to an incredibly fast-paced, frenetic, thrilling and streamlined game that also feels a lot like learning a skill 🙂 It is a game where, every time you fail, you’ll want to pick yourself up and practice some more. Not only do you need quick reflexes but, like in many of the classic FPS games of the 1990s, there are tactics and strategies you need to learn in order to stand a chance.
Whilst avid 1990s FPS gamers will probably be very familiar with some of them (eg: circle-strafing etc..), each of the game’s monsters have different weak points, attack patterns etc… that you’ll need to learn if you want to do better than you did last time.
For example, one of the game’s monsters is a horned skull. After you’ve died a few times, you’ll realise that if you don’t see one of these on screen then it often means that it is right behind you and you have less than a second left to live! So, you need to fight these horned skulls before fighting other types of monsters.
Plus, since you only have one health point, literally all of the game’s monsters are a serious threat to you – although this is balanced by the classic “bullet hell” technique of giving the player a tiny hitbox. All of this brilliantly replicates the suspenseful and challenging fun of old FPS games like “Blood“, where every battle actually feels like a genuine struggle for survival.
Like in a classic FPS game, there’s a really good variety of monsters too. Like in “Doom” and “Quake”, most of these have a skeletal, hellish and/or Lovecraftian theme to them. And, as mentioned earlier, they all have different attack patterns, weak spots etc.. that you have to learn too. This really helps to prevent the game from becoming monotonous and also sets it apart from famous horde-battle games like “Painkiller” and “Serious Sam“, in that mindless shooting won’t really get you very far.
Although this game doesn’t have a saving system, it doesn’t actually need one. Since you are scored on how long you survive, the game only needs to save your highest score. Plus, like in old-school FPS games, there is a very fast iteration time too (which helps prevent your numerous deaths being too frustrating). Once you die, you can just click “retry” and start a new game less than a second later.
Of course, this can easily lead to a fairly bad case of “just one more go…” where a quick five-minute session can turn into half an hour or more without you even really noticing or caring. So, yes, this game is a serious time-guzzler – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.
The game has a lot of options too. In addition to a field of view slider, you can also enable/disable various flickering effects etc… and even better, you can actually choose to play as a left-handed character. It’s a tiny thing, but is still really cool to see (given that I’m left-handed) and it also places the game in the tradition of the original “Doom”, “Quake II” (you have to choose it in the options though), the old “Zelda” games and a few others 🙂
One of the cool things about the DRM-Free GOG version of this game I played is that it actually contains an optional “offline mode” 🙂 So, if you believe that single-player games shouldn’t require an internet connection and that the best form of competition is against yourself, then the GOG version of this game is well worth playing 🙂 I haven’t tested the online mode but, from what I’ve read, it seems to involve competing for a place on an online leaderboard.
In terms of the graphics and art style, this game is very heavily influenced by both the hellish atmosphere of the original “Doom” and the creepy Lovecraftian aesthetic of “Quake”, whilst also being it’s own thing too. The game contains deliberately old-school 3D models that still somehow manage to look cooler, creepier and just generally more awesome than the most “realistic” modern “AAA” graphics. Seriously, the moment where the giant skull-spider appears for the first time is something that you’ll never forget. This game is a work of art, and proof that a distinctive aesthetic beats hyper-realistic graphics every time 🙂
Plus, like in a lot of great older games, there is a lot of emphasis placed on lighting too. Whether it is all of the various glowing projectiles or the fact that the game tells you that you’re getting dangerously close to the edge of the arena (which, of course, has a bottomless pit behind it) by how dark the floor is, it is so awesome to see a game that uses light and darkness in such a conscious and cool-looking way 🙂
In terms of the music and sound design, this game is really good 🙂 The sound effects are all suitably crunchy, which really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and weight to the game. The music is the kind of ominous, creepy ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the original “Quake”. But, whilst this certainly adds a creepy atmosphere to the game, it is slightly at odds with the fast-paced and frenetic gameplay. So, after a while, I just went through my music collection and put some heavy metal music on in the background instead.
All in all, this is a really cool tribute to classic 1990s/early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Doom”, “Quake”, “Blood” and “Painkiller” 🙂 Not only is it enjoyably challenging and incredibly thrilling, but it also sticks to the traditions of innovation and creativity that used to be standard in the FPS genre. It is both very similar and very different to the classic games that it takes inspiration from. It is unique. Just don’t expect to get anything productive done after you’ve installed it though. It’s a time-guzzler, but in the best possible way.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.