|Developer||Minor Key Games|
|Publisher||Minor Key Games|
|Release Date||September 29, 2016|
Review code provided
I’ve always wanted a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer game. I know we got one (two, actually). But those were hack-and-slash games. Decent hack-and-slash games, but games that weren’t exactly trying to replicate the TV show beyond having most of the cast providing voices and some of the locations of Sunnydale. So along comes Slayer Shock, a vampire slaying game that takes many influences from Joss Whedon’s legendary TV show. Naturally, my interest was piqued.
Slayer Shock takes players back to 1996, casting you as a vampire slayer in the small town of Lancaster, a town that has been overrun by vampires. The townspeople live their lives in fear and it’s up to you and your friends to wage war against the undead menace. You’ll need to run missions to beat back the vampires, keep their population down and do your best to keep the general population as safe as possible. Eventually, you’ll have to face off against the big bad and defeat the menace once and for all. Or at least until next fall. All from your home base of a coffee shop.
There’s a skeleton of a great game in Slayer Shock. Its ideas and general gameplay mechanics are intriguing, but they’re not nearly as fleshed out as they could have been. Slayer Shock’s structure is designed to be reminiscent of a TV series. Each “campaign” is a season and each mission you play is an episode. Between episodes random events can occur between your friends that can affect their relationships. There are also random events that can happen in the world at large that can affect the vampire population, or have a direct impact on your small band of Scoobies.
I really enjoyed my first couple of hours with Slayer Shock. My first season lasted 13 episodes and came with a few twists and turns. I ran missions against the vampires in various parts of town, even going so far as to rescue Rachael, a character who joined my team early on. As she and Molly grew closer, the relationship between Rachael and Cody was tense, with harsh words exchanged. My mentor, Erin, just tried to continue my training and not let the entire situation fall apart.
I doubled down on my training after a surprise encounter with that season’s big bad left me almost dead. I ran missions while Erin trained me and Molly researched. Cody made me a shiny new crossbow. Rachael made me a bracelet that increased my agility. After my penultimate mission I had a dream – the big bad was taunting me, telling me “you can’t be everywhere at once, Slayer.” When I got to the coffee shop for the season finale I got the news, Rachael had been attacked by vampires and was in critical condition. Erin’s words? “You can’t be everywhere at once.” We beat the big bad that night. Rachael died in season two.
It was a fantastic introduction to the game and, as season two started, I was eager to see what could possibly happen next. Season two proceeded with a similar structure but a brand new storyline, but one that didn’t really go anywhere. I figured that I had just completed the season too quickly. The story had only kicked off a few episodes from the end, maybe I hadn’t given it enough time to run its course. I anticipated it continuing in season three and thought nothing of it. It turns out that storyline was simply a random event with no repercussions.
Slayer Shock’s biggest issue is one of repetition. It’s noticeable fairly early on too – missions take place in one of five environments. The maps themselves can differ slightly, but they’re all constructed from the same basic assets, giving them the feeling that you’re playing the same five maps over and over, regardless of things being in different places. There are only a four different missions to undertake. Patrol sees you enter a map, tag an objective marker at one end and return to the beginning. Steal tasks you with recovering vampire artefacts, rescue has you saving hostages and hunt gives you specific targets to stake. There is a fifth once you unlock the finale, though this is a hunt mission with the big bad as your only target.
Combat is also fairly dull, at least on the normal difficulty setting. It’s fast-paced but fairly unengaging. There are different weapon types, with different creatures being weak and strong against different elements (wood, silver, garlic and the like). There’s an option for stealth, but the mechanics don’t feel like they work properly, so it’s best to generally ignore that and become a one-woman army, bulldozing your way through the many, many vampires between you and your objectives (it’s a wonder there are any Humans left in Lancaster, given the amount of vampires).
I was willing to overlook all of this during the first two seasons. Despite all of those issues I was having a really good time with the game. But the further into the game I went the more I found myself being hammered by repetition – dialogue was being repeated, events were being repeated, storylines, missions, character models. It just became too much for me to ignore by the time I was heading into the fifth and final season of my inaugural campaign.
Repetition really does infect everything in Slayer Shock. Combat begins to feel like a grind. The maps and missions repeat so often that it feels like you’re just running the same few tasks over and over again. Big bads never really feel different from one another. They have different lines, but their biggest differentiators are their strengths and weaknesses. Their character models are also drawn from the same pool as the Elite vampires you’ll see constantly throughout with no real variation, making them stand out even less.
The same is true for your friends at the coffee shop – when it came time to replace Rachael, I ended up recruiting Cody’s twin brother. Your friends don’t have any real interaction with you or each other, either. Because of this, they’re glorified menu’s with names. Friends are where you spend your vampire dust to learn new abilities, craft new weapons or research the big bad. There could have been a lot more to the way they worked, but in the end they just leave you wanting more.
Which is a perfect way to sum up Slayer Shock. The foundation has been laid for a really solid and different take on a vampire slaying FPS. I have no doubt that more content is on the way, the developer’s track record with games such as Eldritch proves that. But Slayer Shock as it is right now is too light on content to keep players fully engaged in the experience, or even really deliver on the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer homage that it tries to be.
Slayer Shock is a quirky, compelling game. I can’t deny the fun I was having with it in those first couple of hours, in spite of the immediately noticeable issues with repeating missions and maps. Slayer Shock’s main problem, however, is a lack of content, and it’s an issue that only becomes more noticeable the further into the game you go. Too many times I was seeing the same random events, playing the same maps and seeing the same interpersonal conflicts arise. The game shows you everything it really has to offer long before you’ll have finished its campaign. There’s a lot of potential in Slayer Shock’s premise that deserves to be unlocked with new content and deeper, more meaningful interactions with the supporting cast. Right now, however, it’s a very basic, barebones experience.
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