People are often told to “achieve their best self” and live life to the fullest. Dead Cells may start in a prison, but this is a game about unlocking your potential, not prison doors.
In fact, you don’t even start Dead Cells in captivity. Instead, you begin the game as an amorphous green blob, an alchemic experiment gone wrong, stumbling on a dead body to reanimate it. From there, your goal is to escape the prison and its surrounding environs, branching out from the prison into villages, clock towers, and more.
There’s only one problem: Something strange has taken over the land, turning all the prisoners and guards and citizens into mutated monstrosities. Now they patrol the world, with a particular dislike for our amorphous hero. As you journey further into the land, these creatures become more fearsome.
Our hero does have one thing on his side, however — he can’t die. Instead, he is sent back to the prison every time he is defeated, to start again. Each time he makes it to a new area, he learns something new about an enemy type, or unlocks a new weapon or ability, making the subsequent trip a little bit easier, a little bit more skilful and controlled.
Dead Cells, then, is a little bit like Groundhog Day set in a Tim Burton universe, where the hero must learn the nuances of every enemy and weapon to become the best version of himself. Unlike Groundhog Day, however, Dead Cells has one more trick up its sleeve.
Every time you restart, the land changes shape and the items reshuffle, meaning the maps and the abilities are randomly generated. This means no two attempts are ever the same.
Hardcore gamers will know this type of experience as a “roguelike”, where the purpose of the game is to die, learn, repeat, and get better, inching your way forward each time. In Dead Cells, this process has been refine to perfection.
The hero begins his journey with a simple sword and can then choose from a shield or bow to accompany that.
But as the game progresses, multitudes of other weapons and abilities come into the mix, forcing players to try new tactics and approaches each time.
For example, you might think that parrying with a shield and lobbing fire grenades is your favourite approach — but then you find that level-6 electric whip that freezes enemies.
You might enjoying laying traps for enemies from above, letting a combination of poison and arrows do the trick — but then you find a super sledgehammer that encourages you to smash things up close.
The key to Dead Cells, if you’ll pardon the pun, is the combination of a witty, colourful, and quirky world (it’s far more light-hearted than it sounds) with perfect combat that keeps on offering up new discoveries. It’s like being thrown into a toybox in the dark, stumbling on a brilliant new action figure every five minutes.
There has been no better example of the genre in recent years.
Take a weekend off, buy Dead Cells — and lock the door behind you. The roguelike has reached its potential.
It seems strange to say it now, but the excellent Doom (2016) didn’t come anywhere near unlocking its potential.
We know that because Doom Eternal, the sequel, looks like twice the game already. Bethesda showed us gameplay demos recently that introduce new weapons, new environments, and a new “invasion” mode that allows other players to control demons in your game and hunt you. All in all, Eternal looks incredible.
Most pleasing, however, are the improvements to the world Bethesda is building. Doom Eternal looks and feel much more like the original Doom universe, with the return of some classic demons and environments.
It’s also introduced a grappling hook for much more dynamic action. December is a long wait from here, but at least it’s not eternity.
Finally, if there’s one man who has maximised his potential, at least on YouTube, it’s Jack SepticEye.
Now he’s taking that presence to the stage, in How Did We Get Here?, a one-man show in Dublin’s Helix on November 5.
Jack will tell stories of growing up and will also play a few games on stage.
Tickets are on sale from August 17 for €31.50.