The peacefulness of the winding Mojave-esque landscape quickly transitions to chaos as our eyes turn to view a demolished farm in the distance. Anxiety builds as we approach to look through the wreckage. A sharp turn in one of the rooms reveals our character in a full standing mirror and we can see that the ravaged farm is the least of our problems.
DrinkBox Studio’s newest game, Severed, puts players in the middle of tragedy as, Sasha, a young women trapped in a nightmarish world missing her family and most of her right arm.
Severed is a first person hack’n’slash adventure where gameplay is split between navigating maze-like environments and frantically fighting off devilish monsters. The movement of the game is controlled smoothly by touching the left, right, or center of the screen to turn left, right, or move forward, respectively. A two-finger swipe can also be used to pan through rooms more thoroughly to look for the game’s many hidden secrets. The labyrinths for the most part are very cleverly designed to have players solve puzzles involving keys and switches to move on to subsequent rooms. Highlights of the adventure feature Sasha in deep caverns rushing through the toxic stomachs of giant worms to pacing quickly across the tops of clouds as standing in one place for too long would risk falling through.
The winding dungeons of this world are populated by grotesque fiends that are waiting patiently to further dismember Sasha. However, armed with a blood red sword and a knack for dueling, she isn’t going down without a fight. Battles in Severed have players use their finger to swipe their sword at enemies to tease open weak spots or to parry oncoming assaults with the chance of counter attacking, and when the moment presents itself, players can swipe away at enemies with a type of Fruit Ninja ferocity. With enough finesse during battles, players can build up their Focus Meter while fighting enemies to activate a slow motion coup-de-grâce when the enemy is defeated. Monsters that meet this demise sprawl out in agony and expose all their fleshy limbs that Sasha can then slash and dismember. Mastering the surgical like precision needed to dissect these foes can take a few tries, especially when the timer to execute these slices is a split second, but the reward of taking the fallen limbs as trophies to upgrade Sasha’s abilities is matched by the fantastic feeling felt after vanquishing a hideous beast.
Severed does well to keep the difficulty of the game challenging. As Sasha grows in abilities, the enemies also introduce tactics to keep the fights tough but fair. A 100% play through of the game on standard difficulty clocked at about 8 hours, which included backtracking to areas that couldn’t be reached in earlier dungeons without abilities learned in the later portion of the story. Enemies in the game were varied, even though a few more dangerous types later on would help in keeping players on their toes as they become familiar with tactics on smiting early level monsters.
As far as presentation value goes, Severed is a game where music, sound design, and art all mesh seamlessly together. The soundtrack has a light-metal flair where the player should always feel pumped up enough to take down whatever monstrous punching bag is lurking around the next corner. The lighter tracks also match the vibrant colors and Hispanic locales that are the inspiration of Severed and DrinkBox Studio’s previous endeavor Guacamelee! Sound effects also shine here as the echoes of Sasha’s footsteps make the deserted ruins seem even more desolate and the sharp clang of a sword on the surface of a monster’s impenetrable armor let the player know that a new strategy needs to be taken if they want to inflict sufficient damage.
Where the story of Severed is delivered in minimal chucks, the tones derived from supporting characters and flashes to Sasha’s family cut the deepest. Themes of loss and lack of control are present in this game and reflect our current reality where acts of violence continue to plague our world. However, the game eloquently posits that we only feel pain because we once felt love; a love that should be worn as a memorial of courage and remembrance on the outside as well inside of ourselves.
Severed is an adventure that I didn’t want to be finished. I wanted to keep on slicing and dicing through monsters to see how powerful Sasha could become. I wanted to know if there was any more of a past to Sasha’s battle worn mother. Games executed as well as Severed only help to push boundaries and exemplify video games as an innovative and relevant art from.
Final Word: Severed is a must buy game on iOS, although beware looking like a finger-swiping manic if you play in public.