A very promising game that takes many pre-existing concepts in the roguelite genre, and puts it’s own unique spin on them to produce something truly different.
Genre: Roguelike, Action
Developer: Spawnpoint OSK
Publisher: Spawnpoint OSK
Release date: Enters EA Dec 2018
Mining and Blasting
I have actually been following Gerty for quite some time. It seemed like a very promising concept with a unique style of level generation and a heavy emphasis on terrain destruction, plus combat of a type not often seen in this genre. It really looked to be something special. So, I was quite excited to receive a preview copy for the purposes of writing this, then even more excited to find that the game so far lives up to my expectations. Honestly, I can think of very little to complain about here at all.
Gerty tasks you with exploring a series of mines that have been overrun by an unexpected alien force. These mines produce an important resource known as Juice, and must be taken back at any cost. Fortunately for you, the teleporter network connecting each mine section just happens to be intact. Unfortunately for you, that means (of course) that each section is already stuffed full of monsters. It’s honestly a pretty basic setup… the game isn’t big on story, at least not in the version that I’ve played. What it is big on is the gameplay. Gerty puts a lot of unique twists on familiar mechanics and design elements, and they all come together nicely to provide one heck of a fun and challenging experience., even if there is a somewhat large learning curve to be dealt with. Previous experience with the genre might not help you with this game as much as you’d like to think.
The very first thing you’re likely to notice about Gerty are the levels themselves. This genre is often pretty formulaic about how levels are formed. Usually, a series of connected rooms are involved which forms a maze and so on. Or perhaps instead of rooms, you get just one area, but it’s a BIG area. Gerty goes a different route with this, though. There are no separate rooms, but at the same time each level is quite small. Much smaller than you’d expect. But Gerty packs so much stuff into each level that this ends up really working out. In a game like, say, Nuclear Throne, the level design is often very open, without much in it except monsters and such. Some areas often feel a bit unnecessary when that type of design is used. Here though, it’s the opposite. Each zone is going to be stuffed with walls, first and foremost. These mines you’re trying to get through seem to have suffered a major cave-in as a result of the monster infestation, with rocks and snow absolutely everywhere. You’re going to find yourself blocked in right from the start, which means there’s only one way forward: You’re going to have to dig. No matter what direction you dig in, you won’t have to dig long before you find something interesting. It might be a small area with some monsters, or perhaps some Juice to gather, or treasure, runes, shops… you name it. Despite having such very small levels, Gerty constantly keeps you interested in exploring each one as much as possible, simply because there are so many things to find. And, in fact, I think the small level size is a part of why the formula works. Digging at tiles isn’t a particularly fast process, but because each area is small, you never have to go too far in any direction to find stuff to interact with. This keeps the game’s pace constantly high and prevents runs from dragging on too long. I’m honestly very impressed at how enjoyable these levels are to explore. The digging mechanic makes for a whole new way to handle exploration in general, and there’s just something so very satisfying about tunneling through a wall to stumble upon a chest, shop, or other helpful things. What’s more, the digging is really easy to do. You don’t have to constantly attack the walls with your weapons or anything… simply walk your character into them to start digging. Nice and simple, no silly button mashing required.
So, the world-gen and central digging mechanic are good, but what about the combat? Fortunately, Gerty gets that one right as well. While this is a twin-stick game, don’t expect something like Enter the Gungeon or Nuclear Throne here. Gerty‘s combat mechanics end up actually feeling a bit like a MOBA in some ways. Each character has exactly 4 “skills” they can use. The main attack you’ll be using constantly, two special moves, and a third special that serves as an “ultimate” (sort of), with special properties that have a major impact on how the class plays. Aside from your main attack, these skills all have cooldowns of a few seconds, and can also have other aspects that determine how much you can use them. The Commando’s flamethrower, for instance, does not have a cooldown, but instead has a fuel gauge, and must be allowed to recharge or you’re doing to run dry.
Managing these skills and their cooldowns is a huge part of the game, and every character ends up playing very differently due to the skills that they have. In a lot of games, something like a dodge roll is typically universal to everyone. But here, only one character has such a roll (and that roll has a cooldown); the others will have their own types of defensive or utility moves that they can use, such as a shockwave that causes fear in nearby foes for a couple of seconds, forcing them to back off. Each of the different characters has their own unique playstyle, and all are a joy to play (though I will say, I totally suck as the melee dude).
Beyond just the skills, combat itself can be pretty hectic. Nothing moves particularly fast in Gerty, but with such cramped locales to fight in, and the possibility of enemies coming from any direction, things can get crazy pretty fast, and you’re going to have to learn to deal with it. Panicking can and will get you eaten by worms here. Lots of worms. Seriously, there are LOTS of enemies in this game. You wouldn’t think that so many could fit into such small zones. Numerous and varied, each individual foe has it’s own unique style of attack, and all of them are very well thought-out. None of these guys ever felt unfair, and each is very easily recognizable the moment you see them. They’re tough, and the game isn’t going to go easy on you with them at all. What’s more, the threat level in each zone ramps up more and more the longer you spend in it. Go for more Juice and other things if you dare, but stay too long and you just might regret it.
Fortunately for you, the game offers a couple of different ways to build up your character and counter the alien threat. Firstly, you have the Perk system. Pretty much what you’d expect… as you continue to gain experience and level up, sometimes you’ll be able to choose from a list of perks. Perks are interesting in that they have no effect on your basic stats or anything. Instead, what they do is alter the way in which your four skills function. For instance, the Commando has a skill that allows you to drop a time-bomb on the spot where you are standing, which then explodes a couple of seconds later. One perk might add a stunning effect to the resulting explosion. Another perk can take it and allow you to throw it like a grenade instead, detonating the moment it impacts anything. Each character has quite a few perks to choose from, allowing for wildly different playstyles within each.
But that’s not all. You aren’t just digging up those Juice tiles for the heck of it… they serve as a currency in this strange world. Littered around each zone are “forges” each themed around offense, defense, utility, or stats. These are effectively shops, where you can buy all sorts of powerful items to help you. Like with the perks, there is a very wide array of powerful gizmos to choose from here. Also, like the perks, these aren’t just about increasing stats and other hard to notice effects. These items often produce very noticeable effects such as a trail of fire whenever you kill something, or a stunning shockwave if you get hit. Most items can also be leveled up by buying them a second time. All this stuff tends to be expensive though. I never once found myself in a position of having too much currency to spend as happens frequently in other games. This is good, as it constantly encourages you to further explore each level for that precious Juice (and makes the stuff that much more satisfying to collect), so that you can power-up for more alien splattering. The one thing that does bother me though is that each forge type always offers the exact same items (granted some will have to be unlocked between playthroughs first). And while there is RNG in terms of which forge will appear where, forges in general are quite common, so you never have to go all that long without finding the one you want. This suggests that some players will be likely to just go with the same build every time since the game doesn’t do all that much to force you to change it up from one run to the next. I’m hoping to see this aspect change over the course of early access, to encourage players to adapt to each new run and make difficult decisions on just what to do.
I’m very pleased to say that so far, Gerty is fantastic. It’s a fresh spin on a familiar genre, and every aspect of it just shines with polish. The combat is fun and challenging, and there’s so much exploration to be done even in such small environments. The game is clearly not in a complete state though. The version that I played for this review had about half of the levels currently playable, culminating in one giant boss fight, with an average run time of about 30 minutes or so. There’s clearly way more to come, but what is there so far is just excellent. Add in the crisp, clear visuals and a good soundtrack, and this game has the potential to really be something special. While Gerty isn’t due to hit Steam’s early access until December 3rd, there is actually a demo up on the store page. I strongly suggest giving it a try. I can’t wait to see just where the devs take this one.