Review: Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine
There weren’t many games I was more excited about than Hack ‘n’Slash from Double Fine Entertainment over the past few years. So when it finally hit version 1 .0 last week I jumped on it. I just finished the main story and thought to myself, ‘Self, you should take this opportunity to wow your thoughtful on the Internet. No one ever thinks to put their opinions there.’
And so, here we are. First, for those not already familiar, Hack ‘n’ Slash was originally developed as part of Double Fine’s Amnesia Fortnight a little while back (it was pitched in 2012, I believe). The premise is fascinating: instead of taking on enemies through sheer force you do so by altering the very code of the game. And so, as soon as you find a sword in the game you find out it cannot directly hurt enemies or cut bushes but you can use it to reprogram enemies (by changing variables) or make a bush be set from not burning to, wwell, burning. Over the course of the game, the level of control you have over the code within the game grows until, at the end, where you can really break the game (day, by creating bad functions). The game looks like the Legend of Zelda, but it’s really a puzzle game and the puzzle you have to solve is how you need to change the code to progress. Of course, your control over the code is never absolute, but it is pretty impressive and – towards the end of the game – it gets insanely deep as you go inside the code of the things that you are inside the code of in some sort of crazy code-Inception.
So, I love the premise. The graphics are good enough, they are pleasingly cartoon-y, even if I always think that 2D drawings moving on a 3D plane is a little weird. It’s common enough, so it’s not really a problem, but I always find it slightly off-putting. Still, Hack ‘n’ Slash suffers from one major problem: The pacing. To put it mildly, the pacing is incredibly uneven. The game has four chapters to play through, but there isn’t a whole lot of game until the end of the third. The combat, such as it is, largely revolves around swinging your ‘sword’ to change some variables on one of the objects in the game. Is it neat? Heck yes it’s neat, but it’s not terribly challenging. And then you get to the end of that third chapter and the difficulty spikes like crazy. All of the sudden you’re dealing with full strings of code and trying to parse them to figure out which thing you need to change to solve the puzzle and move to the next room. I crashed the game more than a few times (although it does recover itself and it gets an A+ for saving at each room so if you do something exceptionally stupid you can go back in time before you changed the code of the game in said particularly stupid way, which I really only had to do once). I know just enough about coding to get the through the game, which I did at about 6 hours, but if a person didn’t know anything about coding the first 2/3 of the game would not have prepared them at all for the end of the game. And then, once you start to get the hang of the game, and you really see the power of having all of the code at your disposal and things start to open up a little, boom, the game is over. This is not a game length problem, mind you. It’s a complaint that the game changes fundamentally most of the way through the game and then walks off the edge.
So, that makes it sound like I didn’t like it, doesn’t it? That’s not the case. I do not, in the least, regret buying Hack ‘n’ Slash. It does something that I have never seen or heard of a game doing before and that, for me, is worth applause and a purchase. It may be for you, as well, but understand that you are buying a premise. There’s some insanely cool potential there, but it is mostly at the end of the game. The story is entertaining enough (including a few chuckle-worthy lines and, generally, good writing), being of a lighthearted, jokey sort of thing. There is the promise of modding the future, too, which might do some pretty neat things, as well, but that’s certainly a wait-and-see situation. I’m sure some people would find the length a little off-putting, but I’m sure you could spend more time messing around with the code of the game if you understand it better than I do (which is not a terribly high bar), but I just wish that the pacing had been a little more even. So, all in all, for me, this was a worthy purchase. But should you buy Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine Entertainment? Unless you are really taken with the premise, that would be a much harder recommendation to make.
Hack ‘n’ Slash from Double Fine Entertainment is available now and regularly costs $19.99.