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Seraph

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Developer: Dreadbit Games
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.

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PS4/PC Preview - 'Seraph'

by Brian Dumlao on May 25, 2016 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Seraph is a skill-based, acrobatic shooter ... without aiming!

Introduce a side-scrolling adventure game to the public nowadays, and if it doesn't use pixels, people instantly think it's a Metroidvania title. When you consider that a chunk of recent side-scrollers do follow this template, it makes sense. Seraph is a throwback to the classic side-scrolling adventure games of yesteryear but has a few modern touches.

In each stage, you're tasked with destroying a few key creatures or demonic runes. You can perform a blinking dash in any direction, and you're nimble enough to do wall jumps and grasp vertical surfaces for a while before you start to slide down, though you can survive long falls. You also have dual pistols with unlimited ammo to dispatch demons, and you can pick up other guns. Shotguns, submachine guns and railguns are a few of the weapons at your disposal, but each has a limited amount of ammo, so if you aren't keeping an eye on the bullet count, you'll revert to the pistols pretty quickly. You also have some angelic powers on your side, including the ability to smite enemies —necessary against stronger foes — and you have the chance to briefly repel enemies and their projectiles. Once you complete your objective, you try to find the exit and start the process anew.


Though the developers don't consider the game to be a roguelike, Seraph does showcase several elements of the genre. Both levels and enemies are randomly generated, as are the items contained within. There's also a crafting system that lets you harvest ingredients to make new guns and power up existing buffs via crystals, which can also be powered up. An XP system is in place to give you new powers or increase the potency of existing abilities. Finally, there is the idea of starting over from the beginning once you lose all of your lives, but that can be mitigated with save orbs that are located throughout each stage.

The game also throws in some interesting mechanics. The most notable is the automatic aiming system. While you have the option of controlling your aim with your right analog stick, you can also let the game automatically aim for the closest enemy. That sounds like a recipe for failure, but the game does a great job of prioritizing enemies, so you'll rarely feel the need to correct the computer's mistakes. There's also scalable difficulty that increases based on the number of enemies you defeat and your use of abilities in each stage. The degree of difficulty is pretty significant because enemies become more adept at striking smartly and get new attacks, but the difficulty increase is gradual enough that the game doesn't suddenly feel impossible. Finally, the title features an interesting life system where death in a stage means resurrecting with one-third less health. Until you finish the stage, your max health is capped at that amount, and given the backtracking that needs to be done with every death, this isn't something you want to deal with, even if your foe or objective also don't get to refill their health after each of your deaths.

All of these mechanics combined makes for a game that is pretty fast-paced but not enough to bring it into Contra or Metal Slug territory. The enemy count and amount of platforming needed already see to this. The action is still very good, though, as it tests out your reflexes and makes you think about more than holding down the right trigger and letting bullets fly. Complementing the combat is a randomized level design that actually feels well thought-out due to the number of areas where you can display acrobatic skill and uncover more XP, crafting ingredients or temporary powers. Though your natural inclination might be to breeze through stages as quickly as possible, those who enjoy a little bit of exploration are certainly rewarded.


At the same time, the desire to quickly move through stages can be attributed to the amount of things you get to do in the game. In its current state, the core adventure consists of going after targets, killing them, escaping, and repeating the process. It is a completely serviceable formula that shows off the action, but it can get tiresome if you're playing the game for long stretches. At the very least, Seraph tries to do quite a bit with that lack of variety. Speedrun options and built-in Twitch streaming help make things interesting, especially the latter option, which gives viewers the option to vote on making things much easier or harder for the broadcaster. There's also a daily challenge mode and a weekly survival mode, each giving players a set configuration and a leaderboard for indirect online competition. Though those can seem like throwaway modes for most players, they actually become valuable since your participation provides rewards in the form of crafting ingredients, so you gain an edge in the campaign.

As far as presentation goes, the game is already in a pretty good state. It lacks voices for the various dialogue bits, but the moody soundtrack and great effects more than make up for it. Though the title doesn't currently sport a plethora of tracks, what's here sounds good enough that you'll barely notice the lack of variety. Graphically, the game is pushed by the animations, which look rather smooth on every action. Thanks to the rather low system requirements, it doesn't take much to achieve that fluidity and high frame rate. The only issue so far seems to be the repetitive nature of the backgrounds. With minimal background changes in each stage, it can blur into one big level as opposed to the stages feeling more distinct.

Currently, Seraph is available via Steam Early Access, but it is already in a state that most Early Access titles envy. It is playable, and there are relatively few bugs. Aside from having a few features to expand on, it has properly dialed in on its action and relative hook and created something fun. Though there's no definitive release date for the title, the developers have gone on record saying that Seraph will only be in Early Access for a maximum of half a year. Look out for more news on the game as it marches toward that full release.



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