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Deadbeat Heroes

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Developer: Deadbeat Productions
Release Date: Oct. 10, 2017


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PC Review - 'Deadbeat Heroes'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 27, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Deadbeat Heroes is a fast-paced, brawling crime-caper set in a comic book-inspired world.

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Sometimes, a title is enough to bring you pause. Take, for instance, Deadbeat Heroes. Are you playing the laziest, most negligent heroes on the planet? Are these characters simply the heroes for the development house of the same name? Why are they deadbeats if they're active almost all of the time? There may never be a satisfying answer. The game has some ambition, but its delivery is misguided just enough to make the experience both frustrating and forgettable.

The story is pretty standard despite the 1970s London setting. You play the role of a new recruit to a small group that consists of yourself and your mentor, Captain Justice. Despite displaying no superpowers of your own, you possess a rocket-powered glove that gives you everything necessary to take out criminals and dispense justice. You'll certainly need that glove, as a murderer's row of superpowered villains are gunning for you so you don't ruin their plans.

Given the standard storyline, you'd expect the humor to drive things along, and it does — to a point. In line with the setting, there's some dry wit that bookends your adventures and punctuates the introduction of bosses, so your appreciation for British humor will determine whether you'll laugh or stay stoic. While it works some of the time, it also misses an equal amount of the time, with some jokes being overly explained and others not being funny at all.

The game plays out like a 3-D arena brawler, along the lines of the original Power Stone but with multiple lower-level fighters involved instead of one top-tier fighter. In any given stage, you'll travel from room to room and clear out enemies, and the secondary objective is to rescue civilians before they get too freaked out and run off on their own. Your attacks consist of punches, but they vary depending on whether you're standing still, in the air, or in motion. Those punches can all be upgraded after a few levels, so the moves have some variety. Throwing hits and defeating enemies lets you collect power orbs to unleash a mighty dashing punch, and from time to time, you can acquire special powers by defeating super-powered foes. Those powers include the ability to throw out fire and ice projectiles and unleash an explosion originating from your body. As an aside, you can also taunt the enemy; it seems superfluous at first but actually plays an important role, which will be explained shortly.

Your attack moves aren't extremely varied, but your movement abilities are more well-rounded. You can add a dash to your moves to close in on your enemy, and you can take cover behind some furniture to avoid some gunfire. High jumps and wall dashes are normal, as is the ability to scurry up poles and briefly climb walls in preparation for a diving attack. The ability to dart around a level and deliver blows to numerous enemies is very easy to pull off and makes up for your limited punching ability.

When put together, it makes for a fast-paced brawler that places an equal emphasis on action and style. For example, you can enter a room with a few melee thugs, a guy with a machine gun, and a bomb-tossing guy who's only prone to special attacks. You can start with a dashing uppercut to toss the enemy into the air, a taunt to pause the combo countdown timer, and leap into the air for a drill punch that hits both the airborne enemy and another assailant. From there, you can wall-run to the machine gun-toting enemy, knock him around a few times, and build up enough power to super-punch the bomb guy before taking his power and unleashing an explosion that wipes out everyone else. Things become less chaotic during boss fights, where the strategy boils down to hitting the boss with ineffective shots so you have enough power to unleash a super-punch or let the countless minions feed you that power for the same result.

On paper, this sounds like the perfect formula for a chaotic brawler that's enjoyable both solo and with a friend via local co-op. In practice, however, there are a number of things that greatly diminish that notion. For starters, you aren't given many opportunities to unleash high number combos. Enemies stay down long enough so you'll easily lose your combo, and it isn't until you reach the later levels that you get enough enemies to have a chance of stringing together combos in the teens. The taunt is supposed to compensate for this, but most of the time, it doesn't work at keeping that combo alive.

While the fights seem tamer, Deadbeat Heroes does you no favors if you want to check the status of your meters. Both your health and special meters are located on your player indicator instead of on the HUD, a stylish approach that works against you due to the dust, flight trails and other things you kick up during the fight. Most of your meters are obscured to the point where you'll die or accidentally unleash a super move because you couldn't see the meters. For a brawler with small meters, surprises like this aren't appreciated.

The squandering of a chaotic fighting system, vital meter obscurity, and lack of any real differences between unlocked characters are things that can be overcome if players aren't too critical of the title. However, what can't be forgiven is the overall level progression. You'll experience this midway through the game, but each stage comes with a letter grade that must be met or beaten before the next level set can be unlocked. That seems good for those looking for a challenge, but the issue is that you're never told which factors make up that letter grade. You might get by on one level by rescuing civilians and picking up the dropped cash, but another level might emphasize speed or combo count. Since you aren't told what you need or what counts, you'll be forced to replay those stages until you get it right, a prospect that diminishes any game's fun factor. At the very least, the title already had a patch to prevent the infuriating bug that erased progress on previous stages if you fail to score the correct letter grade. Thankfully, while solo play is much more difficult due to the hidden grading system, it doesn't seem to affect multiplayer that much, so it's the preferred way to play, as long as you don't mind local-play only.

The presentation is quite good in places. On the audio side, the soundtrack is the highlight, as the soulful '70s soundtrack provides a good backbeat for beating up villains, and it's also perfect for the quieter scenes where enemies are plotting against you or you're about to go on a mission. The voicework is great, especially since it doesn't play up the British setting for stereotypical accents, and the lines are delivered well despite the hit-and-miss nature of the jokes. Graphically, the artistic style leans toward heavy cel-shading, with less emphasis on detail. Aside from the over-abundance of particle effects the clog up the screen, the game moves at a very good pace and looks rather nice overall.

In the end, Deadbeat Heroes is undone by its own mechanics. The faster fighting is hindered by a lack of targets to aim for, while the lack of attack variety means that the excitement of combat can quickly be diminished. It is the grading system, however, that hinders any enjoyment that can be eked out of the game, as forced replayability just isn't fun. It's good to see a developer do something different in the genre, but gamers have better options before giving this title a spin.

Score: 6.0/10

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