Sundered is a new platforming action game from Thunder Lotus Games, creators of Jotun. It has gorgeous hand-drawn visuals, Metroidvania-style exploration, fast-paced combat against swarms of vicious enemies and a knack for making me want to put my controller through the screen.
Playing as Eshe, a wanderer in a ruined world, players are tasked by a mysterious artifact called the Shining Trapezohedron to explore an underground complex filled with eldritch creatures. Eshe gains power and unlocks new abilities in order to delve further into the depths.
I spent the first two hours of my time with Sundered frustrated and angry. Though Eshe is a capable fighter, lithe and quick, the game has a tendency to lay the enemy encounters on heavy, with swarms of crawling, leaping and spinning creatures attacking while laser-firing enemies’ beams tracked me from three screens away.
Dying happens a lot in Sundered. It’s a feature. When Eshe is overwhelmed, as she frequently will be, she respawns back at the game’s central hub, which doubles as an extensive ability tree. Eshe travels the maze-like map, gathering shards that can be used to increase health, shield, armor, damage and more. She also uncovers perks along the way, each one having an upside (say, more powerful shielding) and a downside (like much less health).
The system has frustration baked right in. This often outweighs any sense of progress, especially in the first couple of hours. Making my way through the twisting passages to encounter a mini-boss gave me a sense of accomplishment. However, not being familiar with the boss’ mechanics, I quickly died and found myself right back at the game hub. Sure, I had points to spend on abilities, but I also had a long way to travel to get back to the boss, who would probably kill me a couple more times before I got it right.
It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.
Sundered is a Metroidvania-style game, so along the way Eshe learns special abilities that help her get further into the labyrinth without dying. Early on she gains a shield. Once she defeats the game’s first sub-boss, which took me about an hour to get to including dying and navigating the non-static rooms, which shift every time she dies, she gains the power to double jump, opening up more of the map.
Eventually I received the Valkyrie Cannon, a device I was told to use if I got stuck during one of the early loading screens. I spent two meandering hours wondering what the loading screen was referring to before getting my hands on the rather potent weapon, which also opens some previously locked doors.
Now that I’ve unlocked a few shortcuts and gotten a feel for which enemies I can ignore and which I need to stand and fight, my frustration level with Sundered has dropped considerably. It’s still there, every time I think I’m about to discover something cool only to be set upon by a swarm of completely unreasonable creatures, or when I think I see a path to my objective via the in-game map, only to find myself hitting another dead end and having to backtrack. It’s just not at the level of wanting to destroy my gaming equipment.
Frequent crashes on the PlayStation 4 version despite a couple of updates (including one this morning) do not help. If anything, the game’s penchant for killing me and making me sit through a lengthy loading sequence makes the PS4 crashes a little more tolerable.
I do not hate Sundered. It’s taken me a long time to realize that. For all the deaths and cheapness, I want to push on. There are more abilities to unlock and stats to enhance. Hell, I’ve still not encountered the sort of magnificent, screen-spanning boss battles that drew me to the game in the first place, let alone the choices between sanity and madness that supposedly define the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired game.
Sundered is a brutal and beautiful game that asks a lot of its players. It demands a measure of combat aptitude, navigation skills and problem-solving, along with a great deal of patience. If you’re up to the challenge, it’ll be available on July 28 for PC and PlayStation 4.