In the early 1990s a game was released that was instrumental in increasing the popularity of first person shooters. This game, which actually does hold up pretty well, is Doom, which was equally well known for its extremely violent content as well as its outstanding gameplay. The developers of Butcher must have been fans of Doom and wondered what would that game be like if it were a 2D platformer. Butcher is not a rip-off of Doom in any way, but despite being a different type of game, the influence is apparent, complete with the intentionally pixelated early 1990s style graphics.
Butcher is described by its creator as a blood soaked love letter to the 90’s, which is a very accurate description. In the 90’s, or Mesozoic era as I like to refer to it, games were not required to have lengthy tutorials, cutscenes, dialog, and in some cases I question if some games I played from that era even had stories. You picked a game, popped into the console or fired it up on the computer, and just went to town killing whatever needs killing. This is how Butcher begins. When the game is loaded, there is a very brief cutscene that provides some information as to what is going on but it doesn’t mess around with excessive story telling. After the brief intro, the player is thrust into a kill or be killed situation, which most likely will result in the latter.
Despite not heavily relying on one, there is a story to Butcher. The player takes control of a cyborg whose objective is to eradicate all human life. Why is the cyborg wanting to wipe all people off the face of the Earth? Who cares, he probably just had a bad day at work, realized people suck and they all needed to die, and because he is a cyborg with the means for interplanetary travel he has the means to do so, plus cyborgs may not be possessing the same fear of incarceration for mass homicide and may be lacking a processor that is capable of replicating a moral compass. Regardless, the player controls a half man/half machine with insatiable blood lust and a lot of guns. He is going to shoot everything that moves and make them die, which is equivalent to French frying when he needs to French fry, so he is going to have a good time.
Like the shooters of yesteryear that inspired this title, Butcher features gore galore. There are a variety of weapons at the disposal, which include shot guns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and of course a chainsaw, because what homage to Doom can get away without having a chainsaw. A unique feature is the blood splatter from killing your enemies permanently changes the appearance of the level. The industrial looking battleground is the player’s canvas, and blood is the lead filled paint that is used to paint your masterpiece.
The goal is to kill everyone around you as violently as you can and then kick their corpses and paint the walls with your blood. You will die many times during this endeavor. The easiest difficulty is hard, with the more challenging levels being harder, hardest, and impossible. Impossible is not available at the beginning of the game and to be honest I do not know how to unlock it because I never did. I did tell the developer I suck at this game, and his response is everyone sucks at Butcher. I died repeatedly, either by being shot, crushed by heavy moving doors, and falling into molten lava. But like a lot of these old school action games, the unforgiving challenge and repeated deaths do not detract from the enjoyment. The levels are fairly short taking just a few minutes to beat once you actually get good at them, and the game wastes no time with the respawning so there is no aggravating waiting period to get back into the action. The game is extremely difficult but it does not feel cheap, playing the game and becoming more skillful will allow the player to progress though it will likely take several tries on every level.
There are options to play with both the mouse and keyboard set up and a controller. As a platformer, the controller option felt more natural personally but it really boils down to personal preference. Using the controller does give the game a quasi twinstick shooter feel. The weapons are fired with the trigger button but the left stick controls movement while the right one aims, allowing the freedom to fire in any direction regardless of where the player is moving.
Looking at the screenshots confirms the earlier statement that the graphics are full of early 1990’s pixelated glory. The soundtrack also conveys hints of music from the era with its pulsating industrial soundtrack that shows influence from bands like Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, and KMFDM. This dark and heavy score sets the tone of being a cyborg killer, and fits perfectly with the visual presentation of the bloodbath. The industrial soundtrack is possibly a nod to Quake having its music composed primarily by Trent Reznor.
Butcher is not an innovative title by any means, but that is also kind of the point. It’s an unapologetic love letter to the early violent shooters from a couple decades ago but is looking at them from a platforming perspective instead of a first-person one. It does a good job of recreating the atmosphere of those early 90s shooters despite having a very different play style. This title is geared toward a niche market and as such is not going to be a must play for everyone, but for those who love old school ultra violent and ultra challenging games, this is not one to miss. For fans of retro games, everything about Butcher screams 1993.