Review: Redeemer

Vassily found peace after a life of violence, and it lasted for a good, long time before coming to a sudden end.  Living as a monk in a monastery hidden from the world suited him well but the past still had a use for him, and satellite imaging means that mountain retreats aren’t quite so invisible as they once were.  When his old mercenary crew came visiting with guns blazing, executing or capturing everyone and leaving his sanctuary on fire, Vasily quickly reconnected with his violent tendencies and began a long journey beating his way through an army’s worth of soldiers, mutants and cyborgs.  It’s never clear exactly what it is he’s redeeming or how the beat-em-up action leads to anyone’s redemption, but despite the narrative disconnect, Redeemer is a solid, violent romp tearing through a massive horde that puts up a good fight even as the levels get filled with bodies by the dozens.

There’s not a lot of story to Redeemer and what’s there makes no sense whatsoever, but as a beat-em-up it’s a rock-solid shot of brutal action from start to finish.  Vasily has a handful of moves that chain together, can wield both melee and ranged weapons, throws a mean chair or other background object, and can even use bits of the scenery for insta-kill attacks.  Impaling a goon on a handy tree branch or stuffing a cyborg into the whirling fans of a VTOL aircraft are great ways to trim down a pack of mercenaries to manageable numbers, and the fancier the kill the more health he regains from it.  Most of the time you’ll be chaining the kick and punch together, but when an enemy glows orange you can either have him block the attack or counter it, depending on timing.  It’s actually easier to counter, oddly enough, with a generous window on the timing.  When you’re surrounded by multiple attackers it turns the fight into a series of heavy attacks and counters, and when you find the rhythm Vasily will take barely a hit while laying waste to all in his path.

Eventually the enemies get bigger, though, so countering and standing your ground doesn’t work.  It’s best to avoid the attacks of a giant armored goon with a hammer, or a charging electroshock rush, and this is where the dodge roll comes into play.  You can either use it as an escape or chain it into a leaping attack, depending on the situation, and its mobility is another aspect of the quick, responsive combat that keeps Redeemer flowing along.  The dodge also does nice things getting you out of the line of fire, because it doesn’t take too long before enemies start carrying weapons.

While the bulk of your time is spent punching and kicking, the enemies have a nice variety of weapons you can steal.  Vasily can carry two at a time, one melee and one ranged, both of which are limited use.  It makes sense that a wooden stick might break after a few uses, and guns are bound to run out of ammo, but it’s videogame logic at its finest that a solid steel pipe wrench stops being a good bludgeon after a few swings.  Still, there are enough enemies carrying stun rods, hammers, shotguns, pistols, and various types of machine guns that there’s no point in hoarding the goodies.  Once you’re carrying a melee weapon it gets used automatically anyway, but guns are a choice.  Usually a good one, too, because as a general rule when you’re out of ammo and have thrown the gun away another will be along soon.  It’s not until the later levels at the end of the game you’ll need to start considering when best to use your tools.

The earliest levels are a good training ground, easing you into the mechanics of combat, setting up each area to give the best opportunity for environment or stealth kills, and having plenty of items to throw.  Enemies are there to be beaten on, provide opportunities to learn the timing to counterattack, and get a hang of scouting an area for advantage before rushing in.  Even if you pass on pracitcing the more advanced abilities it’s not too hard to make progress, but there’s a difficulty curve that simply doesn’t let up through Redeemer‘s sixteen levels.  Once you’ve attacked an area five times in a row and gotten your head kicked in on each attempt you learn to make careful use of your abilities.  Checkpoints don’t tend to lock the previous areas and, while any weapons you were carrying are gone, anything left lying around is still there to be picked up.  Backtrack, grab hammer and massive machine gun, mow down the little guys swarming out to save the hammer for the giant armored guys who take a serious pounding to break their shields, keep an eye on where the smaller enemies might have dropped their weapons, and keep a quick hand on the dodge roll to avoid an electric stun attack.  Redeemer can get incredibly difficult, but it’s the kind of challenge that’s beatable with attention to detail and smart use of resources.

By the end, though, it’s almost worn out its welcome.  Redeemer is at its best when acting as a pure brawler, but the final encounters can be so choked with enemies that it’s hard to get a good punch in without needing to immediately follow up with a weaker counter for the guys attacking from the side.  It makes the encounters a war of attrition, landing a few good hits while earning a bit of health back for the occasional kill.  Pound down one enemy, take advantage of the momentary invulnerability when going in for a special kill, tear out his throat for a bit of health, then counter, counter, counter the next wave of attacks before landing a few more hits.  Try doing it in a room where armored snipers require constant movement to avoid taking you out in a single shot and the fight becomes hit-and-run tactics, chipping away at the horde rather than a proper brawl.

It’s also worth noting that Redeemer still has its fair share of bugs.  Seeing an enemy take the hit before a charged punch lands is kind of strange, but having one stand there unmoving and untouchable due to a takedown glitch, preventing the next area from unlocking and requiring a level reset, is just unacceptably frustrating.  I’m still not sure if the final conversation after taking out the last boss while being hounded by two enemies who spawned after they start talking was a glitch or not, but seeing as Vasily was having an ongoing chat rather than “Excuse me for a second” *punch*punch*kick*tear off head*throw as electro-grenade* “You were saying?” it seems fairly likely that wasn’t supposed to happen.

Closing Comments:

Redeemer is at its best when being a brawler, which it does most of the time.  Guns are nice to take out the small fry and leave room to concentrate on the bigger threats, and the occasional trapped room is best bulled through and forgotten, but when you’ve got a room full of enemies of different abilities and are darting about, looking for environment kills or things to throw while performing counters and working on chaining attacks together the combat flows incredibly well.  Heading into a room, assessing threats, coming up with a plan, and adjusting it on the fly to pound cyborgs and mutants into the floor feels great, especially when you fall into the fight’s rhythm and come out with barely a scratch.  At the end the difficulty increases by enemies that take a few too many hits to go down, frequently joined by armored sniper that require you to keep moving rather work on offense, but by then you’re almost done and can push on through to the final encounter.  Ignore the story and show up for the fighting and Redeemer provides a nice, long quest with plenty of unique areas to wreak bloody violence through.