Last year's fantastic DOOM reboot nailed the energy and relentless forward motion of id Software's industry defining FPS, stripping out any sort of meaningful narrative in favour of a lighting-fast funhouse ride. Yet where DOOM 2016 gave old fashioned mayhem a shiny new coat of paint, Transhuman Design’s BUTCHER keeps the industrial aesthetic and audio design of 90s shooters and transposes it into a punishing and addictive 2D platformer.
The setup is simple and classic: a nameless grunt arrives at an ominous space station and is promptly sucked into a demonic portal that - messily- transports them to an area in which hostiles approach from all angles with lethal intentions. Armed with a shotgun and an apparent license to insta-gib on site, they work towards the exit of each area; navigating traps, environmental hazards, and endlessly spawning enemies.
The mix of rapid and responsive shooting mechanics and pixelated art style recalls Dennaton’s Hotline Miami, and BUTCHER shares that game's retro feel and authentic soundscape (there’s even a CRT filter in the options menu). The sound design is a highlight, with steady thrum of bass persisting behind shrill screams of enemies burning in the explosions of their own jetpacks. Sirens signal incoming attack waves and the constant barrage of gunfire can build to overwhelming levels, but that’s all part of the games visceral charm.
It’s easy to forget that DOOM and many of its peers were first and foremost horror games, creating an atmosphere of oppressive dread to accompany the slaughter. BUTCHER shares this intention; the action is nerve-shredding and the inhuman growl of enemies is unsettling. It’s a sensory assault.
Combat is solid, with a twin stick control system bolstered by snap on aim that feels quick and precise. Progression through levels is a simple case of run and gun until gated areas require you to kill all enemy waves to proceed. Later stages introduce hazards that are deadly to your foes as well - giant mechanical spiders with circular saws can be your downfall but also turn the tide of a fight. One area has crushing pillars that you can lure enemies into and watch them squish without firing a single bullet.
There are five stages overall, each with four levels and a sixth that pits you against a screen-filling final boss. Each area has a unique visual theme and gameplay hook; the volcano base throws in rising lava levels while the jungle base increases the verticality of the platforming and adds underwater sections. The most striking environment is The Last City, with its rain-soaked neon streets and eerily dilapidated interiors. There are a handful of enemy types strewn throughout the levels, ranging from regular soldiers and their jet pack variants to rocket-firing transports and feral cats. All enemies explode alike and the weapons are distinct enough to compensate for the fact that you can barely see them. The starting chainsaw and shotgun combo is a reliable fallback when ammo is low and the spray of the machine gun control the room effectively.
Then there are the power players - a flamethrower with an unpredictable spread, a bouncy grenade launcher, and a devastating railgun that disregards terrain obstructions. There’s so much fun to be had splattering foes: gunfire rattles the screen with every trigger pull and gorehounds will be satisfied by the guts that festoon as you blast an enemy apart.
There’s nothing to the gameplay that extends beyond finding and pressing buttons to open the way forward, and skilled players can reach the end in a couple of hours, but collectible skulls and nigh-on impossible difficulty settings encourage return visits. This game is incredibly hard, and at times you'll be repeating levels dozens of times to get past a particular fight. It isn't unfair, however. The learning curve is tuned nicely, and the levels themselves are designed to be revisited, teasing out ideal routes and shaving time off speed runs.
It’s brief, chaotic, and hard as nails, but this is a glorious throwback that every fan of 90s shooters should pick up. Brutal and loud, BUTCHER makes for a suitable companion to last year's excellent DOOM reboot.