It feels like every other month or so now that a game will come along with the latest spin on the Souls formula. Immortal: Unchained, from developer Toadman Interactive, is the latest title to offer its own take on what made Dark Souls so special back in 2011, but does it rise to the task of successfully emulating past experiences? Much like so many games that have come before it, and are almost certain to come after, unfortunately not.
To say that Immortal: Unchained’s plot is convoluted would be an understatement. In its most basic form, the universe is on the brink of collapse with the source of a catastrophic event threatening to end life as we know it, and it’s up to you, a “living weapon”, to stop it. That’s only the tip of the iceberg however.
The game’s introduction throws a mammoth amount of information at you, to the point where you’re still struggling to comprehend something that was said a minute ago while the cutscene keeps on trucking along. It doesn’t let up either, with lengthy scenes that constantly reference backstory you haven’t the foggiest idea about. Some may see this as extremely informative, but it’s the complete opposite of what made the mystery of the Souls universe so intriguing, and it simply doesn’t work on any sort of level. Seriously, there are narrative threads here that wouldn’t look out of place in the Destiny universe. This isn’t the sort of thing you overload a newcomer with at the start of your game, because we were lost before even pressing a button as a result.
When we did get to control the action though, things got somewhat brighter. The title’s defining mechanic is that instead of a more traditional focus on melee combat, gunplay takes centre stage. There are melee weapons to find and use, but using them exclusively would be a recipe for failure. Instead, guns play host to the primary weapon slot, with a varied range to choose from. No matter which one you select though, the gameplay loop remains largely the same. Due to the lack of a shield, there’s no reliable way of defending yourself. There is a dodge which allows you to avoid incoming fire for a split second, but thanks to being attached to a stamina gauge, you can only use it so much. As a result, much of the action revolves around taking potshots at enemies from behind cover and retreating when a melee focused combatant charges your position.
Because of this, everything feels very formulaic. The game doesn’t allow for very much experimentation outside of the aforementioned tactics, and so combat becomes monotonous far too quickly. An unreliable lock-on mechanic allows you to set up your shots from a short distance, and a charged up assault of bullets via the R1 button will stop most enemies in their tracks. Every engagement feels the same, and the game does little to warrant any deviation from the tried and true strategies.
In theory, boss fights should give you a break from this repetitive nature, but they too suffer from attack patterns that are all too easy to learn and mechanics that can be exploited. Dodging the incoming attacks and circling around until you can hit the boss’ weak point settles most matters, and once again you’re almost encouraged to stick to what you know rather than experimenting.
Immortal: Unchained’s focus on gunplay does change the gameplay loop associated with the genre, but not in a meaningful manner. Rather than hiding behind a shield, you’re putting a piece of cover in-between you and the enemy, waiting for them to stop firing off shots and then placing some yourself. It’s far too similar and actually inferior when compared to what has come before, and so the entire experience is accompanied with the baggage of been there, done that. There’s still potential to be realised in this genre off-shoot, but these aren’t the foundations to be building off of.
In complete contrast however, level design is the one area where the game truly shines. With a Demon's Souls-like hub world that branches off into different regions by way of magical doors, you’ll explore the likes of icy castles and overgrown forests, with every environment twisting and turning on itself to create handy shortcuts to different areas. It’s the one area where Immortal: Unchained does make some ground on its inspirations.
Obelisks take the form of bonfires, and interacting with these re-fills your health bar, replenishes your healing items, and respawns most enemies within the vicinity. Bits are the currency that you’ll use to upgrade your stats and equipment, and you’ll accrue them through slaughtering the enemies you encounter on your path to victory. The typical player stats are on offer, with strength, toughness, and endurance all having an impact on the weapons you can wield and the extent to which your life and stamina gauges stretch. It’s nothing you haven’t already seen before.
While one or two of our complaints could have been excused if we’d had an enjoyable experience on the whole, what can’t be forgiven is the technical and presentational issues that plague the game from beginning to end. Multiple hard crashes to the PS4 dashboard and constant hitching freezes the action on a regular basis, with our screen halted in place from anywhere under a second to up to five whole seconds. This usually happens within areas that contain an obelisk, and since you’re going to be dying a whole lot, this hitching is something you’re going to have to put up with fairly regularly. It’s completely unacceptable, to the point where we’re surprised the game was allowed to release in this state.
Immortal: Unchained isn’t inherently an awful game, but it has very little going in its favour. Its level design is one shining beacon among a sea of bang average gameplay, unacceptable technical flaws, and a combat system that does little to distinguish itself from its inspirations. Those enamoured with the Souls formula may discover something to like, but they’ll have to sort through a mountain of mediocrity to find it.