Blood erupts from an enemy’s neck in a sudden spout of scarlet as an impatient ‘GO!’ flashes on screen urging me hurriedly onward. In my wake lies a tapestry of casualties. Men lanced by fully stocked kebab skewers and torn apart by broadswords; a dozen poor souls flattened, fried, garrotted and carroted. Allowing myself a moment to savour the gratification and glory, I soon press on, hypnotic, myopic, and unrelenting in my adrenaline-fueled quest for absolution.
Regrettably, the tactical ‘die-and-retry’ subgenre that Hotline Miami so boldly pioneered has often left me feeling more frustrated than it has fulfilled. Although that game oozed style and innovation, neither its action nor aesthetics really clicked with me. While recent successors like Hong Kong Massacre, Katana Zero and Ape Out have managed to reinvigorate the formula, none have managed to grip me in quite the same way Bloodroots has.
While following this familiar blueprint, Bloodroots succeeds in distinguishing itself with a unique brand of lightning-fast ultraviolence. With a single strike meaning the difference between life and death, survival in this ruthless wild west demands ingenuity and improvisation. The many disparate, often mundane objects that position themselves conveniently around the self-contained areas that make up each level present seemingly endless, unconventional ways to maim, murder and mangle, meaning the world is truly your weapon.
What is so consistently compelling and rewarding about Bloodroots’ combat is that it grows with you. Early areas establish the basics as you learn to tackle a handful of enemies with nothing more than a hatchet, a carrot, a ladder and a bar stool. Each subsequent encounter introduces something new, whether that be armoured adversaries, environmental hazards or high-powered laser pistols, ensuring no two scenarios feel alike. It’s this extraordinary variety that makes each effort such a joy, whether you fail or prevail. Triumph is not simply a case of learning a given pattern but rather a matter of iterative creativity as you explore various paths, combos and strategies, learning from your mistakes and bettering yourself with each and every attempt.
Thankfully, Bloodroots’ is unforgiving but fair in its difficulty. Aside from occasionally overshooting a jump or lunge only to fall into the abyss below a level, death is never cheap and always feels earned, whether due to a brief lapse in focus or a momentary hesitation. That’s not to say the game can’t be punishingly precise at times — there is good reason that its trophies for dying a 100 times in a level or even 50 times in a single area are earned with relative ease — but rather than breeding frustration, each misstep only fed my determination while making the taste of victory ever-sweeter.
I grew to love dying because it meant another chance to explore and evolve. Meticulous level design enables this diversity of approach, presenting each skirmish as an intricate puzzle with countless solutions. I often found myself on the cusp of conquest only to restart an encounter purely out of excited curiosity to discover the myriad other means I could have pursued to reach that same goal. Once I had found my favoured route, I would take a deep breath before executing my plan with balletic accuracy. In a mesmeric state of flow, I darted methodically target-to-target, my exclamations syncopated with each slash and smash until the final foe fell. The reward for my success: a slick cinematic finisher followed by a surge of satisfaction.
An end-of-level grading system further encourages you to strive for perfection, placing you on a leaderboard and awarding high scoring players with a series of animal hats which, much like Hotline Miami’s masks, provide different effects and thus fresh approaches to each level. Several other alterations help break up the near-constant combat, punctuating the ebb and flow of gut-gouging and bone-breaking with equally fast-paced platforming sections and a trilogy of frantic, eclectic boss battles. These multi-staged gauntlets, in particular, provide some of the game’s most exhilarating and memorable moments, testing all you’ve learned thus far in orgiastic onslaughts that borrow aspects of everything from bullet-hell shooters to endless runners, pushing both your reactions and resolve to their limits.
Framing all of this malice and mayhem is an engrossing story of betrayal and retribution. Hunting down your former gang mates; a triumvirate of traitors, your journey takes you through forests, gold mines and over snow-capped mountain peaks as you pursue the elusive Mr Black Wolf. While you, Mr Wolf, are a man of few words, or rather a single phrase; “Where is Mr Black Wolf?”, your erstwhile allies, turned adversaries, do plenty of gum-flapping. Witty writing imbues each with deranged personality, bringing the tale Bloodroots’ weaves through its weird west to life. Similarly, the game’s vibrant art style and vivacious score complement its tone perfectly, heightening its visceral violence and break-neck pace with a bold use colour backed by a blistering medley of banjos and fiddles.
Bloodroots is ferocious, frenzied and utterly fantastic. A finely tuned and boundlessly inventive combat system lies at the heart of a charmingly crazed revenge tale that makes the utmost of its weird-west setting. Offering not only a thoroughly thrilling gameplay experience but an equally vividly realised game world by way of its sharp writing, striking art style and impactful audio, Bloodroots excels in delivering one the most exciting and refreshing action games in recent memory.
Bloodroots PS4 Review
Overall - Must Buy - 9.5/10
Bloodroots is a joy to play thanks to one of the most consistently challenging, creative and rewarding combat systems in any action game. Bound together by engaging storytelling, excellent audio/visual design and barrels of personality, this weird-west world is undoubtedly one worth visiting.
- A frantic, finely-crafted combat system makes for boundless creativity with every kill.
- Excellent audio design, vibrant visuals and smart writing bring its weird-west setting to life.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
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