When I first saw the trailer for Butcher I had two thoughts. The first was “Wow, this is some edgelord bullshit.” No joke – it’s the kind of thing only misanthropic high school nihilists would think up. It might not have been Hatred levels of cringe, but it was up there. Once I was able to straighten out my face, the second thought occurred: “You know, this kind of reminds me of Doom.” The fast paced action, the fact that you can bring Chainsaw Ripping Death to your foes, it all reminded me a lot of last year’s Doom reboot, and I. LOVED. last year’s Doom reboot. So with that in mind, and an already embedded love for these kinds of retro demakes, I decided to go ahead and give Butcher a try.
And I… wish the game was better. (Editor’s Note: Never let it be said we don’t try to be optimistic about games… until they crush our expectations, and our hearts.)
Butcher isn’t offensively bad, but I can’t say it was all that good either. I think I see what the game was going for, and what it wants to be is right up my alley. However, nearly every aspect of the game is flawed. Let me get the few good things I have to say about the game out of the way first, mostly because I want to remind myself that they actually existed.
The music was alright. Nothing phenomenal, but it suited the game’s tone well and is easily the best part of Butcher overall. And while the game’s marketing of “FUCK YEAH, this game is ultraviolent” was cringe-worthy as hell… I do like me some ultraviolence, and seeing the bloody aftermath of that violence was a nice treat. The levels become so coated with blood and giblets that I almost expected the character to start sliding around each level.
Unfortunately for Butcher, creating that mess wasn’t nearly as fun as witnessing the aftermath. Right from the start things, Butcher has some of the worst visual design I’ve ever experienced. I normally try not to focus so much on a game’s graphics because I genuinely believe they are the least important part of a game, but Butcher‘s aesthetics are so bad it actually hurts the overall experience.
Like a lot of indie games, Butcher uses a minimalist, pixelated aesthetic. However, character models are small, lack almost any detail, and don’t stand out well against the game’s dark backgrounds. Even after I cranked the contrast all the way up, everything still had issues blending in together. Because of this, the act of picking out the enemies from the levels was more of a chore than it should be for any game.
Once I got accustom to differentiating the NPCs from the background, the lack of detail still hurt my ability to process any given scenario. Is this enemy one of the crazy melee guys that are going to rush me? Does he have an assault rife and can hit me from afar? Or does he have a shotgun and thus I can easily kill him from a few steps back? The only way to know is to get shot at and lose a shitload of health.
The only character that I could consistently point out were the jetpack wearing assholes, since it’s pretty obvious when someone isn’t touching the ground. For the first time ever, I almost found myself wishing I was playing some shitty early access game. At least then I could tell the ugly, asset flipped zombie apart from the ugly, asset flipped cityscape and miles of fucking nothing. (Editor’s Note to Self: Update Will’s swearing tally…)
I had said earlier that part of what drew me to Butcher was how much the game play reminded me of Doom‘s 2016 reboot. To it’s credit, when Butcher allowed me to play it the way I think it was intended to be played, it does hold up to that impression.
Which usually lasted about 20 seconds at a time.
Most of the walls and floors can be shot or moved through by both you and your enemies, meaning you’re almost never safe from fire. This kind of set up usually means the developer wants you moving your ass throughout the level to avoid getting shot. This kind of frantic pace also tends to mean they don’t want you wasting your time lining up your shots. If you played Doom 2016 (or any of classic arena FPS) this will feel familiar to you.
Butcher fails to live up to this in two major ways. The first is dealing with enemy fire. Most of those classic shooetrs used projectile based attacks, meaning you could see bullets coming at you so you were able to react to them. Now, remember what I said about how it was hard to pick out enemies in this game? Projectiles aren’t any easier. Once an enemy starts shooting, you’re more or less guaranteed to lose some life.
Butcher‘s second failing is the ammo given to the player. While there are ammo pick ups scattered throughout each level, and enemies do often drop additional ammo when killed, I never felt like I had enough to play the way the game was asking me to. Maybe it would help if ammo from foes didn’t disappear so damn quick, but my guns were constantly running dry. That doesn’t work when you are asking players to take this kind of spray-and-pray approach. (Editor’s Note: In other words – you can’t be both Doom 3 and Doom 2016)
At first I thought this was an issue with my playing. So instead of rampaging through the levels, I tried to take a more calculating approach. This got me killed instantly almost every time. Then again, I thought I knew what the game wanted from me. It wanted me to memorize the levels, to be able to anticipate where enemies were going to spawn in and get the jump on them. This almost worked, but the game was rarely consistent in how it reacted to my input.
Sometimes I could kill certain enemies with my shotgun from a distance. Other times, when I took that same shot at the very same enemy, I’d only manage to stun them for a bit. Maybe this was due to me not hitting them in the right spot, but like I said, there is so little detail in the game’s aesthetic design that it’s literally impossible for me to know that for sure.
In the end, Butcher felt like it was asking you to play Doom but with Resident Evil‘s ammo count. Maybe this stops being an issue later in the game, when the player has more than two guns and a chainsaw that’s pretty much useless when you’re up against armed foes, but I couldn’t be bothered to find out. Of the games five stages (each with four levels) I made it through the first two before calling it quits.
Guys, I was rooting for this one. I really, really wanted to like it. And to be fair, there is enough here to where I wouldn’t be opposed to giving a sequel a try if the team at Transhuman Design cleaned up….pretty much everything. That being said, this game probably would have been better had it been Butchered at Birth. (Editor’s Note: HEYO!)
Butcher was developed by Transhuman Design
Point of Sale: Steam, coming to PS4
A review copy of Butcher was provided by Transhuman Design.
The sprite looks… very small.
Good write-up. The game does look like there’s potential there, and maybe with some gameplay tweaking the devs can still stick their landing.