Review: Infected Shelter

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Review copy provided by developer

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There are plenty of ways to fight in games, but there’s something unique about side-scrolling brawlers. Bunching up 2D enemies to pound on in the corner, scooting a few pixels up to avoid an attack, or jump-kicking bosses to death all hold special places in my heart. We’ve come a long way since Double Dragon and Final Fight, though, and titles like Infected Shelter are trying to mix things up with new mechanics layered over classic gameplay. In this case, it’s a promising start, but the folks behind this one will need to make the most of their Early Access period to see their vision realized.

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Hey, guess what? It’s a zombie outbreak again. Don’t worry too much about the details, just know that you’ve got a camp to expand and a lot of ground to cover to do it. As either a rock star lady or a wheelchair-bound fellow and his nurse (with more characters to be added later), you’ll head off into the wastelands of society to battle both the undead and the brutal military forces trying to expunge anyone who’s not with them. Along the way you’ll find plenty of weapons and supplies to keep you on your rampage, as well as permanent upgrades and new items to unlock once you reach base camps. And if you can get far enough, you might get a little insight into what happened to your blighted world.

As a brawler, Infected Shelter starts off from a very simple foundation. You have light attacks you can mash for basic attack chains, and a heavy attack to cap off a chain or just do bigger damage. To evade attacks you can jump or roll, and attacks in mid-air can let you hang there like an anime character to beat on aerial foes. That’s pretty much it for combat variety until you pick up a weapon, but there are dozens to choose from and always a handful on every screen you reach. You can cave skulls in with shovels and maces, hack foes up with swords and chainsaws, gun folks down with rifles and shotguns, and even grab severed body parts to slam into other body parts.

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The developers didn’t stop there, though, adding entire skill, gear, and item systems over the basics. You can have up to four skills at a time that run on cooldowns, things like summoning lighting storms, meteors, or allies. Your base weapon and outfit can be swapped out for others with randomized stats, anything from boosted resistances to special effects when you’re running or eating food. And then there are pets to help you fight, relics that provide new passive effects, and randomized brews that grant randomzed effects. This is where the roguelike influence is the clearest, in the huge mashup of items and resources you’ll find during runs, and unlocking exotic new tools like fire swords and ice chainsaws to enhance your rampages.

Unfortunately, the roguelike influence doesn’t extend much further than that at the moment. Your runs are mostly linear affairs, with a few side rooms and shops to stop at as you continue your inexorable left-to-right flow. The rooms themselves might be different but the environments and enemies are mostly the same, and it seems that you’ll always stop at the same bosses and mini-bosses on every journey. This can work for some roguelikes, but generally ones where there’s more variety to the combat. There’s certainly a lot of factors to the combat here, but at its core you’ll be mashing X, X, X, Y and doing the same canned executions on the same enemies every time you start up a new character.

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Is it fun? Yeah, as long as you’re not entirely burned out on the zombie scene. The art style is bright and cartoony, and while the sound design is still lacking in some places it punches up the combat pretty well. Combat feels a bit light and floaty but I can’t deny the satisfaction of cleaving through a whole squad of zombies with a chainsaw. It’s just that right now, runs are going to feel pretty samey outside of different weapons and skills appearing along the way. You can’t get insane builds going like you can in other contemporary roguelikes, so hoovering up relics and agonizing over outfits doesn’t really have the same impact. It feels like all the pieces for a rollicking good brawler are here, they just need to be remixed and punched up to hit that must-play level. Until then, though, you’ll get your fill of zombie murder here.

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