Usurper Review - A Dash of Darkness & a Pinch of Familiarity
Gameplay mechanics that feel pleasantly familiar give Usurper enough clout to standalone with its dark style, especially in comparison to other titles of the same genre.
Usurper is the latest title from indie publisher, Pugware. The game has the player saving London from the terrors that plague it through the role of a resurrected knight named Saragat and the supernatural entity, Waltham, that possesses him. Together they fight hordes of demons as they acquire new skills to finally bring down the Citadel.
The layout of the Citadel and how the player controls Saragat is reminiscent of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with its illustrative character portraits and side-scrolling mechanics. The game’s background holds the player’s attention when powering through monsters with a slash or thrust of a weapon. The Citadel’s massive setting enabled Pugware to build multiple areas with different backdrops and platforms to enhance Usurper’s edginess.
Entrancing visuals aren’t the only thing Usurper offers players. The game’s music flows well with each area as Saragat advances. Usurper’s orchestral pieces compliment its design, shifting the player’s mood mid-boss fight. The piano in the game’s opening title sequence sets the mood well, letting players know they’re about to jump into a dark world filled with mayhem.
The crux of Usurper’s appeal lies in its battle mechanics. The game follows a standard seen in side-scrolling hack & slash titles but also has strong similarities to Dark Souls and even Salt and Sanctuary. Usurper borrows mechanics such as the stamina bar, where if a player attacks repeatedly, the bar will deplete into the negative. This seemed odd at first, but the player will soon realize that this is a different element than what Dark Souls is known for. The higher you level the stamina gauge, the more endurance one must attack and withstand oncoming blows with. The beauty of this is that when the “blue” stamina bar diminishes, players aren’t penalized for continuous attacks and won’t stagger, unless they get hit.
Damage will be taken to the player’s hit points when their stamina becomes negative. Health points are minimal and players must strategically customize their character to advance. Saragat does have a brief magic guard ability that reduces damage, but like Dark Souls, this whittles away at the stamina gauge when hit.
Vitae’s are the equivalent of currency—or souls in Dark Souls—where if the protagonist dies, they lose all the experience that would’ve been used to level up. Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to recover this currency upon dying, but the player can simply exit the game to the “Main Menu” and reload their save file to get all of their vitae back. Granted, the player’s acquired items don’t carry over. Vitae allows players to control how they want to build Saragat, and since he’s naturally built to be a fighter, some fans of the game may only stick with a few stats to increase.
Another aspect of Usurper’s similarity to other games are the power ups which you can acquire after beating bosses or find them during the journey. This is reminiscent of the Metroid franchise as many power ups are needed to advance to the next stage. Skills like wall jumping to ascend upward comes to mind.
The combat mechanics showcase the game’s strengths, but the character’s personalities help add to the entertainment value. Saragat’s first appearance upon being possessed depicts him as pompous and arrogant in his position of serving the Queen. Waltham’s no slouch in how transparent he is when speaking with Saragat, especially considering how easily he could destroy him by rupturing his organs from within. While the game is serious at times, the character banter helps ingests the game’s dark attributes.
Usurper’s release appeals to fans of familiar franchises like Dark Souls and Castlevania. It’s evident those titles had influence on the game’s development. With its strengths founded in games that came before it, Usurper stands firm on the Steam platform, giving players something wicked to explore in the dark corners of London.
|Sleek Character Portraits||Unclear Map Menu|
|Bone-Chilling Sound Design||Exploitable Vitae System|
|Engaging Battle System|