One of the first games I can recall truly challenging me was No More Heroes. Not from a difficulty standpoint, mind you—I mean purely from an artistic perspective. It was a confusing, contradictory game, something that stood as a defiant one-fingered salute to most of the Wii’s library. Violent, sexual, brash, filled with clashing ideas and aesthetics… I loved it. It’s still one of my favourite games to date, along with Suda’s criminally underrated Lollipop Chainsaw. With these two titles, not to mention their countless other cult gems, Grasshopper Manufacture has developed a reputation for delivering outlandish and polarizing titles to a fairly niche audience. It’s that reputation, I’d imagine, that Gung Ho was hoping to capitalize on when they bought them and begun production on Let It Die.
However, the successful, tried-and-true freemium model of the Puzzles & Dragons publisher doesn’t mesh well with a bombastic, anti-establisher developer like Grasshopper Manufacture.
On the surface, all seems normal, or at least as normal as a Suda joint can be. Players start half-naked on a subway train, hooked up to all sorts of tubes and wires. After they get thrown off, a Hispanic Grim Reaper on a skateboard tells them to climb a thirty-foot building and kill anything that gets in their way. From there, players will have to do just that, scratching and clawing their way through crazed scavengers, robots, and sentient heaps of limbs, along with some interesting boss encounters.
To longtime Suda fans, this all checks out. It’s a bizarre headtrip of a game, filled to the brim with oblique dialogue, gratuitous violence, and overt sexuality—all hallmarks of his style. On paper, this should equal another notch on his belt of victories, and a recovery after the disappointing Killer Is Dead.
It should, but it doesn’t. Because to fully experience Let It Die, players have to suffer through some remarkably egregious FTP chicanery. “Egregious” even feels pretty kind, all things considered.
Let’s start with the bare-minimum: the roguelike nature of the game. The game is basically Dark Souls-lite, complete with rolling, triggers for attacks, etc. It’s a pretty clunky interpretation of that sort of game, a cut below even Lords of the Fallen. But it’s basically functional, outside of cheap deaths due to dodgy hit detection or the spastic camera. This would be all well and good if dying wasn’t a thing that strips players of their levels, gear, and practically everything else. But it does, and even if players do encounter their reanimated corpse as an enemy (which can be used to get extra experience and cash,) it still feels pretty cheap. While roguelikes can be done with this sort of gameplay, albeit with mixed results (what’s up, Necropolis) there’s another crucial, grueling part to the whole affair—Death Metal.
See, Death Metal is a sort of a currency that players can get by spending real world money. Get a game over? Spend a Death Metal. Running low on cash? Spend a Death Metal. Need more storage? How about a speedier cooldown for crafting? Spend a Death Metal to get more money to spend, or use one to instantly craft new gear… which you then have to pay for with that money that you can get by using, you guessed it, a Death Metal. From top to bottom, this game was built around one thing: getting cash out of your wallet. While all games, ideally, are intended to make money, there’s a fine line between selling a product and nickel-and-diming a customer to death just so they can marginally progress in a game. Let It Die falls into the latter category.
The sad thing, however, is that Death Metals aren’t the only predatory practice in Let It Die. There’s also a subscription service that renews every month you can opt-in to. This will give you access to a golden elevator, meaning you have unrestricted access to any level of the game. It also gives you all sorts of other perks, like “climbing the tower faster” and “playing more efficiently.” So on top of buying extra lives and currency, you can also buy an easier game, for all intents and purposes. Every time you get into the game a marginal amount, it reminds you how much more money you could be spending. It’s immersion breaking and feels pretty scummy all around.
That’s not to mention what’s likely the biggest flaw of Let It Die—it doesn’t really feel finished. The ideas for what could’ve been a great game are all here. The post-apocalypse Tokyo setting is compelling, the characters charming, and the set pieces (including a cool fight across a trap-filled train) are memorable. Yet most of the levels run together, with some even being direct carbon copies of each other, and aren’t particularly engaging in the slightest. Some bosses are even repetitions of each other, right down to variations on the same movesets. It’s hard to get taken in by the world when so much of it looks the same, fire-breathing dinosaurs notwithstanding.
The imprecise and clunky combat, burdened with an awful lock-on system, doesn’t help all that much, either—even if it is pretty satisfying watching an enemy explode into a bloody mess after hitting them. Satisfying moments like those are hampered by getting stuck against a wall, being immobilized by a pretty unclear stamina system, or falling off a ledge after you throw a punch. I feel like I’d be more forgiving I didn’t lose my character with each increasingly cheap death, but the fact that players are basically financially penalized for getting killed by clumsy design is demoralizing.
Also worth mentioning is how little the weapons ultimately matter in the long run. You can hit the level cap pretty fast in Let It Die, and when you do, your strong melee attack is disproportionately stronger than any other item you’ll be getting for quite a while. While your proficiency with weapon types goes up incrementally, it progresses at such a slow rate that it almost doesn’t feel worth the slog when you can just punch things to death with one or two hits. In a game that advertises its quirky, offbeat arsenal, that’s pretty disappointing—not to mention all of the weapons are breakable, and once they break, you can’t fix them. Unlike Dark Souls, the weapon gets ripped from your inventory, and you have to either find a new one or craft one using a blueprint, materials, and money.
So that’s Let It Die, the latest from a developer who I consider one of the most gifted in the industry. A freemium roguelike that feels unfinished, yet has an undeniable charm to it if you can look past the clunky gameplay and insidious microtransactions. Quite honestly, I would’ve liked to experience the project originally known as Lily Bergamo without any of the gimmicks, and with a bit more time put into polishing up the gameplay.
If you’re a Suda fan, this is worth at least looking at for an hour or two, considering it’s free. You’ll probably find some stuff to like here, even if it is buried underneath some monotony and bad design and doesn’t really motivate you to finish it. But my bias and nostalgia for the company’s past efforts can’t wash away the fact that Let It Die is an unpolished, somewhat unfinished-feeling game, and a soulless exercise in profiteering off of microtransactions.
To see Grasshopper’s name being used for a blatantly predatory title is, frankly, depressing. They deserve a whole lot better.