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Sundered Review (PS4)

Enjoy Metroidvania style action-adventure games? Then you will love Sundered for the game it is trying to present. Sundered, combines platforming, a Metroidvania structure, and a wealth of progression, to deliver an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, that presentation is destroyed by a number of technical issues that create a frustrating and repetitive experience that shouldn't be played on PS4.

Sundered Review (PS4)

Introduction

Sundered is an independent 2D action-adventure game by Thunder Lotus Games. Sundered tasks you with fighting through endless hordes of enemies, in a sprawling, randomly-generated cave system. Along with a gigantic skill tree, gameplay constantly gets harder as you grow stronger.  

Sundered's animations and art are all hand-drawn, providing a beautiful looking game. However, the gameplay beneath the visage of art and animations is just as outstanding.

Sundered can be purchased from the PlayStation Store.

Story

Sundered's story is very cryptic. You play as Eshe. We pick up as Eshe in a sandy ruin, slowly pushing your way forward through a sandstorm. However, suddenly Eshe is pulled underground by two giant arms, hinting at a superior force lurking. After being greeted by The Shining Trapezohedron, a being that lends Eshe its powers assuming you follow its orders, you are left with no real goal other than the obvious. Escape the cave system.

Sundered Review (PS4) - The Shining Trapezohedron greeting Eshe.
Whilst Sundered keeps a lot of the details hidden from the player, the lack of any details sat comfortably within the game's narrative. Eshe does not know the details of the cave system, and neither should the player. The narrative does, however, reveal small titbits of information, that encourage you to continue Eshe's journey.

Gameplay

Metroidvania Style

As I mentioned above, Sundered takes the form of a 2D action-adventure game. Sundered's cave system is made up of a sprawling underground consisting of various focal points, such as boss rooms and ability gates. These points are denoted by large icons on the map. They are connected together via randomly generated pathways and corridors, denoted by the areas without an icon. This is spread across a gigantic cave system, that feels endless. New paths and shortcuts can constantly be discovered. This take on procedural generation avoids a lot of the problems that other games face. The clearly displayed, static focal points add a level of polish, removing the issues of disjointed backgrounds and items and enemies clumped together.

Sundered Review (PS4) - A small glimpse of Sundered's gigantic cave system.
This sprawling system at first can seem incredibly daunting. However, the Metroidvania style of Sundered removes this. Littered around this cave system is a number of shortcuts that can be opened. This can either by through taking alternate routes or obtaining specific abilities, allowing you to jump to a high ledge or unlock a door.

This is where a lot of Sundered's enjoyment comes from. The Metroidvania style allows for ease of ability to traverse through the caverns, making it a less boring journey to the next focal point. This sprawling map and Metroidvania style is one of Sundered's best features, as you are constantly surprised at the new things you will find in a tucked away corner.    

Abilities and Perks

This traversal through the caves of Sundered is made even more enjoyable by the addition of abilities. This is the first of three different forms of progression in Sundered. These are a good number of these abilities. Some, like the Strength Amplifier, even play into the Metroidvania style, allowing you to progress to previous areas. However, others, like the Valkyrie Cannon, focus on helping you deal with the hordes of enemies you encounter in the caves.

Sundered Review (PS4) - The Valkyrie Cannon primed to fire.
All of these abilities feel incredible to use. The Valkyrie Cannon fires with extreme force, tearing through enemies and knocking Eshe back a good distance. It is a favourite of mine.

The second form of progression comes in the form of the expansive upgrade tree found in Sundered's hub. The Sanctuary. This tree is made up of a lot of small incremental upgrades, and a scattering of moderate buffs to Eshe and her abilities. The smaller upgrades take the form of buffing Eshe's overall stats such as increasing health and reducing damage taken. The moderate larger upgrades include buffs such as increasing Eshe's health elixir capacity and reducing shield regeneration time. All abilities can be upgraded as well, allowing for some player choice in what they want to specialise in. Do you want a super powerful cannon? You can have it. Do you want to be nimble and agile? You can be.

Sundered Review (PS4) - The expansive upgrade tree in its full glory.
These upgrades can be purchased with Shards, Sundered's main currency. These amount to nothing more than Souls in a Dark Souls game. Enemies drop them and you have to pick them up by running over them. However, one main difference is that you do not lose shards upon death. Pair this with the challenging, brutally difficult combat and you get a forgiving experience. It allows you to feel accomplishment, even if you have to go through twenty different rooms and multiple hordes of enemies to reach where you were before.

The fact that these upgrades also make the experience slightly easier never left me getting irate at a death. Every death was worth it. I didn't lose anything. Some may consider this too generous but Sundered's combat is already stressful enough.

The final form of progression and customisation comes in the form of Perks. These are placed in-between abilities and upgrades in terms of scale. They often offer adjustments to Eshe's stats. Almost all of these have an advantage and a disadvantage. One perk may give a chance for monsters to convert their shards into a health elixir. However, its disadvantage is that monsters now drop fifteen percent fewer shards.

Sundered Review (PS4) - There is also a great choice of perks.
As you can only equip three perks, this advantage and disadvantage system adds weight to your choice of perk. I constantly found myself questioning if a perk's advantage was worth having in exchange for the disadvantage. This gave me more choice over the Eshe I wanted to play. And, there is never a shortage of these perks, as they can be found throughout the cave system and from defeated enemies. 

Combat and Bosses

Of course, none of these abilities and upgrades would be worth obtaining if the combat was bad. Luckily Sundered's combat feels great. As I mentioned above the Valkyrie Cannon is hugely satisfying, but Eshe's sword is the same. You have the ability to slice in one of four directions. However, these slices can be chained together as a combo. Sundered also allows you to use this sword whenever wherever. This allows you to slowly progress your way forward, slashing through a horde of enemies, whilst collecting shards. This combination is enjoyable to pull off.

Sundered Review (PS4) - Eshe slashing her way through enemies.
These moves can also be performed in mid-air allowing for another option during combat. Pushing up and slashing will perform an upward slash, slightly elevating you and also allowing you to hit objects and enemies out of reach. Whilst, pushing down and slashing will plummet Eshe to the ground performing an attack that does greater damage.

Also, this combat is as enjoyable and skilful during the various bosses Sundered offers. These bosses tower in size, emphasising how large the cave system is. Their designs are all interesting and unique, with attacks being both unpredictable and telegraphed.

The bosses are made exhilarating and tense by the need to use Eshe's combat to hit weak-points that are in mid-air. This adds a sense of urgency to the battles as you need to maintain your position in the air using attacks, whilst dodging the enemies attacks. And often in order to gain height again, it requires a bit of a climb.

Sundered Review (PS4) - The boss Dominion in all its glory!

Visuals and audio

There is one more thing that makes these bosses even more enjoyable. The Music. The music during boss fights is outstanding, especially towards the closing moments. The music makes the already tense battles even tenser. The clustered nature of the music during the closing moments of boss battles makes overcoming them so much more rewarding, as the clustered audio evaporates with the boss' life.

Unfortunately, the rest of the music doesn't have the same effect. A lot of it is quiet. Sometimes I could barely even notice it was there. However, I never felt like it was missing this music. It was just noticeable due to the presence of it in boss fights. This likely made the boss fights even better as the music stands out from the atmosphere exploring the cave system brings.

The visuals don't suffer from this problem. The art style is incredibly striking and pleasing to the eye. Every aspect of the game visually looks amazing. And, the game even knows it. There are sections dedicated to vistas. Nothing is here to collect, you just admire the gorgeous background.

Sundered Review (PS4) - A small example of the gorgeous visuals Sundered offers.

Performance

Here is where everything I love about Sundered gets tainted and corrupted. Sundered runs badly. I suffered frame-drops more times than I could count. These often occurred sporadically and with no rhyme or reason. They also led to many deaths as I couldn't tell my enemies locations. This was incredibly frustrating as even though I gained shards, I died through no fault of my own.

As well as that Sundered often stutters and freezes. This left me in the middle of a fight not knowing if the game will return and become playable in a few seconds, or crash and close itself. And yes, the game crashed around ten times during the time I spent playing.

The performance of Sundered is absolutely dreadful, and it utterly ruins the experience. I no longer enjoyed exploring the caves, as I knew the next room I entered could trigger the next crash or frame drop. This problem is likely exclusive to the PS4 version, you will likely not see any of these problems on PC.  

Conclusion

Sundered is a wonderful experience full of engrossing gameplay, thrilling battles and a wealth of progression. Unfortunately, this engrossing experience is destroyed by numerous technical problems, that creates frustration. Therefore, whilst the core of Sundered is great, PS4 is not the platform to enjoy it on.

PROSCONS
+ Metroidvania style– Multiple serious technical issues, that causes poor   performance
+ Satisfying and tense combat
+ A wealth of progression, in multiple forms
+ Striking art-syle and gorgeous vistas

7.5
Good

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