Learn more about the game

Deadlink Preview – Cyberpunk FPS Excellence

Deadlink provides near-perfect FPS roguelite gameplay but with somewhat disappointing story progression. This inaugural title by Gruby Entertainment shows their Unreal chops when it comes to core game design. Taking the best kind of inspiration from DOOM Eternal, and matched nicely with roguelite elements, Deadlink's shooting is pure flow-state fun.

Deadlink Preview - Cyberpunk FPS Excellence

I think I have to finally admit that there might actually be some merit to roguelite games. I couldn’t get into games like Hades or Dead Cells because I couldn’t stand having to traipse through the beginning levels all the time. It felt like they were trying to make up for a lack of unique environment designs with procedurally generated maps. But I realize now that I had just not found a genre where roguelite elements truly clicked for me. Deadlink, with its fast-paced, flow-state-inducing gameplay, has helped to open my eyes to the appeal of roguelites. I’m never getting bored of the environments because I’m too distracted by the gameplay to even think about them. Without a good core loop, it would’ve been tedious to play but thankfully, Deadlink was an absolute pleasure to preview.

Deadlink is the first title by a Polish team of developers called Gruby Entertainment, founded only two years ago, and published by Super Good Games. For an inaugural title that’s only been in development for two years, Deadlink truly shows the talents of its developers. They know their way around the Unreal Engine, the controls are all precise and I didn’t find any issues or bugs. The gameplay is up there with some of the best core shooting I’ve ever seen, inspired heavily by DOOM Eternal. The only low points I would say Deadlink has are its lack of content and its story.

Deadlink is available for early access on Steam for $19.99.

Deadlink EA Release Trailer

Story – Typical Cyberpunky Stuff

It’s hard to criticize the story of Deadlink too much because it’s obviously not the selling point of the game. The writing is really only there to inform the setting upon which you can run around and shoot things. There is lore and world-building but not enough to immerse yourself in, and is basically unnecessary for the core loop to work. I won’t deny my disappointment, having grown to love the depth that the cyberpunk genre has shown as a whole.

Cyberpunk

You are a nameless agent of the CSA, a federal response to the growing rates of crime spurred on by the corporate hellscape that rampant capitalism has turned the city into. Using the Deadlink Protocol, you create copies of your consciousness that are injected into autonomous military-grade androids that you use to fight against the forces of evil corporations. One such corporation is Tora Industries: a once humble Japanese farming equipment production company before making ties with the Yakuza crime syndicate and becoming one of the biggest corporate entities in the world. Their members specialize in synthetic body modification and … is that enough cyberpunk for you? Okay, cool.

Deadlink Preview - Mashing Mechs

Deadlink Preview – Mashing Mechs

I don’t have an issue with the writing, I have an issue with the presentation. Everything I laid out in the previous paragraph, I learned just now by reading through the codex entries after having played for fifteen hours knowing nothing. There are three characters in the game: you; Usagi, a specialist who went into the federal sector instead of research because she wanted access to the highest level of technology; and Crusher, the executive director of the CSA. That’s it. No big bad guy, NPCs, or any real goal to achieve. Your allies may seem interesting on paper but have little practical function to the plot. Usagi is really only there to make fun of you when you do badly and congratulate you when you do well. And Crusher will randomly give big exposition dumps, all of which I forgot as soon as his dialogue box went away.

Lack of Content

After I defeated the second boss, I was hyped. What new level, with its own set of enemies and aesthetics, will I see? Maybe a cool neon cybernetic forest, or a skyscraper level. I couldn’t help but be disappointed when the game was then like “sweet, you beat the big bad guy, nicely done, now just do it on a harder difficulty I guess.” It is still in early access, so we’ll probably see more content over time. And my excitement for more speaks to how much fun I was having. So this criticism could be read more as a half compliment, nestled within a beckon for more. So what did I enjoy?

The sumo guys carge at you

The sumo guys carge at you

Gameplay – FPS at Its Finest

I would argue that in terms of fast-paced core shooting mechanics, DOOM Eternal is unparalleled. That being said, I am ecstatic to see their design inspiring new titles in the genre. Deadlink does enough to set itself apart while keeping the elements that make it fun. I want to shake the hand of whoever thought of the idea to make your enemies the main method of restoring your health. We’d grown accustomed to the loop of shooting things until you got hit, then running away to find health before re-entering the battle. That ebb and flow of fighting and retreating makes it more difficult to maintain a constant flow state. But when a game gives you the power to refuel while in combat, there are no breaks. You just go. And Deadlink does a great job of providing an immersive environment.

Maximizing damage

Maximizing damage

Your Capabilities

There are three combat shells (classes) to choose from before each run in Deadlink. Each combat shell has two specific weapons and its own set of unique skills that run on cooldowns. You start off with the Soldier shell, which is your basic mid-range class. You get a shotgun, a rocket launcher, and the ability to grapple toward enemies as well as an AOE stun attack. After completing your first run, you unlock the Hunter shell, which is more long/mid-range with a pistol and energy gun that shoots a big horizontal arc.

This was my jam. Even after unlocking the final shell, which is your typical heavy mech class, I stuck with the Hunter. It has a teleporter that replaces your position with that of a selected enemy. It’s so fun watching an enemy throw a grenade at you, then trading positions with them so they get hit by their own attack. It also comes with camouflage that leaves behind an explosive decoy when you activate it. Great for when you’re getting overwhelmed and need to escape and flank your opponents.

Marking System

What Deadlink needs the most credit for is its marking system. So you have both health and shields. Your health is pretty trash, a few attacks and it’s depleted, and you can only get health back by buying it at shops or getting lucky in between arenas. The main resource you have to concentrate on is your shields which drops from marked enemies. To mark an enemy, you have to use a skill on them or hit them with a grenade.

So each battle turns into a series of moments of killing your opponents while dodging their attacks, then getting back whatever shields you’ve lost by using your skills when they’re ready. Your primary weapon has infinite ammo, and you can bash spawning ammo caches for secondary ammo, so you’re never out of commission. Each battle is constant, with the only downbeats being before and after the fight. What makes each run unique, is the temporary upgrades you get in between each battle arena.

A marked sumo guy

A marked sumo guy

Run-Specific Upgrades

This is where I think the roguelite elements really shine. In other roguelites/roguelikes I’ve played, almost every element will be randomized between runs, including weapons. I’m not the biggest fan of this because not every skill you learn is transferable to every weapon. So if you start with a weapon you don’t like, you’re stuck with it until you randomly find one you do like or find some strategy to make that weapon effective to your playstyle. In Deadlink, you choose your playstyle at the beginning and that doesn’t change. What changes are the tactics you employ based on what upgrades you get.

After each battle, you’re given a randomly generated set of doors to take. Some doors will give you health back or extra experience or different types of currency. Most of the time, though, you’ll only get one door and it’ll give you an option for three upgrades. Each upgrade will have a passive function, like more shields or something, and an active function which is activated when you perform a certain task of your choosing.

So if you attach an upgrade that makes it so your next shot will shock your opponent to your teleporter, every time you teleport, you should aim your next shot at a robotic opponent because shock damage is more effective on them. This gets complicated quickly but because it’s incremental, and your playstyle doesn’t change throughout the run, it’s natural. By the end, you’re using completely different tactics to the start of the run while still using the same guns and abilities. It’s seamless and satisfying.

Other Upgrades

Deadlink also offers a series of permanent upgrades. There are three different types of currencies: credits, tokens, and experience. Credits are only used during runs. You encounter shops and can buy health and run-specific upgrades with whatever credits you get during battle. Tokens are the most valuable resource. They not only are needed for specific permanent upgrades, but they also unlock higher tiers of upgrades to spend your experience on. You only get tokens from bosses and by random token doors in-between arenas. So make sure you always choose the token doors whenever they show up.

Graphics & Sound – Cell-Shady Goodness and Pumping Bass

When it came to brainstorming aesthetics, they pretty much just had the word ‘Cyberpunk’ up on the board then they brushed off their hands, work done. It doesn’t look bad in any way, it’s just nothing you haven’t seen before. Bright neons, sleek surfaces, sharp corners. They lean more heavily into the cartoon side compared to something like Cyberpunk 2077. That’s not to say it doesn’t work though.

Ominous stairs leading to a boss

Deadlink Preview – Ominous stairs leading to a boss

Enemy and Level Design

Though it’s not all that unique, the art design does help with distinguishing enemies and assets. In the split-second decision-making of the gameplay, at no point was I confused about who I was up against. Even with the myriad of different enemy types. The only exception is that some light enemies will have shields and there’s no way to tell until you shoot them and see an orange bar of health above their heads. This can easily be fixed by giving them an orange glow or something, but it’s also not that much of an issue that it needs fixing.

When it comes to level design, that’s where I feel it needs work. There are only two different locations, the city streets and inside a big corporate warehouse. The streets are fun. All of the enemies are nice and colorful, and there’s enough neon lighting around to make everything feel vibrant. The warehouse level, though, is visually non-stimulating and lacks luster. Especially considering it’s also the final stage. Instead of procedurally generating whole arenas, there are a set number of possible arenas per stage that appear randomly. There are enough arenas to make each run feel somewhat unique, but not that many. After a few runs, you’ll start recognizing them. After a few hours, you’ll know them all by heart.

The vibrant streets

The vibrant streets

Music Fit for the Genre

In-between battle arenas, the music feels like it’s far away. Deep muffled bass tones sounding like they’re coming from your neighbor’s house. Then when you enter the arena, it’s like you’ve shown up at the party. The instruments kick into the high-energy electronica with droning distorted bass that we’ve come to expect from cyberpunk. It works to keep you engaged through all of the hectic shooting. At no point did I feel like the music or sound effects were off or out of place. It’s fun, it’s good, it’s great.

Deadlink was previewed on PC with a key provided by Super Good Games.

Summary
Deadlink is solid in terms of gameplay. The shooting is snappy, fast-paced, and precise. The roguelite elements make every run unique and interesting. The upgrades are satisfying and give you a lot to strategize with. The aesthetic is pure cyberpunk, top to bottom. The issue is that there isn't much there, and there's little story progression. There are only two locations and very little direction.
Good
  • Solid Shooting
  • Immersive
  • Roguelite Elements Done Well
Bad
  • Basically No Story
  • Not Much Content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>