When the world ends, what will you do when your supply runs dry? At a certain point, you’ll undoubtedly have to venture out into what’s left of your town in order to survive. That’s where the story starts in DYSMANTLE, the latest title from 10tons Ltd., the folks behind JYDGE and Tesla Force.
Impressively, while the title is still in Early Access and very much in active development, things run so smoothly that it feels like a fully-fledged game. At this relatively early stage, features feel robust, graphics are polished, and the loop is gratifying and fun.
STORY – A FRAGMENTED NARRATIVE
You start by climbing out of a recently emptied bunker. Your supplies have run out, you must scavenge for more to survive. The bunker is no longer accessible, for some reason, so campfires are your only shelter as you make your way across a large island, just you and your crowbar.
Of course, you’re not entirely alone. Zombie-like monsters are stumbling all over the place; in the ruins of houses, deep in the woods, even some dogs have been infected. Be careful around these enemies, they run. Thankfully, your character is reasonably physically fit and there’s enough play area to escape most situations fairly easily.
The main storyline at this time is pointing players towards an evacuation site, as told by radio broadcasts they happen across or other various lore-building setpieces. Evacuation doesn’t need to be your personal goal, however. I have sunk many hours into DYSMANTLE simply running around the island, gathering resources and experience points, working my way to bigger and better equipment.
Narratively, it’s a fine presentation, albeit a bit thin. From dealing with the leftovers of a community, to brushing up against a military complex, to hints of the supernatural, there are some interesting tentpoles on which the story hangs. I do hope that as development continues and the world is fleshed out that there are some more beats along the path, but I should note that I really like uncovering the mysteries of what happened in a situation.
GAMEPLAY – SWING, SWING
Crowbar, machete, shovel, fishing pole. I can only take three tools to explore that northwest corner. Based on the way the river is flowing, there might be a fishing spot up there, but what if instead, I find a dig spot? Decisions, decisions.
Inventory management is only part of the game, but it’s significant! The entire premise is to wreck stuff, get supplies, and make better items. Don’t expect to be dealing with health or sleep bars, as the only way you’ll die is from direct action on the part of the environment. Whether it’s getting mauled by a monster, falling into a river, or freezing in the snow, it’s only through external forces that you will die. This was a relief, as it was less friction that prevented me from the main goal: bashing stuff to pieces.
Guess what? Destroying things is delightful! The progression points are also well-spread out and don’t feel like a hindrance, either. See, instead of just being able to take a crowbar to whatever you want from the start, there are things like dumpsters or fences that you’re just not strong enough to destroy right away. As you upgrade your tools, you’ll be able to tear apart more and more things.
Different pieces of equipment work better on different things, as well. For example, the machete will destroy shrubs and furniture faster than the crowbar can, but it won’t be as effective against, say, a mailbox. Ensuring that you improve each of your items in a balanced way is key to keeping a steady pace.
Enemies, while frequently repeated, do have a number of different types of “zombies”, which makes for some heart-pounding situations. If I come across a larger enemy that spits acid but haven’t properly snuck around and taken out the lower-level bad guys, they’ll all end up ganging up on me. If it’s in the middle of a building or town area, I’ll get cornered and taken out pretty quickly.
The key takeaway that I want to express, however, is that I have not encountered a single bug. This is consistent across Steam reviews as well. Things run so well, in fact, that the lower expectation of how an Early Access title is going to perform has been completely, well, dismantled.
For being on roughly version 0.6, the quality we’re dealing with here is impressively high. Clearly, the dev team knows what they’re doing, and they are providing regular updates and patches to bring the title closer to that final 1.0 release build. This is a perfect example of an Early Access title: steady, progressive movement toward the goal.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – FRAGILE BEAUTY
It looks great, folks. The expectation was rough textures and stiff character movement, and instead, the dev team has given us bright colors, great looking models, and smooth gameplay. If you had told me I was playing a final build, it wouldn’t be that hard of a sell.
While there isn’t a huge variety of enemies or areas, movement is fast enough that repeated assets don’t become a problem. As the island is designed rather than procedural, everything is well-spaced and finely placed. The folks at 10tons sure know how to craft a great world. I was impressed with how well the models look, as the player character is finely detailed and seems as though a lot of time was spent in bringing them to life.
The audio is fleshed out and full sounding. Discussing the strengths of game audio and soundtracks never comes easy for me, strictly because of the way I play games (quietly). But the sound effects sound accurate, there’s nothing synced out of place, and it all comes together in a wonderful package.
DYSMANTLE is available now in Early Access on PC. A key was provided by 10tons. Ltd.