BUTCHER, from Transhuman Designs (the folks who made the 2D building sidescroller King Arthur's Gold,) is a fun romp through the guts of your human enemies the likes of which we have never seen . . . since 1995.
Inspired by the Id classics Quake and Doom, and taking gameplay cues from the Apogee classic Duke Nukem and Super Meat Boy, BUTCHER throws the player into the role of a lone cyborg charged with eliminating the last stubborn remnants of humankind.
Grab your keyboard/mouse or gamepad (make sure they're indestructible), and jump on the incredibly tough carnage-train to extinction town!
The space Mother has charged you, a single android, to extinguish the tattered survivors of earth, and you're more than happy to heed the call (or you would be happy if you had emotions). There's an intro, and–presumably–some sort of retro-inspired outro, but the latter is a mystery to me; the game is that. Damn. Hard.
The general consensus is that BUTCHER plays as a 2D Doom, but since Doom is a first-person shooter, that's not helpful. It's more accurate to say that BUTCHER is a 2D, low-res side-scrolling shooter that requires hair-trigger reflexes, impeccable ammo conservation, and perfect mouse/joystick aim.
There are over 20 levels (I've gotten through less than ten so far, due to my hundreds–literally hundreds–of deaths), and 6 weapons that you'll splatter the pesky humans' guts with. The weapons are FPS staples, including an infinite-ammo chainsaw that'll let you cut your pixel-y opponents in half. You start with a shotgun, which is INSANELY powerful. While there is an expanding spread the farther away your buckshot travels, it's range is long enough to make it one of the best weapons in the game. Oh, and your opponents have the kind of perfect aim with it that requires precognition, so kill them before they kill you.
To help you do that, there are small indicator icons that show up above your enemies' heads: an exclamation point indicates that you've been spotted, and will soon be bleeding from multiple bullet wounds. If you strike but do not kill an enemy, little groggy spots show above their heads to indicate they can't attack for a (very) short period of time. These aren't just convenient indicators, they're critical, as enemies have various spawn points that they'll cycle through on each level, meaning one may pop up right behind you if you're not careful. Much of each level is just a progression through a series of platforming and shooting pre-stationed enemies, but you'll also encounter lock-down EXTERMINATION rooms, where you'll need to defeat waves of randomly spawned enemies in a sort of horde mode. There are, albeit few, ammo and health packs that will also spawn for you in-between waves during those segments.
As a gamer that prefers a gamepad for his 2D platformers, I was stoked to see that BUTCHER supported exactly that. I was surprised, but not disappointed, that Transhuman Design opted for a slightly different default button layout than the typical "A" to jump variety. Rather than a face button, jumping is initiated by a press of the Up button on the D-pad or left joystick (if you're on an XBox or PS controller, or a copy). I found it awkward at first but soon learned that having the jump integrated into you movement input allows for faster jumping and simultaneous firing, which is absolutely necessary for your survival.
There are a fair number of enemies to engage in bloody battle with, ranging from jetpack jerks to foot soldiers to flying vans, the latter of which look like wheel-less ice-cream trucks. Each human enemy can have a different weapon and leaves behind that type of ammo when you wipe them out. You'll be spraying a lot of bullets, so those pickups (as well as the rare health boosts) are necessary. Like Doom and its ilk, you can actually build your health over 100, so don't wait to score those health packs. There's also the familiar armor level, which can effectively add to your health (ie, you'll take damage to armor before losing health.)
The levels in BUTCHER tend to be small affairs, with multiple platforms, door-buttons, and various hazards such as shooting flames, spinning blades, and lava pits. These are also hazards for your enemies, and you'll see them stumble to their deaths almost as often as you do. Each level also has classic-styled secrets in the form of collectible spinning silver skulls, which are visible during your normal gameplay (you'll see them somewhere on screen, though the path to them will be a mystery.) You can usually get to these by finding hidden pass-through's in the walls, or by triggering hidden doors. The amount of collectibles per level that have yet to be found are shown in the level stats, as well as whenever you collect one.
The options for the game allows you to turn on or off the ability of your character to automatically switch weapons when you pick up ammo for that weapon. It's defaulted as on, and is extremely helpful, as you'll find yourself out of bullets and hacking wildly with your chainsaw in an attempt to take down a soaring jetpacker pretty frequently.
With that said, I found that several times this option didn't seem to work, almost always while I was engaging the chainsaw. I imagine this is an error caused by the fact that you can "fire" the chainsaw by simply holding the trigger button, and perhaps the game is confused why you'd want to switch weapons mid-fire. I'd like to see this tweaked, as not much is worse than reaching that much-needed shotgun ammo pack, only to find you're still brandishing the extremely limited chainsaw. Needless to say, I was roasted every time this happened.
Another frustration I had was with the tiny-person-with-a-samurai-sword enemy type (I call them this, not because they're named such in the game, but because that's what they remind me of.) They are maddeningly fast and charge instantly, which is a nice change up in AI–at least it would be, IF THEY DIDN'T TAKE MULTIPLE CHAINSAW HITS TO TAKE DOWN! Since you usually only get a single shot off before they're on top of your sprite, only a direct hit with a shotgun (or something as powerful) will take them down before they take you down. Transhuman Design could remedy this irritant by making the samurai-littles one-chainsaw-strike kills, or make it so you could hit them while they're literally positioned on top/covering your sprite (because you currently can't, so you'll be trying to outrun them, which you also can't). Also, if you stun an enemy by hitting them without killing them, they seem to revert to full health once they've recovered! In other words, finish them when you get the chance.
Because of the–I kid you not–Silver Surfer for the NES level of difficulty, it's a good thing that Transhuman Design has been majorly on top of fixing, tweaking, and all around making BUTCHER an even better experience than it already is. If you have a glitch or concern, head to their steam discussions, because they'll probably address it!
graphics and sound
The graphics are very detailed, yet low-res sprites and textures. Think Risk of Rain if designed by John Romero. There's a lot of muted colors, but it only adds to the splendor of the non-disappearing blood that you'll be spilling.
That brings me to my favorite part of BUTCHER: the dead bodies! Like Quake, you'll be kicking bodies and rolling heads, but the various moving level parts–like elevator platforms and hanging hooks on chains–will also interact with the mutilated man-gore that you lay down! Intestines will stretch and snap beneath raising platforms, and halved bodies will impale on the hanging hooks, screaming and writhing and bleeding until you leave them far behind. If I sound like a psychopath describing these gruesome scenes with such glee, just you wait; you'll be doing the same, once you get a taste of the visual something-extra that the designers put into this splatterfest.
The sound effects are spot-on for the era of computer violence that BUTCHER attempts to channel, and the digitized screams and canned shotgun blasts will feel like home to those of us who blasted gibs in Quake for hours on end. The music, promised to be a "wicked, heavy soundtrack," is just the kind of wall-of-sound industrial grind that every FPS in the early 2000's frantically strove for.
I was excited for the bleak premise and Doom-esque style of BUTCHER, and it didn't disappoint on either front. The tight platforming and shooting controls are icing on the hyper-violent cake, but that doesn't mean you won't fly into a rage when you are shotgunned into a red mist for the thousandth time. I spent over 90 minutes on a one-screen level before finally completing it and passing on; if that sounds like hell to you, then this may be a pass. But, if that sounds like the kind of hell you're looking for, I urge you to give BUTCHER the opportunity to destroy you–you won't regret it.
|+ Throwback graphics and tons of blood||+ Some enemy balance issues|
|+ Controls tight enough to crush walnuts||+ (Rarely) a problem auto-switching weapons|
|+ Creative gore with a surprising amount of detail|
|+ So challenging, it leaves Dark Souls in the dust|