I’ve not felt the allure to a game in the same way as Impaler for a while. There’s some sort of nonchalant confidence I cannot help but respect. Most games tend to reach for your attention. ‘Hey, look at my amazing visuals, with this gripping story thread that you must tug on.’ And we all happily tug along. Yes, we want the cool stuff, we want the content. Give me all the crazy over-written storytelling and hundreds of hours of things to do. Impaler has none of that … but can stand out by simply having a solid core.
Developed by Apptivus, who seem to be just having as much fun as they can with life. A click through the ‘projects’ page of their website shows that they’re working on a rubber band gun and not one, but two trebuchets for pennies. ‘Apptivus is an indie product company that creates toys, software, and sometimes video games.’ … that’s a direct quote … nonchalant confidence. They do not deserve to have made a game so addictive. How have they so casually cracked such a core design? I’ll tell ya, it’s heresy. Don’t trust them.
Impaler is coming to Steam on December 7th for $2.99.
Story? Who Needs One?
“Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” A lot of older gamers will recognize this quote by John Carmack in Masters of DOOM. Impaler keeps strong with this philosophy. What is the story? You’re a prisoner being tortured by some skull entity, and you have to kill all the things. Sweet, cumshot then credits. We are talking about video games, though. So the true stories of those we create ourselves.
Impaler is a rogue-like, as opposed to a rogue or rogue-lite. When it comes to rogue-likes, I always hedge against them because they tend to trail into chore territory. Although they’re designed to make every playthrough unique, I find they tend to reward you with upgrades that just make the game easier. And for the most part, it’s good because you’re usually horrible when you start and if you want to see the later levels, you need to unlock better equipment or whatever. There has to be some kind of progression. Impaler doesn’t care about any of that.
There’s one level. One boring as level, and only like seven enemy types. All of that intricate scale design from other rogues … who cares? It’s supposed to be an arcade. The incentive that Impaler gives you to keep playing, is to unlock weapons. And it works so well. You aren’t earning small incremental ways to make the game easier, you’re unlocking mechanics that change the game fundamentally. It gives the same feeling as unlocking Heihachi in the original Tekken. If you play Impaler, you may have the same experience as I did. You’ll play one session, see how to unlock all the other weapons, then be like “I have to do it”.
Gameplay – Spiky and Satisfying
If you’ve ever played a boomer shooter, you’ll be right at home with Impaler. The movement is quick, the shooting is snappy, and the enemies are invasive. It has the elements necessary to produce a nice flow state. You do runs through waves of randomly spawning enemies and hazards. Each run is defined by what upgrades you get in between each wave. Then it ends with a boss and you start over again. We don’t really play these types of games for any meaningful type of progression other than personally getting better. And what’s more fun than running around shooting up hoards of enemies? That doesn’t mean they were afraid to get bold with the mechanics. The most useful being the impaler.
The Name of the Game
Where most shooters dedicate the right mouse click to either a scope or a secondary fire, Impaler instead opted to attach its very namesake to it. At any time, you can hold the right mouse click to pull out your impaler weapon and use it to summon spikes from the ground to make Vlad proud. There’s even a nice animation of the enemies sliding down the spike after being pierced. You have no melee, no grenades or other secondary stuff, just the impaler. They took a risk putting so much into their own unique mechanic so, thankfully, it works!
It’s so intuitive and effective. The spikes do a lot of damage, have a high fire rate, and can also be used to block the path of your enemies. It also looks cool when you fill the arena with impaled demons. The range isn’t very far so it isn’t so overpowered that you never use your main weapon. Switching between weapons is instant, so there’s no downtime. Often in shooters, I’ll forget that there even is a melee attack when I get swarmed by enemies, then I’ll fumble through my weapons as I get bashed to bits. I never had that problem with the impaler. It’s the very essence of the game, a large part of the core loop. And you’re incentivized to use it a lot. Not only is it powerful, but it also spawns health, and you unlock more weapons by getting spike kills.
There are two types of collectibles: weapons and upgrades. You gain upgrades randomly between each wave and you don’t get to keep them in between runs so you’re really only collecting them for the sake of filling out a list. Weapons, though, are the closest thing you’re going to get to a type of incentive-based collectible. Impaler is very minimalist. You choose your one main weapon per run, and that’s all you have besides your impaler.
Impaler starts you off with an SMG, then you unlock the other five guns by getting a set number of specific types of kills, one of which being spike kills. You have to also get explosive kills by shooting explosive barrels when enemies get close to them. Another type is stomp kills. If you get enough height in your jump, you stomp down into the ground with an incredibly satisfying area-of-effect attack. Spikes also spray out in the direction you are facing. There are launch pads that randomly generate in the stage but you can also do rocket and spike jumps.
What Is It Lacking?
Difficulty. It might take a couple of runs to actually beat it, but once you get the hang of it, there’s little challenge. Sure, if you lose focus, you could get a few rockets to the face and die. But with a generous health bar, and spike kills that replenish health, there’s not much of a skill ceiling. All it needs is a mode where you die in one hit or something. Perhaps with one extra weapon hidden behind a no-hit run.
Another is the lack of levels. As of now, there is only one stage and with every wave of enemies, new obstacles are generated to define the play area. But after only a few playthroughs, you’ll start seeing repeats of orientations. So far, though, everything is looking very experimental. I expect they’ll be coming out with a lot of new interesting stuff over time. Where it sits now, there’s really only about four hours’ worth of game time. What’s here is great though, so I definitely want to see what it will eventually evolve into.
Graphics & Sound – Reminiscent of Something
They wear their DOOM influence on their chest when it comes to aesthetics. Everything that isn’t part of the arena is represented by 2D sprites. The enemies also have only a few frames of animation to give them that old-school clunky look. There aren’t very many enemy designs, and what’s there isn’t that unique. Impaler does a good job of keeping everything clear through all the visual noise one expects from a boomer shooter. There are also some interesting uses of visual effects to make each wave of enemies stand out among the others.
The soundtrack is one area where I think they could’ve been bolder. There’s a dynamic soundtrack that plays throughout each run. Music plays while you’re fighting then dips out in between waves, giving the audible space to an ambient gothic type of feel before kicking back into the music once the next wave starts. The music itself is quite good; your typical sort of high-octane rock feel. The issue is that it feels like they don’t have confidence in the soundtrack. You have to turn the sound effects down in the settings to not have the battle sounds completely drown the music out.
I cannot tell if they’ve written a number of different tracks or just one really long track that repeats. A few times I noticed the music going silent halfway through a wave for a moment before starting back up. It really feels like they didn’t know what to do with the music so they just threw it in there and hid it away in the background. Again, it’s still early days so they’ll probably put more effort into it over time.
Impaler was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Retrovibe.