Do you like video games? How about motorbikes? What about emotionally-charged stories with lots of brutal violence? If so, then you’d probably get a kick out of Laika: Aged Through Blood. Laika is the latest release from developer Brainwash Gang, and it is an excellent example of how clever game mechanics, combined with beautiful aesthetics and music, can come together to create a fantastic and engrossing world.
Simply put, Laika: Aged Through Blood is a metroidvania where you primarily ride a motorbike, but you’ll also be doing a lot of shooting. While it may seem like an oddball-combination on paper, in practice it is wildly entertaining. Part of the reason why it works so well is two-fold: the movement mechanics facilitate exploration, and the map is filled with unique, memorable situations and set ups. One second you might be backfliping over 3 enemies like you’re Neo in The Matrix, and the next room is filled with tricky jumps and tightropes.
Laika: Aged Through Blood is available on Steam for $19.99. There is a demo available, and console ports are planned for the future.
Story: A Post-Apocalyptic Narrative
In Laika: Aged Through Blood, the Earth has been destroyed and there’s nothing left but a vast wasteland with a few animals who eek out meager lives. You play as Laika, a coyote who helps defend her family and home from the viscous birds and other enemies. Right at the beginning, punches are thrown as you see your disemboweled coyote friends hanging on display like a trophy. A Sunday picnic this is not – there are serious and dark themes at work here which tell a story of despair and trauma, but also love and community.
It starts with Laika, a motorbike riding sharpshooting coyote. Laika is a mother who deeply cares for her only remaining child (aptly named Puppy), but also for her village. It’s a cruel world that’s dominated by the violent and trigger-happy birds. They’ve taken over the wasteland and have murdered countless animals. Seagulls, eagles, crows… It doesn’t matter. The birds are out for violence, and they’ll shoot anyone on site that is not sympathetic to their cause.
Early on, it’s revealed that Laika is cursed with reincarnation – a convenient explanation to the game mechanics, yes, but it goes beyond that. Her town and family rely on her because she always comes back. This pressure from her community, as well as taking care of Puppy, and managing the dysfunctional relationship with her mother, is explored throughout the adventure.
Other wastelanders are just as memorable as Laika. Laika has a lot of trauma that is explored as you go through the story, and some of that stems from her stubborn mother and the death of her children. The game does a great job at introducing characters and giving them a fulfilling backstory or motive for their actions. Honestly, it often gets dark and depressing, but not just for the sake of being moody. It’s held up by fantastic writing.
Many of the faces you meet have sidequests. One that stuck out to me was a multistage adventure where I had to find all the members of a band, and then find all of their apocalyptic instruments. Another character operates a boat that you can take during a specific mission. Just through one mission, you’ll find out his tragic backstory and how his family was murdered by the birds, and how he copes with what he’s seen. Needless to say, the wasteland is filled with interesting personalities.
Gameplay: The Comeback Queen
The developers of Laika: Aged Through Blood call their game a “motorvania”. It has all the trappings of a standard metroidvania, but this time you’re on a motorbike and wielding a variety of munitions. The motorbike mechanics are tied into the gunplay. In order to reload your weapon, you’ll need to do a backflip. If you do a front flip, you’ll be able to reflect a bullet with a carefully timed button press. There’s also some bullet time thrown in for making those precise shots while you’re zipping through the environment.
Laika: Aged Through Blood does a superb job at easing you into the mechanics. Before long, I was eagerly eyeing upcoming dips and small jumps as an opportunity to reload. What Laika: Aged Through Blood does particularly well is easing you into difficult situations, building confidence, and expanding on your expectations. You’ll end up dying a lot, but the conveniently placed checkpoints and quick pace of everything eliminated most of the frustration.
Speaking of death, when Laika dies it is usually not a huge issue. Laika will drop a pouch filled with viscera, the currency for Coyotes, where she dies. Make it back to your previous death, and you’ll collect your pouch and can continue on your merry way. Laika has a limited number of pouches, so if you die multiple times and can’t make it back to one of your bags, you’ll lose it. Fortunately, viscera is easy to find.
Scattered throughout the world are hidden caches, your reward for exploring every nook and cranny. As in most metroidvanias, you’ll be backtracking to areas to find new pathways after you unlock new abilities or weapons. Case in point: the shotgun. The shotgun can not only open shortcuts to make the map easier to traverse, but also act as an extra jump to reach high ledges. Some rooms are designed like a puzzle, you may need to launch off a ramp at just the right height, push yourself with a precisely aimed shotgun blast, and then rotate to land on your wheels.
Some biomes and areas are like mini-Zelda dungeons, complete with buttons to press and keys to collect. One thing that I really love about Laika: Aged Through Blood is how exploration is rewarded. There are so many side rooms and alternative pathways that can be missed. While most of the time these contain crafting materials, there are also new stories, collectibles, and rewards (such as weapon blueprints!) hidden in these caches.
Weapons & Crafting
Laika starts with just a pistol, but by the end she’ll be rocking a small arsenal of weapons including a shotgun, crossbow, sniper rifle, and more. Each of these weapons have their uses. I already mentioned that shotguns can be used for a short hop. The crossbow is also particularly useful as it shoots up to 10 bolts at once, making it perfect for taking out large groups of enemies. However, it has limited range and you’ll need to backflip multiple times to get it fully reloaded. Each of these weapons can be upgraded too. This usually effects how many times you can shoot before reloading, or modifying your reload in some way.
While exploring the wasteland, you’ll find plenty of odd items and materials. Some of these are used for weapon upgrades, but others are used for upgrading Laika’s other gear and cooking food. While the weapon upgrades did help significantly throughout the adventure, I rarely used the cooking system. It is definitely optional, but can give you a boost if you’re struggling to progress. The buffs range from increased damage to increased pickup range, so they can help in many situations.
The boss fights in Laika: Aged Through Blood are, for the most part, incredible and a highlight of the adventure. What makes them so entertaining is that they act as a test for the skills you’ve learned up to that point. For example, one early boss, a giant naked mole rat, had me riding along a tunnel while avoiding rockets and enemies. It masterfully mixes the kinetic movement and gunplay in a way that made me feel like a mix of Evel Kineval and John Wick. Many of the bosses are difficult, but finally overcoming them was a challenge worth conquering.
Some of the bosses felt like rote memorization after awhile, especially since one attempt can last for several minutes. In that aspect, attempting to fight any specific boss and failing could be repetitive and exhausting. However, I was always impressed with each boss fight because they’re all so wildly different from each other. The exception is one of the earlier bosses that has to be killed 4 times in a row. While frustrating, each fight introduced new, small elements to make the battle more difficult. By the end of the 4th fight, I was so glad that it was over!
Graphics/Audio: Handcrafted and Accessible
I can’t praise the presentation of Laika: Aged Through Blood enough. It is filled with beautiful, hand drawn characters and environments. Each element of the wasteland is drawn in vivid detail, from the giant skeletons littering the wasteland to the outfits of the characters. The thick, dark outlines help differentiate each element, and makes it very clear on what is happening.
The UI is quite minimal as well, with just your weapon and ammo count visible in the corner. Even your aiming reticle has a wealth of information to make the game easier to play. On your reticle, you’ll find how much ammo is left in your gun, as well as the orientation of your bike, so you can land safely while keeping your eyes on the enemy.
A Somber Soundtrack
Throughout the adventure, you’ll find collectible cassette tapes that unlock songs that you can then listen to. You’ll likely come across them as you explore, and I highly suggest you look for all of them. Laika: Aged Through Blood has as astounding soundtrack. Each original song is sang by Beícoli, whose somber voice and classical guitar synchronize with Laika’s melancholic attitude.
Does Laika: Aged Through Blood run on the Steam Deck?
Laika: Aged Through Blood runs flawlessly on the Steam Deck, and is Verified by Steam. That being said, I feel like it was easier to control with a mouse and keyboard, specifically because of the being able to aim with the mouse. Regardless, whether you prefer mouse and keyboard or controller, Laika: Aged Through Blood is very playable on Steam Deck.
Laika: Aged Through Blood was reviewed on PC with a key provided by Head Up Games.