Severed is a first-person hack ‘n’ slack game with slight elements of RPG developed exclusively for PlayStation Vita by Toronto-based Drinkbox Studios – perhaps best known for their Metroid-vania game Guacamelee! You take control of a one-armed warrior called Sasha, who wields a living sword, battling through a nightmarish world as she attempts to save her family.
The game begins with a lightning quick backstory on the disappearance of Sasha’s family, and how she awoke missing an arm. You’re given the opportunity to explore the family home and soon discover your weapon – a living sword. A flashback to Sasha’s childhood and combat training with her mother, where you’re taught the games combat techniques; strike and how to deal greater damage to your opponent, along with how to parry an opponent’s strike and follow with a counter attack. Following the tutorial, the game skips to the present, and Sasha’s journey begins.
Severed’s gameplay involves exploring Sasha’s world and battling an increasingly bizarre range of monsters as she endeavours to rescue her kin. The world is presented in psychedelic tones – vibrant and colourful, much like I would assume life would look on a permanent acid trip. Visually Severed’s graphical style can be best describe as Aztec – with ruins and urns at every turn. Navigating the environment is easy; the left thumbstick moves Sasha in the desired direction and the touch screen lets you interact with certain objects, such as food, collectables, switches and levers. The only other button utilised is SELECT, which brings up the games upgrade tree. On screen, Sasha’s health bar occupies the top left hand corner of the screen, and a simple map on the opposite side.
Encountering an enemy switches the game to battle mode, which are fast and frenzied affairs. Swiping a finger or thumb across the enemy deals damage; the longer the swipe, the greater the damage. Multiple hits build Sasha’s focus meter – displayed under her health bar, giving her the opportunity to sever a vanquished opponent’s limbs, which can then be used to upgrade her abilities via the upgrade tree mentioned above. Enemies will obviously block to defend themselves following repeated hits – if you attempt to attack your opponent whilst they’re blocking, the focus meter will drop. The monster’s health bar is displayed at the bottom of the screen, along with an attack timer. When their timer fills, your opponent will deal a damaging blow – unless you’re able to parry, leaving them open and vulnerable to a quick combo attack. If you’ve maxed out your focus meter by the end of the fight, the final severing bows are offered in bullet time for a short period – the length of time that the blows can be inflicted is able to be increased through upgrades.
Each enemy has a distinct look and fighting style; spiderlike multi-limbed beasts slash with claws from multiple angles and single-eyed bipeds hit you with self-generating spores to name but a few. Early in the game you’ll face only one foe per battle, though as you progress further into Severed’s colourful world you’ll face multiple opponents. There’s a certain amount of strategy required in these handicap melees, as you’ll need to adapt to separate styles, with attacks coming at different intervals – switching back and forth using the left thumbstick to turn your attention from one enemy to another. All of the monsters have different weaknesses – leaving an area open to attack whilst blocking or telegraphing their attack.
Battles can obviously leave Sasha’s health depleted, luckily the environment offers an abundance of food to replenish our heroine – generally fresh fruit growing from trees. Food has to be eaten wherever it’s found, as there’s no inventory to store it for later. If you do spot food and Sasha’s health bar is full, my advice would be to make a mental note of where you found it, and come back to it later. Tapping on the food means that you have to eat it bite by bite, with no way of putting it down. Sasha’s health bar can be increased by finding pieces of hearts, which tend to be quite well hidden – it’s worth smashing every breakable object you come across to see what they contain.
Severed is the first game in a long time that has taken advantage of the Vita’s touchscreen functionality. The graphically style is unique and the game is easy to pick up and play. The learning curve is gentle, building on your experience and never feels unreasonably hard. My only grumble is that I found I was only able to play Severed in short bursts – extended sessions left me with aching thumbs, especially after numerous multiple enemy battles. I consider myself a seasoned gamer, but maybe Drinkbox could have spaced the enemy encounters a little further apart; as sometime it feels as though you’re thrust into combat at every other step. Tired thumbs aside, Severed does an amazing job of showing off the Vita’s capabilities, and whether you’re a fan of hack ‘n’ slash or not, it’s worth investing in as the game is great fun.