Severed is, was a rare and unique game. It was created by its developers Drinkbox Studios exclusively for the mythical beast that was, I mean is, I think, the Playstation Vita. It has since come to Wii U, 3DS, and mobile devices, an obvious next step and very sensible business decision. That being said, there is something special about Severed and the fact that it came to Vita first says something. The talented devs saw something in their game that would enable it to utilise the idiosyncrasies of a system that, let’s be honest, while an amazing piece of hardware is definitely the estranged second cousin in-law in the Sony Family. So what is it like to have a custom built dungeon crawler in your pocket?
Severed is a first person game but not as we know it in 2017. When you think of a modern first person game today you think of fast fluid parkour shooters or smooth and intriguing walking simulators. This game takes a leaf out of 80s and 90s first person dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master. These grid based, methodical, punishing brutes were front and centre on early PCs, Amigas, and Atari STs, and Severed takes a large chunk of its DNA from them. It then splices in some modern strands and what emerges from the lab is an engrossing dungeon crawling adventure that uses modern touch controls to their maximum capabilities.
You are Sasha a strong young woman who has witnessed her world ripped out from under her and is tasked to undertake a dark quest to reclaim what she has lost. The world of Severed is made up of interconnected squares and you move through them sequentially. These squares come in all manner of locations from broken down temples to citadels in the clouds. Sasha will need to explore, think, and fight her way through these to reach her ultimate goal.
The movement in the game takes a bit of getting used to. Instead of the fluid first person movement common in this day and age there is a fade like transition with ever step taken and Sasha seems to warp to the next square. This is not as jarring as it sounds with a smoothness that is easy on the eye. Backtracking, finding clues to secret areas, door puzzles, and map navigation are your constant companions on Sasha’s journey. I did find myself getting a little frustrated with opening and closing doors only to have to travel a long and convoluted new way to get to my destination but the map is user friendly and highly detailed, a welcome party member on your quest. As you discover new areas of the map you will be beset on all sides by the denizens that infest them. This is where the touch controls transform and energise your gameplay experience.
The name says it all, Severed. The colourful and creepy monsters you encounter in the game need to be dealt with and this is done by swiping the Vita (and mobile) touch screen as if you are slashing with a sword. So just like any game on a touch based device? Well no. There is a physical nature and precision needed to truly get to grips with Severed. Monsters will block and parry, leaving different sides and angles of their bodies open to attacks forcing you to adjust the length and placement of your attacks. Longer swipes do more damage but take more time to execute. The beasts will surround you and attack at different times creating a tactical dance of attacking, turning, parrying that is exhilarating and challenging. After particularly long and visceral battles you can feel the physical aftermath in your hands and fingers (in a satisfying, not painful way), something quite unique to Severed.
The more hits you land the more your focus meter builds and when an enemy is defeated with Sasha at full focus the Severing begins. Time will slow down and you will have the opportunity to sever the limbs, eyes, tentacles, and intestines of the beasties leaving the floor in front of you littered with dismembered body parts. There is a time limit on this severing period that ups the intensity as these body parts serve as the main currency in the game with which to upgrade Sasha. The more you sever the more powerful she will become. This mechanic, along with some equipment found along the way opens up the simple RPG elements with three skill trees enabling you to do things like more slash damage, regain life with every hit, blind/freeze your enemies, and steel their abilities. All this adds up to that addicting feeling of constant progression and makes the game hard to put down.
This enjoyable gameplay is tied together by some gorgeous visuals and buttery smooth animations, with the game using an almost cut paper art style. Bright blocks of colour light up the screen and compliment the minimalist style. NPCs and monsters are beautifully realised although you rarely have time to admire them during the frantic combat. The different areas in the game are varied and ooze with atmosphere enhancing the dark dramatic storyline. The music and sounds of Severed compliment the game without being outstanding. Themes change with areas and battles; sound ques are indispensable in battles in order to time your attack or parry. The mystical language the characters speak is a nice touch that adds depth to the mysterious and far off land.
I found myself reaching for my Vita every spare second I had during my Severed play through. I was constantly pulled to find more secrets and get more limbs to upgrade my character. The in game map displayed the completion percentages and found secrets of each area and this further motivated me to jump back in and uncover the next square to see what was round the next corner. This along with a simple but compelling and dark story kept me coming back for more. The game took me just under 10 hours to complete to 100 percent as there are two endings and things to find in the endgame. Severed is an exhilarating, engrossing game that is truly at home on the Vita. It brings with it a fleeting vision of what could have been if more developers had been encouraged enough to create games for the little handheld that could (but didn’t). Oh, if you haven’t got a PS Vita then you should definitely pick up severed on your mobile telephone of choice.