When we spoke to Gambitious' Vernon Vrolijk at E3 this year, he described Sobaka Studio's Redeemer as "God of War meets Hotline Miami", and after playing the game to completion, we can definitely see where they're coming from. On the God of War side of things, you're a gruff beardy dude who likes to make his fists well acquainted with faces, and on the Hotline Miami side of things, you're running around a top-down brawler while using any weapon to your advantage to paint the walls a nice shade of red.
The plot of Redeemer sounds like a cheesy B-movie, and maybe intentionally so. At the start of the game you, Vasily, are living quietly as a monk in a remote village, when suddenly bad guys come to your monastery and start kicking off. You then choose to abandon your peaceful life for a greater cause, and start kicking ass and taking names, all the while uncovering why you're in the monastery in the first place, and who's disrupted your harmonious life. Don't worry if you don't remember what's going on, though, because it's really just an excuse to send you from place to place and get you to fight different guys.
There are two ways you can dispatch enemies, and that's either by brute force with your fists or melee weapons, or by firearms, twin-stick style. Both are fun in their own right, but considering the latter are that bit rarer than the former, and don't have a lot of ammo, you'll be returning to your fists a lot, especially since melee weapons degrade like wet paper.
The variety in weapons is pretty impressive, as new ones are thrown into the mix at regular intervals. You'll start off facing against grunts with shock batons, for instance, but then enemies grow tougher and start wielding wrenches, clubs, and machetes, just to name a few. At one point you even get to rip the arms off of mutants and beat them and their friends to death with them. This gradual increase in effectiveness applies to weapons too, going from pistols to assault rifles and shotguns.
The same variety can't be said about the melee attacks themselves though. We were playing using an Xbox 360 controller (a controller's best for this game), and there are two attacks: light with X, and heavy with Y. While one of the hints in the game's pause menus says that you can chain these for combos, this isn't as effective as combos might be in most games, and X is instead best for singling out one victim, whereas Y does sweeping attacks that can hit multiple foes. This means a lot of repetition and button mashing, and it would've been nice to see a bit more variety with regards to what Vasily can do. Granted, there are other combat options to spice things up, like throwing items, executions when health is low, and environmental kills (the latter two being how you get health back), but we still were left feeling like we wanted a bit more.
Don't get us wrong, though, as the combat in Redeemer is extremely satisfying a lot of the time. Charging up a punch before unleashing it into an enemy's midriff, for instance, leaves you with the immense feeling of being a badass, and that's really the whole point of the game. You can send people flying into sewage, throw them into spinning blades, and crack their backs over your knee, and that's what it's all about here.
There's also a counter system that works similarly to Rocksteady's Arkham games, as enemies turn red when they're about to attack, so if you keep spamming LB (to counter) while in a brawl, then you can always have your back covered, and this keeps the flow of battle alive, and feels like an action film is playing out in front of you.
When thing's get really hectic, though, you can always dodge out of danger, but we found this to be one of the most unsatisfying parts of the game. As a result of the dodge animation, you spend that little moment at the end standing still and unable to move, and while this is less than a second, when enemies are surrounding you and it's not an invincibility frame, this leaves you really vulnerable, and has this almost stuttery, jolting effect when you're trying to do multiple dodges in a row. The pace remains high for most of the time in Redeemer, but this slows things right down.
During the game you'll visit 16 different levels, ranging from the burning wreckage of the monastery, to futuristic labs packed with mutants, as well as sewers filled with toxic sludge. Different mechanics are thrown in regularly, like fire traps and moving walkways, but as a whole it pretty much follows the top-down formula, a little like a dungeon crawler in a way.
There wasn't much to dislike about Redeemer, other than a few annoying issues with dodging and a desire for a touch more variety, and for the reasonable amount of time it stayed with us (between 10 and 15 hours), we had fun brawling and shooting our way through this tale of revenge and redemption. That being said, it's not quite the best of both worlds when considering the aforementioned God of War and Hotline Miami, although it is a good attempt to fuse the two together.