Making challenging gaming experiences has become very trendy - a non-controversial statement as an introduction to a controversial game. With developers like Deck13 Interactive -- who have thrown Lords of the Fallen and The Surge into the mix - as well as Ska Studios, who made Salt and Sanctuary, and Team Ninja with Nioh, a lot of developers have tried to emulate a difficult formula primarily reserved for From Software in the public eye. Toadman Interactive has joined the fray in the hope of securing a niche in the wide arena that is the extremely challenging action-roleplaying game. Luckily without reference to a certain trilogy, Toadman have released Immortal: Unchained and tried to create the first game in this genre focused on guns. Lots and lots of guns. A noble, and in and of itself a challenging concept, when you look at the foundations already laid.
Besides throwing around clichés like ultra-hardcore, ruthless gunplay, and legendary bosses, Toadman Interactive dives into a relatively unexplored concept of world-building regarding this kind of game. We aren't just talking about science fiction, but a brand of mythological science fiction, with clear ties to cinema like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the vastness of Nordic mythology. You control an unchained immortal (you know, just like the title tells you) released as a stop-gap solution to the end of the universe, and your mission is to the combat the evil force that has shrouded the universe across nine planets. Everything is sinister, solemn, and ominous, and jam-packed with some truly original ideas that drive the player forward to explore. Sadly, this is quite possibly the only good thing to say about Immortal: Unchained, as the rest of the game is lacklustre to say the least.
The game looks (somewhat) good, and we quickly noticed that Toadman Interactive has dropped the usual black, brown, and red colour palettes that frequent these kinds of games, in favour of blue, green, and grey. To our eyes, this is in many ways a nice change of pace, at least when it comes to the player characters and enemies. However, the textures in the areas you slog through are, to put it mildly, incoherent. Sometimes they're sharp, while other times they're stretched to such a degree that only a few blurred lines make up a hill or mountainside, and it's just subpar for a game with a AAA price tag. The cutscenes have some beautiful stills, granted, but the incoherent world sums up the whole of the Immortal: Unchained experience.
Let us begin with one of the most important aspects for hardcore action-roleplaying games; the combat. The battle between player and AI is of the utmost importance in this genre, because it is there that we experience the challenge. Storytelling, character progression, awesome cutscenes all take a backseat to this core experience. As a player in this genre, you can to be progressively challenged on your skills and ability to read and understand opponents. Immortal: Unchained manages this to an extent but on the entirely wrong premise. Games like The Surge and Nioh delivered adrenaline-pumping combat by focusing on clever enemy AI and interesting fighting styles. Immortal: Unchained doesn't even come close to being mildly exciting, not even in the boss fights, simply because it's really boring just to shoot things. Even worse, the awful concept of "waiting-until-the-opponent-shows-their-weak-spot-then-attack" is the prevailing design for all enemies in the game. The sloppiness of enemies and the poor AI also detracts from the experience, as enemy robots stop halfway up some open stairs to stare menacingly at you or decide that now is the time to chill as you blow their legs off with a grenade launcher.
On the second planet you gain access to Veridian, a suspiciously empty area which, as you step into the clearing, turns out to be a trap. A big, sword-and-shield-carrying robot jumps from beneath the mud, flanked by a horde of suicide bombers that jump after you and explode in a cloud of poison gas. In theory, this area should offer an extreme challenge and the player would need to deploy clever tactics to survive the fight with this menace and his horde of poisonous whoopie cushions. In Immortal: Unchained, however, you can sprint across to the other side and, voila, every opponent stops dead in their tracks. You can now easily pick them off, one by one. Nothing is stopping these enemies from charging you except sloppy AI programming. One of the final boss fights on this selfsame planet was easily overcome by just running in circles around the halberd-wielding robot - without using the dodge mechanic - and just using the shotgun until we won.