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Stellar Blade

Stellar Blade

Stellar Blade from South Korean Shift Up is a surprisingly exciting acquaintance of a type we don't see very often anymore. Read here how the game performs.

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Stellar Blade reminds me of Sony in the "good old days". Back when Sony took chances and were the ones who came up with the slightly quirky, slightly crazy and surprising games. Today, Sony has primarily become Spider-Man, Horizon and The Last of Us, i.e. huge single-player AAA games worth hundreds of millions of dollars - and even if it's high quality, it's hardly quirky, crazy or surprising anymore. It's perhaps become a little bit boring.

Stellar Blade

But then comes Stellar Blade. It may not have been developed by Sony or any of their regular third-party studios, but Sony has picked up the game and they are in charge of the release. The game is developed by South Korean Shift Up and it's their first major project, but it certainly doesn't show. The game has been in the works for some time, as it was announced under the name Project EVE back in 2019 and was then announced for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, but has now become exclusive to PlayStation 5.

Firstly, let's talk about the elephant in the room - the main character Eve. Some say she must have been designed by a man who has never seen a real woman - and I'll leave that part unsaid. But yes - there is an unnecessary sexualisation of the female body here. Yes, you can play dress-up with Eve and equip her with earrings, various more or less daring outfits and put hair on her. Yes, you can collect beer and soda cans that, if you find them all, reward the player with a rather revealing costume for Eve. And yes, I wonder why they chose to have Eve running around in a thigh-skimming skirt, stilettos and self-fitting stockings in an underground sewer with sewage water up to her mid-shin. It's not something that really hinders the game, but it just doesn't make any sense and the creative line on her appearance is off the mark.

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Stellar Blade

Anyway, back to what it's all about: what Stellar Blade is like as a game. Earth is being ravaged by horrific and aggressive creatures called Naytiba, and as a result, our old planet has been abandoned and the last surviving humans have fled to a colony in outer space. You take the role of Eve, a member of the 7th Airborne Squad, who returns to Earth with a clear mission: destroy the Naytiba monsters and take back Earth. With most of Eve's squad missing after a failed landing on Earth, she and the few remaining survivors, Adam and mechanic Lily, embark on a perilous mission where the Naytiba monsters are practically queuing up to kick Eve's arse.

It's clear that Stellar Blade is inspired by games like Nier: Automata and probably also Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. And those are certainly not bad games to be inspired by - and by now you probably already know what kind of games we're dealing with here. The battle system is at the centre of it all and Shift Up has really nailed it. It's easily accessible, it's lightning fast and death is only a few blows away, and you'll quickly realise that well-timed blocks and evasive manoeuvres will get you the furthest. Simply punching buttons won't get you far, because you need to think tactically and decide when to launch your attack and when it's wise to retreat.

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Enemies have a rhythm to their attacks and you need to learn to recognise this, which is linked to the importance of timing your attacks, blocks and evasive manoeuvres. To emphasise the importance of being able to block an enemy correctly, most enemies are equipped with a "Balance Meter" that slowly depletes and unbalances them if you make perfect blocks - and when this happens, you can perform a very powerful Retribution attack. You unlock more attacks and moves throughout the game and I have to say, it's a real pleasure to get to know the combat system - it works brilliantly.

If you've played the demo, you'll also know that the game is fairly linear, but it's only the first 4-5 hours that are like that. Without giving too much away, I can say that it opens up and becomes a semi-open world game, built with an open hub world and (actually quite boring) side missions - and I think it actually loses a bit of the magic it had in the beginning. The missions are still quite linear and are actually quite diverse in nature. A couple of times I experienced being thrown into missions where the whole thing turned into an outright 3rd person shooter in a setting that could resemble Dead Space. It's a far cry from the razor-sharp combat system inspired by Bayonetta that is otherwise on offer.

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Stellar Blade is packed with upgrade options. There are no less than 5 skill trees where you can fine-tune your various attacks and other combat skills. In addition, your drone, which always follows you around, has its own little ability tree and you can also upgrade your ExoSpine, which is basically Eve's backbone and basic and fundamental abilities. In addition to this, there are plenty of cosmetic things to play with; as mentioned at the beginning, Eve can be equipped with a variety of outfits, as can Adam and Lily, and even the drone can be customised.

We've covered Eve's appearance at the start, so I won't spend any more time on that. The entire game world is beautiful and detailed most of the time, although not all locations are equally exciting and some surfaces are strangely low-res, just like in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. What elevates the visual impression is that the developers really don't skimp on the visual effects. There are plenty of great close-ups of Eve and the other characters, and the beautiful fight choreography is the icing on the cake. Stellar Blade looks great and in true Asian, almost vulgar fashion, the game isn't afraid to show it all off, with alternate camera angles, slow motion, lots of beautiful scenery and cinematic cutscenes.

Stellar Blade

Enemy design is something that Asian game designers are very keen on and it's almost its own discipline in these parts. You can see this in Stellar Blade, where the big Naytiba bosses in particular are well designed, but the smaller bosses are also finely designed. Fortunately, they are not as ultra-Asian and crazy as you might have feared, because they look quite organic and somehow most of them look like something that could actually be living creatures and not something that just popped into the head of a designer with triangular glasses.

Stellar Blade offers three graphics settings: Performance, Balanced and Resolution. It's hard to tell the difference between Performance and Balanced, as they both run at 60 fps, but it seems that Performance runs a little smoother, but also has a slightly more grainy look - but you have to look closely to spot the differences. Resolution has noticeably sharper graphics, but only runs at 30fps and while I'm not hysterical about 30fps vs. 60fps, 30fps just doesn't cut it in a fast-paced game like Stellar Blade where timing, precise blocking and dodging are very important. Balanced is the best way to play Stellar Blade in my opinion.

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Finally, there's the soundtrack, which is quite excellent. The voice actors do a good job, the sound effects are nice and heavy, and even though the very typical Korean pop soundtrack is not exactly my style, it makes a nice backdrop to the soundtrack if you turn it down a bit.

Stellar Blade is certainly not perfect, but it's a really successful action game of a type we don't see very often anymore. There are a few issues with the controls, which can be a little imprecise in certain sections, checkpoints are sometimes unevenly spaced and some locations are boring as hell, but in the grand scheme of things, these are minor issues.

Stellar Blade

All in all, I think Stellar Blade is actually a pleasant surprise and a pretty exciting game. It doesn't follow the usual templates for how action games should be put together and that means some strange and sudden changes in style along the way - but in the end, it's actually very refreshing.

If you like Bayonetta, Nier: Automata and Devil May Cry, then I think you should check out Stellar Blade, because it has some of the same vibe and quirkiness that these other games have - and it's basically just a really nice action game with a very well-functioning and easily accessible combat system that is difficult to fully master. Stellar Blade is the first big game from Shift Up and I'm sure we'll be seeing more from them in the future.

HQ
08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+
Excellent combat system, incredible upgrade options, beautiful graphics, not a cookie-cutter action game, great fight choreography
-
At times a little imprecise controls, unnecessary sexualisation of the main character, weirdly rubbed surfaces in places, boring side missions
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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Stellar Blade

REVIEW. Written by Palle Havshøi-Jensen

Stellar Blade from South Korean Shift Up is a surprisingly exciting acquaintance of a type we don't see very often anymore. Read here how the game performs.



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