Severed: hands-on at PlayStation Experience 2015

The Severed demo at this year's PlayStation Experience was a more polished version of the one presented at last year's event, which is all well and good. Then Drinkbox Studios pulled the curtain back to reveal that this game is far bigger than anyone is letting on. Shacknews goes hands-on.

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It's been a full year since Shacknews last laid eyes on Severed. The next game from Drinkbox Studios, the makers of Guacamelee, showed a lot of potential, but also had a couple of issues that appeared to be hampering the experience. Drinkbox took the feedback from both fans and press to heart, opting to delay the game well past its anticipated Spring 2015 launch window. Now Severed has returned to this year's PlayStation Experience and Shacknews is likewise back to see if things have improved.

The story is just as it was last year. Severed is a first-person dungeon crawler centered around a young girl named Sasha. Mystical forces attacked and abducted her family, leaving her with a severed left arm. As she quests to get her family back, she picks up enchanted items that allow her to fully realize her warrior potential. While the game retains the familiar Guacamelee cel-shaded art style, the story is noticeably darker, especially as Sasha begins to uncover her family's ultimate fate.

The playable sequence on the show floor was identical to the one presented last year, but there were a couple of differences. Most noticeably, many of the more aggravating issues surrounding the game's combat appear to have been smoothed out. The Fruit Ninja-style slicing felt slightly more responsive, as I was able to parry many of the enemies' attacks without a problem. Enemy weaknesses were also easier to spot and patterns felt easier to recognize, which helped streamline the overall combat. The objective is the same, which is to strike at enemy weak points as soon as they become exposed. And just like last time, the trickiness comes in when multiple enemies appear in front of, behind, and to Sasha's two sides.

One area that appears to have gotten tougher is the actual severing mechanic. Progression and upgrades are still tied to collecting severed enemy body parts, which Sasha can collect by filling her special meter and unleashing her fury. Players are prompted to direct their slices in certain areas, but the window to successfully swipe appears to have gotten smaller. There were several points where I missed my chance to strike and came away empty-handed.

Aside from that, not much changed about the Severed demo. That's when Drinkbox pulled the curtain back a little further. As it turns out, the demo on the floor is simply a vertical slice of what the full Severed experience will look like. Drinkbox then gave me a peek at the full game, showing me that the game's opening labyrinth is far larger than anyone trying to demo realizes. It's far more comparable in size to the dungeons from games like the Legend of Zelda. And like Zelda, the dungeons appear to be filled with secrets. For example, there are certain doors that will either open or close depending on whether the sun or moon are out. To open or close these doors, Sasha must find an artifact hidden within the dungeon and place it on a switch in order to change the time of day and activate these doors. The dungeons are also filled with hidden doors, which can be found by completing certain conditions that can be found out in the open.

Later stages likewise appear to have these same labyrinthine layouts, only they're also filled with more powerful foes. These enemies looked like the standard ones I was facing in the demo, only greatly amped up. In addition to looking more powerful, their response times also appeared to be faster, though at this point in the game, the developers noted that Sasha should also have her own skill tree upgraded significantly. This allows her to either upgrade her weapon or utilize spells like haste to help speed up her swipes.

This year's Severed demo is largely improved from the one I tried out last year. The buggier elements from the 2014 demo appear to be refined or removed, leading to a far smoother experience. But beyond that, Severed looks to be far more complex than anyone at Drinkbox had previously let on. My first impression was that this would be a brief romp with small stages that could be completed in about 15 minutes. Now it's looking like a fully-realized adventure with massive dungeons and numerous secrets. I walked away from this year's demo far more intrigued than I did in 2014.

Severed is quickly reaching the home stretch, with Drinkbox anticipating no further delays. Look for the game to hit Vita in spring 2016.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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