Right off the bat, so you know what we are dealing with, Fury Unleashed is a cartoonish, 2D side-scrolling rogue-lite, meaning you keep your unlocks and character progression after runs, but you lose the progress in the levels themselves. Its combo-driven so you need to be nimble and quick on your gamepad, and levels are procedurally generated, so you’re never playing the same game twice.
You play as Fury, a Rambo-type hero, straight out of something like Metal Slug, but with absolutely no character. He (or she) is a thin pencil sketch, with little to no backstory, and visually made up of a 50p car-boot grab-bag of Warhammer body parts. There’s no personality, they are simply a foil for you to play as. Fine, it wants to be simple and customizable, but it left me disinterested.
Probably the first thing you’ll notice is the art style. Yes, it’s a comic book, but the art is pretty basic at best and is unlikely to inspire. It’s a kind of pseudo comic book art, fundamentally tied to the game’s concept, so maybe I can forgive its pretty basic style. It’s all dark bold outlines and vivid colours, which is true of comics, however as many comic book fans will know, art these days is a lot more impressive than this. In fact it looks like no comic book I can think of. I’m a bit confused where they did their research.
Characters move like you attached paper arms and legs at the shoulders and hips using those little winged hinge pins you used to have at school. Little has been put into the animation beyond the basic waggling legs and swaying of arms. Its functional and it ties into the aesthetic, but it’s not that pleasing. Comic book art is everything from Frank Miller’s noir shadow aesthetic to Marvel’s muscle-clad heroes, to the wonderful dark horse Star Wars comics, to the plethora of Japanese manga styles. This I’m afraid looks like none of them, and I feel the game could have been vastly improved with some talented artists on board.
Enemy design on the other hand, is kind of fun and quirky. They still look pretty generic, but someone’s taken time to craft a large number of different designs, its just a shame the artwork department, or at least the style, wasn’t up to the challenge. Skeletons fill the ancient rainforest levels looking like the whole society of Aztecs was raised from the dead. The aliens in part 3 are also very detailed and covered in grotesque flesh and appendages, but they are also blatantly riffing on Alien.
The rogue-lite and procedural level part of the game has an interesting concept behind it, and this is what initially got me excited for the game. The 2D level design is split into a number of rooms that are different every time you load up. So far, so rogue-lite. But in Fury Unleashed the rooms form the cells or frames or panels, or whatever you want to call them, of a comic book page. Transitions between screens, are transitions between panels. It’s attempting to make you feel like a story is happening while you are essentially just running about killing all kinds of skeletal badasses, but that’s a push.
Actually more successful is the comic aesthetic outside of gameplay; chapter and level select use a number of nice comic cover designs representing the different worlds that you get to traverse, and a separate handbook to the world of everything Fury Unleashed, which serves as your in game handbook too, but also character customizer, skill tree, loadout manager, and a tracker for enemies killed, items found and the story.
Functionally its all very smooth, and plays easily. You won’t find many bugs or issues, and its all running seamlessly and fast. The procedural generation works as well as it does in most games of this type, but despite my hopes, the fact that it was inside a comic book is largely forgotten once you actually get moving.
The story, or lack thereof, is where this concept struggles for me. It’s all very meta, which I’m a fan of, but it never really does anything interesting.
The titular character Fury, has nothing really to say and no impetus except you moving him about. The story, or what little story there is, revolves around the world outside the comic, but inside the game. As you progress, you can read about the feedback to the Fury Unleashed comic you’re playing from the in-game fictional press and fans. I know, meta, I told you. There are reader’s responses to a comic book series that has seen better days and glimpses into the artist’s depression as his work is no longer appreciated. It’s self-referential, fourth wall breaking, and tongue-in-cheek in places, but ultimately it feels very unnecessary.
Instead of a story that takes place in the comic book, you know the place we are spending all our time as the player, it takes place in a netherworld between the gameplay screens and me in the real world. What is a comic without a compelling story? It’s just art. Why make a game based on comic book art, if you fail to have anything close to a good story to drive it? There’s no real link between killing skeletons, Nazis or Aliens, and the other story of a depressed artist. There’s a strong concept, a comic book panel rogue-lite, but the depressing has-been artist story is trite and did nothing to drive me on. It just makes me think, why did you go with an artist who is a has-been, who writes hackneyed genre fiction of a style completely out of date. Why use a Rambo stand-in, when it could have been something more interesting?
I think it would have benefited from being one or the other. Keep the Rambo comic game, but give it a plot and a few more characters. As I go into later, give it some comic-inspired ideas. Or have the failed artist story and do away with the Rambo shoot-em-up altogether. Mash-ups like this can be really interesting, but this one fails on both counts, by not concentrating on either.
So, my lamentations aside, we got what we got. So how does it play? If there is a place where Fury Unleashed excels it’s in its combat. Double jumping, dashing and shooting your way through these levels is visceral and fun. You need to be good at dodging as the game can turn bullet hell on you at the drop of a grenade. There are guns aplenty, and though for the most part they are what you might expect, shotguns, rocket launchers etc, there are some more interesting nail guns, lasers and sci-fi orb shooters scattered about too. You also have a melee attack and a machete to start, and you need to get good at using both close combat and aiming your second thumbstick across the screen at enemies shooting you from far off.
It makes for something fun, that encourages run after run. Pickups and earnings are regular and go towards a large skill tree of buffs, from more health and combo time, to bigger better grenades and many others. The upgrade system looks extensive, but you will quickly start to realise that no matter what startup weapon you have earned, or how much health you now have after ten runs, every run is still just as difficult as the last. Upgrading won’t suddenly get you through this. Your skill is what needs to improve. There are also plenty of armour and aesthetic-only pickups to find on-run and in the customizer. A particular favourite was once you get a combo of 30, you can slap a wolfhead on your customisable hero and, you guessed it, Furry Unleashed.
The skill you need to hone is keeping up your combo, or in other words, moving through levels fast, and not getting hit. If you can do that, you can do anything, my son. But seriously combos are where its at. Maintaining a combo gives you that one thing that you need to continue – it’s the only way to recover health. During a combo every fourth or fifth enemy will drop a little bit of health and believe me, without it, you will never get further in the game. When they describe a game as combo-driven, and you wonder what it means, this is it. Without combos, you’re fucked.
You collect ink as you play, a collectible you can then use to purchase weapons, upgrades and one-off power-ups for that run. Most don’t stick around except a few that can augment your loadout next run. A sort of in-universe-but-meta inkmaster character doles these out, and think he’s meant to be the mind of the comic’s artist, but he’s really just a shopkeeper, and nothing much further is done with the idea. This inkmaster could have been far more interesting. Why not have him draw your weapons for you, watch the little animation and then off you go. Why not break the fourth wall completely and have a giant hand and pencil come in and sketch you new weapons on the fly?
There are a couple of panels every now and again where there’s no colour, just pencil lines, and you are essentially fighting with the artist’s subconscious, personified as in-universe baddies. When you defeat them the panel is completed, bringing colour back and you can continue. There is an unfinished comic as the last world you visit (see below) and this is all without colour in the same vein. But that’s kind of it.
The concept begged more to me. Why not a meta story where the in-game characters are actually unable to progress because of uncompleted panels that this depressed artist hasn’t drawn yet, forcing you to backtrack through other panels and progress the story and the platforming in non-conventional ways? Why not levels where you can see the art being drawn (Sped up of course) and then you can progress? Why not power-ups that complete ledges and handholds, or rub out certain enemies? Why not levels where you must race forward away from enemies, but the area in front of you is being drawn as you go, like an on-rails Rayman level? Even better, why not levels where the depressed artist is erasing work he is unhappy with, and you must stay ahead of the erased areas as you fight?
I know in many ways I am describing a different game, and more of a platformer too, but I just went in with high hopes considering the concept. Fury Unleashed has that one moment of inspiration to it, and then does nothing innovative or even remotely new with it.
Fury Unleashed is also exceptionally hard, and during early access the developers said rather than decrease the difficulty they have added difficulty levels. Fine, but there is no Normal Mode. Instead they’ve acknowledged that its hard and now Hard mode IS the equivalent of Normal mode, and then added an Easy mode ‘for streamers’ which I can’t help but think is a dig. The trouble is Easy Mode and Hard mode are virtually indistinguishable from each other until you realise there is an easy mode settings section, where you can bring the damage received and enemies health right down, down, deeper down, to manageable levels.
For Hard, sorry, Normal mode, unless you commit to this wholeheartedly, drive up your skills to an insane level and move constantly (it’s virtually Bullet-Hell at some points), it’s unlikely you will even see the Nazi and Alien themed comics.
Beating three comics and three bosses is your ticket to the finale, the sketchbook world where you face off against your creator’s doubt. After grinding for levels and points for a few hours, I still didn’t have the necessary skills to have beaten even one of these main bosses. The idea of having to stay alive to get past three of them just fills me with dread, and puts me off in the same way that Dark Souls does. I have no problem admitting that I changed it to Easy mode, like a streamer, so that I could actually review the rest of the game.
I like some hard games, but I do think there’s an annoying trend these days to make games, especially combat-heavy ones, far harder than necessary. I can’t help thinking it’s because there are a lot of gamers out there with more time than me, and probably a lot younger and more nimble-fingered, who can ‘git gud’ enough to play them through. For players like me it becomes an impediment to enjoyment, and also a question of value for money. If I’m not even going to see half the game, then should I consider paying anything more than half-price? Thankfully the developers have thought of this, and the Easy mode settings will enable far more people to enjoy it.
Metal Fury Slug Unleashed is a fast, frantic and fiendishly difficult combo speedrunner game for players who’ve recently loved (and got really good at) games like Dead Cells, or were able to one-life single-run Metal Slug back in the day, and it’s hard to recommend it to anyone else, even with Easy mode. It’s comic book art-style looks like no comic I’ve ever seen, and its story is a massive missed opportunity that feels unfinished. It does what it does well enough, but despite a long early access, it still feels like a pencil sketch of what it could have been.
Fury Unleashed is available now on Xbox One, Switch, PS4 (reviewed) and PC.
Developer: Awesome Studio
Publisher: Awesome Studio
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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