Way back in the heady times of August 2020, our resident quiz-winning aficionado Greg reviewed Collapsed for the Switch. It’s fair to say, he was pretty impressed with it at the time. Rogue-likes as a genre were just beginning their ascent to gaming popularity, with Dead Cells being the forefront title of the genre and Collapsed was an early pioneer. Since then, Rogue-likes have been masterfully cultivated and improved upon, with the likes of Hades, Deathloop, Returnal and many others releasing to critical acclaim.
Unfortunately for Collapsed, the vast forward steps that have been taken in the design philosophy of rogue-likes have left it suffering under the weight of its age. You could almost use Collapsed as a veritable case study for just how much things can be left behind within a mere year of time. See, Collapsed certainly isn’t a bad game, at all. Sadly, it just can’t match the depth, quality and progression of newer rogue-likes that have mastered the art. It suffers under the rubble of those who have come after it, making it slightly obsolete in what is probably an unfair comparison.
Gate Me Out of Here
Setting out, there’s a decent tutorial that gets you up to speed with the very basics of movement, dashing, shooting and completing portals. The intricacies of more in-depth mechanics like crafting and progression are left for you to experiment with and discover on your own. As a rogue-like, you’ll be teleporting into randomly generated dungeons, ranging from forest-y areas to industrial settings and a couple of others.
Your job is simple – shoot the hell out of everything you see or mash it to oblivion with your melee strikes. You can select from 4 types of arbiter of death, each specialising in melee, ranged or elemental setups, or the standard all-rounder. Interestingly for a game of this type, your loot is carried over between characters via a storage box and anything you earn during a run is also kept – nothing lost on death except progress.
Progressing through dungeons requires you to explore to discover up to 3 portals, where you then face potentially multiple waves of enemies in a locked-off area to unlock the portal. One of the 3 will be the “true” portal, which then sends you careening off into the next level of the dungeon. It’s a simple setup which works relatively well, as you zoom about each procedurally generated area gunning down whatever manner of foe is currently impeding your progress.
The problem that arises is that within a handful of runs, you’ll have seen virtually every enemy type, dungeon locale and environmental hazard that exists within the algorithm. Very quickly I was becoming desensitized to what was on-screen and the process of finding portals became more of a chore than an exciting means of progression. Particularly when the game decided that the “true” gate would of course be the last one in every damn dungeon. It’s not tiresome, but it quickly descends into mindless repetition without more variety.
We Need Bullets, Lots of Bullets
Each dungeon area is positively brimming with numerous enemies for you to obliterate on your path to victory. Different locale biomes have differing enemy designs, with forest areas having ent-like trees triggering AoE attacks or sacs of purple gloop homing in on you, for example. Most of the fodder can be dealt with without much stress, so Collapsed focuses most of its challenge by throwing sheer crowds of foes at you at a time.
Due to the random nature of the RNG, some dungeons are a cake-walk while others throw dozens of progress-ending monsters at you at once. Ranged attacks will fill the screen with orbs of damage, melee units will dash towards you in mobs and static units will shower AoE attacks on you at will. At points, particularly in the more industrial areas with robotic enemies, it became a complete crap-shoot trying to see or do anything without getting annihilated before you can actually see what’s killing you.
Tougher troop types appear in different colour varieties, indicating they hit harder and withstand even more punishment. When these guys appear, it becomes a war of attrition of whether you have enough ammo or damage-dealing equipment to adequately cope with them. They’re not so much a satisfying challenge as they are damage-absorbing pains in the arse.
While I enjoyed dashing around blasting the hell of enemies and occasionally dicing through the swarms, the frankly absurd occasions where I’d have to avoid dozens of orbs, track multiple enemies at once while still firing, jumping and avoiding environmental hazards just became too much of an annoyance. Melee builds also suffer as so many opposition varieties shower the screen with bullets from above or off-screen, meaning you’re at double risk trying to close distances or standing static while swinging.
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes out in fleeting moments playing Collapsed, but it quickly gets overshadowed by frustration when playing for longer bouts of time.
Gear Me Up, Buttercup
Opening loot boxes (chests) in dungeons, completing higher-difficulty challenge portals and decimating bosses drops you a variety of gear and equipment which is used to boost your character’s strength. Whether it be switching your ammo to electric or acid, slotting damage boosting armour or upgrading your melee strength, gear is abundant throughout. You can swap in-and-out of 9 slots in total, with shifting on-the-fly essential once you progress past the first tier difficulty.
Gear is determined by level, increasing the further into dungeons you go. You can purchase new types of gear to drop through the upgrade tree also. However, the offering is pretty minimal and I quickly discovered the ones worth bothering with and the others not within a couple of runs. The repeated drops of the same but slightly higher level items I found became stale a little too fast and diminished my interest in delving into the options much further. Additionally, if you find yourself stuck on a level of dungeon repeatedly, your gear won’t improve until you can get past it, which can keep you stuck somewhat unnecessarily.
The aforementioned upgrade tree fares much better though, as it offers boundless customisation. The offerings range from health, damage or ammo boosts to powerful trade-off stat enhancements like less health in exchange for higher damage output across the board. You don’t get each boost automatically however, as you have to unlock and then choose which upgrades to equip to your character. This means you have to tactfully and carefully customise your build instead of straight up powering yourself into oblivion.
Figuring out decent upgrade compositions was much more satisfying and kept a tangible sense of reward from actually thinking about my build to maximise success. Which is good, because past tier 1 difficulty, the game ramps up what’s expected of you.
You Challenge Me?!
Each successful run of Collapsed “Lost Memories” tiers requires you to complete dungeons and then a boss. You do this 3 times, you then face off against the final boss. The variety of bosses is pretty strong, each having unique attack patterns, special compositions and challenging tells to learn and counter. The final boss gains new moves each tier you face off against them in, but early iterations are laughably easy to get through. Which is odd, given that some varieties of basic bosses are formidable.
Completing a tier unlocks the next one, which powers up enemy damage output, numbers (or so it seemed to me) and the damage they can take. Tier 2 felt like a massive spike in comparison to tier 1, so be prepared to suddenly have your ass handed to you each time you move up. I would have preferred a smoother ramp up in difficulty personally, as the numerous numbers of deaths became grating when RNG felt like the primary reason instead of my skill, but some of this is par for the course with rogue-likes. Just be advised that Collapsed can be pretty unforgiving once you start progressing.
The story was minimal throughout, with this post-apocalyptic tale doled out through singular Memory Nodes that can appear in dungeons. They provide some context of what happened within that biome through pieces of text dialogue or mini-stories. Largely, I found them lackluster and gave up reading or even interacting with them after a handful of uninteresting blocks of text. This is certainly a shooting-player’s game, rather than a narratively interested player’s, that’s for sure.
Shouldering The Giants
Artistically, Collapsed is a colourful affair, with plenty of different palettes depending on the biome and some cool basic and boss enemy designs. Once again, it’s largely undone by the repetitious nature of the offering it has, making each area slowly become more uninteresting. Everything starts to mesh together and loses identity after just a couple of hours, which is never a good sign for long-term play.
With multiple difficulty tiers to overcome, there’s plenty to sink your blood-stained bullets into should you wish to. The issue is whether Collapsed’s systems and RNG nature can keep you hooked long enough to see much of it through. Personally, I’d had my fill after only a few hours, as the staleness of the gameplay and lack of satisfaction slowly wore me down. I spent almost 50 hours with Hades, so I’m not adverse to cyclical rogue-likes and investing time to repetition. But where Hades succeeded through an immensely engaging story, a variety of fighting styles and deep progression, Collapsed… well, collapses (sorry…) when you play it for more than a short period of time.
I almost feel guilty for playing Collapsed after a year of far superior rogue-like games. I implore you to take this review within the context of someone who has played some of the most stellar rogue-like titles this year and is judging Collapsed within this context. Had it been a game I played a year or two ago, I likely would have enjoyed it far more. Unfortunately, Collapsed is positively buried under the successors it likely paved the way for. Context is everything, it seems.
It’s a sad thing to reflect on – without Collapsed, some of my favorite games this year may not have had the platform to deliver as they have. Alas, as it stands in 2021, Collapsed has become a victim to the titles of a genre it helped to innovate. For that, it should be commended, but there’s better rogue-likes to play now.
Unfortunately falling victim to the giants of rogue-likes it provided the shoulders for, Collapsed is an entertaining if poorly balanced rogue-like. Solid action and gunplay can only carry you so far when repetition slowly wears away your enthusiasm, and you know that other games in the genre offer so much more in comparison. Collapsed is despairingly trapped under the rubble of those who have surpassed it.
Collapsed is available now on Xbox One (review platform), PS4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Glaive Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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