Hands-On Preview: Severed - A Cut Above the Rest

Since its release back in 2012, the PlayStation Vita has gone through a variety of perceptions from the far corners of the gaming community.

For many, it’s a portable powerhouse in its own league with unique titles not easily ported to other platforms, with a stable of compelling smaller titles well-suite to a portable experience.

For others, however, it’s another failed foray for Sony into the portable market, as the proverbial well dried up, resulting in the Vita getting a lackluster library compared to its competitor the Nintendo 3DS.

Despite some of the more negative associations that the Vita may have with its content library, its exclusive titles such as TearawayUncharted: Golden Abyss, and Gravity Rush have truly shown what the Vita is capable of and the unique features it provides.

Luckily, developer Drinkbox Studios’ upcoming new title Severed could very likely be among those titles that make the Vita shine.

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During this past weekend’s PAX East 2015, we visited DrinkBox Studios’ booth for a hands-on demo with the studio’s upcoming title Severed, a new downloadable game coming exclusively to the PS Vita later in 2015.

At first glance, it’s easy to compare the game with the studio’s previous title (and breakout success) Guacamelee!, with the newer title retaining a similar art style infused with the decorations of Latin origin.

However, after a brief 15-20 minutes of one of the game’s stages and a boss fight, it’s clear that Severed is going to be a completely different beast of its own as DrinkBox goes in an exciting, dark direction.

Playing as a young woman who is separated from her family and, upon gazing into a mirror, that she is missing an arm, it’s clear right from the start that this game is a stark contrast from the studio’s more light-hearted and goofy work.

Filled with blood and dismembered limbs, it’s a much darker and more serious title that explores some heavy material. Thankfully, it also boasts some great gameplay ideas that fit perfectly (so far) on the portable.

Viewed from a first-person perspective in an almost “dungeon-crawler-esque” fashion (think early Wolfenstein), players in Severed take control of the main character progressing through a series of circular rooms.

The game’s primary inputs come down to using the Vita’s analog sticks to push your character into a new room or look around, while the front touchscreen to interact with objects, explore, and most importantly, swiping to slash at enemies and parry attacks.

After releasing the severity of her situation, the main character brandishes a sword and soon players are introduced to the game’s combat, bringing to mind titles like Dead Space where players can strategically dismember their enemies — you’ll have to in order to survive.

Armed with her sword (pun intended), the primary combat mechanics involve briefly swiping on the Vita’s touchscreen to slash at enemies, while more precisely swiping to defend yourself by coordinating your strikes against enemy attacks.

At the demo’s start, it’s simple and easy to grasp but still satisfying — playing on a PS Vita 2000 model unit, early encounters had me switching up constantly between slashing at enemies as quickly as possible and making more considerate moves in waiting for the right chance to strike, whether it’s an enemy revealing a weak spot or waiting for their armor to drop.

Severed starts off as a title that’s easy to grasp and enjoy, but even within the demo itself it’s proven that the title will still provide a hearty challenge thanks to more elaborate combat encounters and boss fights.

Near the end of the demo, we had our first boss battle against a dangerous beast made of crows; in the initial stages of the fight taking him on came down to blocking his attacks and then following up with slashes while he was stunned.

However, this changed up dramatically once he unleashed a set of crows around my character, requiring quick thinking and good timing to switch around, take out each of the crows, and still swap back in place to block the boss’s next attack.

It’s definitely intense when faced with enemies all attacking you from every side at times, but it’s still as fun and engaging as the earlier stages of when I was just learning the ropes.

Popping off the screen with vibrant colors, it’s little surprise that Severed looks outstanding on the Vita, with a richly-drawn art style that matches Guacamelee!, although with a much darker tinge to it.

From the opening moments of the demo where the game’s heroine pieces together traces of her memories and struggles to find her family to the various combat encounters, the dark tone nonetheless makes the screen pop with beautiful, detailed environments and some excellent enemy designs that felt different and unique, even within the space of a short 15-20 minute demo.

Despite a few issues with some attacks not registering properly on the Vita, in particular the parrying and turning required with more intensive encounters, Severed already shows itself as a promising addition to the small (but excellent) stable of exclusives on PS Vita. that avoid the “gimmick” pitfall.

Like Tearaway‘s use of the touch pads and camera to give an experience that would be difficult (or radically different) to transfer to another system, seeing this title in action on the handheld made perfect sense once dropped into the game’s dark but compelling tale.

It’s a game about a woman trying to reconnect with her family as much as it’s focused on providing quick-thinking action sequences and puzzles to be solved.

Bringing an easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master combat system that will be bolstered by acquiring remaining enemy parts to upgrade equipment and learn new skills, Severed shows DrinkBox continue to explore unique concepts mixed with vivid and vibrant art and gameplay.

As Guacamelee! wrapped its story in the world of a luchador exploring Castlevania/Metroid-esque environments, Severed brings a horrific tale of a girl’s past and future clashing in the mix of fighting enemies and exploring dungeons.

While the difficulty may seem to ramp up quickly (even within the short span of our time with the game) its forgiving checkpoints ensure that this is not only an addicting and rewarding experience, but that it’s also a cut above the rest when it comes to quick-paced action on the Vita.

Severed is set to release exclusively on PS Vita in Summer 2015.

Images and screenshots provided by DrinkBox Studios.

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Ryan Meitzler

Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers and has been a lover of games as long as he can remember. He holds a BA in English and Cinema and lives in New York City.

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