by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
A Little Keanu, A Little Liam
Welcome to Until I Have You, the Taken/John Wick of retro cyberpunk platformers. You are the ARTIST, a talented ex-assassin who has a certain set of skills, and should you happen to wrong him in any way by, for example, kidnapping a family member or murdering the pet dog, he will find you, and he will kill you.
The Chase Is On
Similarities to those two film franchises aside, the story and setting of Until I Have You are actually very well executed. At it’s heart, a side-scrolling platformer, which has you murdering your way through hordes of city gangs, it is the game’s style and emotional depth that really set it apart. So yes, your wife has been kidnapped, forcing you back into action in an attempt to rescue her, but things develop beyond this simple, somewhat overused premise. I won’t throw up any story spoilers here, but as things unfold, it becomes clear that beneath the surface is a relatively successful attempt to portray a real nuanced relationship. This developing narrative is fleshed out by the wonderful cyberpunk setting and the varied gangs of enemies and bosses scattered across the levels. Beneath the visual variety in enemies is the city itself, full of different locations and visually interesting levels.
There is a consistent bleak retro cyberpunk feel throughout the game, but it never becomes boring. You move above and below ground, constantly discovering new areas to look at and reveal this games take on what is a very well established and adored genre. The soundtrack is, as you’d well imagine, a very retro-synth inspired affair. At this stage in the history of cyberpunk you’d expect it would be very easy to just throw any old dark synth on top of a game and leave it at that. But the high tempo synth that accompanies the on-screen violence is very well placed and serves to get the blood pumping at just the right points. All dialogue in the game is also fully voiced, which is also a nice touch, and the voice acting is solid for the most part. This also serves to amplify the story of the game and it’s characters in a way that on screen subtitles can’t usually do in such a fast paced game.
Gameplay wise, Until I Have You certainly offers up moments of intense action that match the quality of its setting. Unfortunately these moments are a serious challenge to come by and when they do, they come at the cost of some serious frustration. I’m all for a challenge, but when the challenge is such that it starts to get in the way of the game’s narrative, it becomes a little too much. Especially when so much effort has clearly been put into fleshing out the world and story of the game. Death comes at a single hit for our beloved assassin, and levels are designed to be fast paced, so death you’ll find is a constant embrace throughout Until I Have You.
The overall design can be a little sloppy in places as well, with certain platforming elements leaving you little or no chance without already knowing what’s ahead. This does serve to lengthen the game, as without constant set backs the levels would be rather short. But this instead tends to feel like a cheap mechanic to lengthen the game, and quickly becomes frustrating. Every death also sends you back to the beginning, so it can quickly become an exercise of learning each and every trick of a level by death until you know everything it’s going to throw at you. This may be addictive for some, the kind of gamers who enjoy simply knowing what’s coming up and learning a level this way. But for me a game has to be about teaching a player the mechanics and giving them a fair chance of using all of those to complete the challenges that lay ahead. It just doesn't seem fair to punish a player for something they could not possibly have avoided without foresight.
The game’s bosses are a bit of a varied bunch as well when it comes to taking them down. Some are very well designed and require you to make use of specific different weapons and abilities you unlock along the way, but some are just plain boring and this definitely stunts the feeling of progression as you work your way to the final showdown. The selection of weapons and abilities you can unlock are also clearly designed to help you mix things up a little as you play. But because of the pace of the game it is very easy to find a combo that suits you and just stick with what feels safe throughout. There could be a little replayability here if you were willing to go back through levels trying different things. But that frustrating difficulty level is a definite barrier when it comes to making the effort to go back through the game.
A Labor Of Love
So cyberpunk enthusiasts rejoice. In Until I Have You there is a very stylish and well fleshed out world with a notably nuanced story that isn't just a straightforward ‘man save woman’ affair. But if you aren't one for mastering unfair challenges this might be one to avoid. Until I Have You is a game clearly full of heart, but a little lacking in level design and gameplay. There are moments of glory that show what this game could have been with more consistency, but a ton of frustrating deaths is its downfall.
Fantastic style and surprisingly nuanced story
Inconsistent gameplay and frustrating level-design