*This review was originally published on May 9th 2017 but was lost in our transition between website domains. I’ve re-posted today because Butcher is excellent and is currently appearing in Deals with Gold for this week*
In Butcher, you kill – a lot. Inhabiting the shoes of a cyborg terminator programmed to wipe out the last remnants of the human race is as much justification as required to sweep through various locales with murder in mind. Released on PC back in October 2016, Butcher seems to be receiving generally very decent user reviews on Steam. With that in mind and added to the fact that I’m not adverse to a bit of killing, I approached Butcher with a small but bright spark of expectation.
How disappointing then to be greeted with what I can only describe as a particularly drab visit to the toilet. Brown is very much the order of the day here. Brown space stations, brown factories, brown jungles. Even the blood is an odd shade of red/ brown! I do understand that this is supposed be harking back to the classic retro shooters of the 8-bit era. The blurb describes it as a love letter in fact. But, retro stylings as a design choice can be colourful – they can set a tone for a game; grab people’s attention as they walk past. I would point to the Hotline Miami series or even last month’s reviewed Flinthook. Here, and I’ll use the word again, it’s just drab.
It’s very fortunate therefore that Butcher is significantly picked up in other areas. Geometry Wars is certainly an odd comparison palette wise but the two games control quite similarly. Movement is mapped to the left stick with targeting controlled on the right. Only the addition of a jump button the left trigger and the actual trigger on the right trigger complicates things. Manoeuvring is fast and fluid and jumping whilst shooting in the opposite direction soon becomes second nature. A helpful semi-auto lock when selecting a human to dispatch keeps the action flowing quickly.
And what action. The game’s tagline “the easiest mode is hard” is something of a misnomer as I picked the casual mode when working through the first few levels. I was leaping from platform to platform, unloading my (very satisfying) shotgun and clearing the levels of human scum. Ammo was plentiful, enemy numbers were manageable and health and armour pick-ups were just a jump away. So far, so facile. Then I turned the difficulty up to Hard. Bear in mind at this point that there are harder, hardest and impossible (this one needs to be unlocked) difficulties above this which I didn’t even attempt!
On the higher settings the game really comes into its own. Your health is reduced, pick-ups become far more scarce and enemy combatants (read: cannon fodder) become that bit quicker on the trigger. From a cushy romp through enemy infested but generally non-hazardous environments, now I was having to use the scenery as cover. Occasionally dropped crosses of health and armour which disappeared in a matter of seconds and were pretty much surplus to requirements on casual now became essential commodities in your quest to reach level’s end. Every dip in the lava cost you precious life which a waiting solider was only happy to chip away further.
The above mentioned shotgun was a reliable ally in any situation on casual. Now I found myself frantically cycling through my available options to the pick the best for a particular enemy type. Would I use the flamethrower to burn the spinning saw blade antagonists to a crisp or the rail gun to vaporise an entire column of infantry? I finally understood Butcher. I finally got why there was an achievement for dying 200 times. Pah, 200 times: I’d barely perished 10 times, my younger, less experienced terminator guffawed. How naive. Later levels punish mistakes with savage abandon. I tell you now: you are not quick enough.
And that segway leads me right into Butcher’s long term appeal. This is a game whose longevity is built almost entirely around speedruns. I clocked the game on the easiest setting at just over an hour and a half. You’re then encouraged to practice the same levels on repeat and compare your best times with leaderboards which I expect will become live once the game launches on the 10th of May. Of course you also have the higher difficulties to bang your head against. I guess my measuring stick for a game like this is whether I am likely to go back to it once this review is written. And, I think I will. There’s something quite therapeutic about the metronomic kill, die repeat cycle and I can foresee another few hours spent in the Butcher’s clutches. Reasonable value for £8 then.
No review of Butcher would be complete without some level of appreciation for the soundtrack and effects. I play most of my games with a Turtle Beach headset on for the purposes of both immersion and ensuring I maintain a sleeping household! With that in mind, Butcher’s theme fits the game to an absolute tee. Tracks are moody, industrial and suitably macabre throughout – a tremendous accompaniment to the action. Ancillary to that are the effects created by your master of death. The screams as your victims bite the dust are gratifying and gruesome in equal measure and really enhance the feeling of embodying a killing machine.
One more point of note: look out for a terrific nod to a classic piece of early 90s cinema when you beat the final boss!