While playing Seraph, Dreadbit Games’ new 2D action-platformer shooter, I felt like I was taking control of an action movie hero: think Neo or Trinity from The Matrix, or other movies where the protagonist jumps and flips around while shooting their foes.
The player takes control of an angel — or Seraph — who descended from Heaven (called Origin in the game) to Earth for some purpose that I’m not entirely sure about. She was captured a few decades prior to the beginning of the game, and is housed in a giant underwater prison. As you start the game, something has released the demons from Hell (called the Terminus in the game) into the prison. It’s unclear as to who released these demons — and in the course of the game, it doesn’t really matter much.
While the barebones story is sometimes compelling, it was far from the reason I enjoyed Seraph. The game is worth playing simply because the gameplay is awesome. The game is a 2D sidescrolling shooter with procedural generation, but the shooting is handled by simply holding down the trigger button. The game takes care of all of the aiming for you, which allows the player to flip around and dodge enemy fire instead of concentrating on firing. It makes the player feel like a badass action hero, and I was constantly thinking of The Matrix — especially the lobby scene, referenced below.
The gameplay loop in Seraph is pretty simple. The level opens up with a few lines of written dialogue between the angel and one of the other few characters, then she is sent off in search of either the level mini-boss or to destroy these gates that let demons flow into the level. Within the levels, you can also find switches that open doors that give you access to a much-needed checkpoint and other supplies.
Once you complete the main goal of the level, you just need to find the exit to go to the next level. This routine is only changed when you reach a main boss level. The stages can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 6 minutes, depending on the amount of exploring you do and the difficulty.
The difficulty system is actually variable. It starts at 1, then builds throughout your play depending on how well you do. By the time you get above 2, the increased enemies and types can begin to make things challenging. The game also has built-in replay value, as harder difficulties start you off at a difficulty level of 4 or 7. The penalty for death can be severe, but doesn’t feel too punishing: When you die in a level, you respawn at the start with ⅓ of your health gone. Die again, and you lose another third. If you die the third time, then you lose — you either start at the beginning of the game, or at the most recent checkpoint that you’ve triggered.
In between stages, you get the chance to upgrade. While killing demons, you will collect shards and other materials that will allow you to increase weapon power, add new “miracles” or add passive abilities. Also as you level up your character, you can gain other abilities.
While this adds some gameplay depth, there is little direction to guide the player toward an advantageous upgrade path. During an actual stage, you will come across different bins and lockers that include health orbs, new weapons or ammo. For me, the gameplay was often too frantic for me to make a decision about whether to open the lockers — I didn’t have time to tell whether the bin had a glowing green or blue light, which would tell me what was inside. The lockers may as well have been random.
Additionally, every time you loaded into a level — whether just starting the game or going between levels — the loading screen felt like it took forever. When I finally timed the loading, it was about 30 seconds each time. When some levels may only take you 2 minutes to beat, that 30 second load gets tiresome quickly.
Once you beat the main game of Seraph, there is still plenty of reason to play. Aside from the higher difficulty levels, there are daily and weekly challenges. The game also includes a Twitch mode that allows viewers to impact the game, though I didn’t try this mode.
Despite a few relatively minor quibbles, Seraph is a ton of fun to play when you’re actually playing. A seemingly simple design choice of automatic aiming is the key. The gameplay is fast-paced, exciting, difficult and just plain fun. Seraph is pure gameplay at its best, and is absolutely worth playing.