Here’s a statement that’s caused a bit of controversy of late: I didn’t like John Wick Chapter 3. I won’t go into it more than that, I’ve already copped enough flak from the WellPlayed team as is. That said, there were a couple of really early fight scenes that I thoroughly enjoyed – one in a library and one in some kind of knife shop. The beauty of both of these scenes, other than being absolutely brutal and full of great choreography, is that Wick and his assailants aren’t packing heat of their own so they make use of whatever’s around them. Faces get smashed in with books, knives get chucked all over the place (and in all of the people) and it all looks totally effortless and intentional. Bloodroots gives me that same feeling – where resourcefulness and quick reflexes are enough to turn a bunch of junk into deadly weapons in a ballet of consecutive last-ditch efforts that somehow wind up looking planned.
To draw a more relevant comparison, Bloodroots takes heavy inspiration from something like Hotline Miami. Not just in occupying the same tough-as-nails-isometric-murder-sim space, but also in the artsy, intentionally-vague tale and obsession with animal hats. Main character Mr. Wolf is out to get revenge on his old gang, the Blood Beasts, after they betray and leave him for dead. Obsessed with hunting down the gang’s new leader Mr. Black Wolf, he sets out to systematically tear through each of the members’ own crews, and them, until he’s killed his way to the top. The game’s writing is engrossing, with an air of mystery hanging over each conversation as you learn more about Mr. Wolf and his former associates over the course of the game. And then you kill them.
Bloodroots’ brand of action is fast, hard-hitting and unforgiving. Each new level is a linear run through a series of walled-off enemy encounters and some occasional light platforming. Mr Wolf doesn’t carry any weapons of his own into battle aside from his fists, so you’ll instead need to make use of anything you find littered around the area. You’ll often find knives, swords, even guns laying around, but you’re just as likely to resort to random barrels, planks and other debris in a pinch. A big part of the game’s fun comes from experimenting with these items to see how they can be used as instruments of death and then trying to perfect your run. The challenge comes from taking out each enemy creatively and in quick succession in order to maximise your combo and final level score, all the while trying not to get hit – one blow and it’s back to the start of the encounter with a hefty docking of points. It’s almost like a puzzle game, where trying to figure out a safe path between each potential weapon is just as important as using them.
It’s in that chase for perfection that most will find their fun in Bloodroots – as well as all of their frustration. For all of the slick, precise action that the game delivers there’s an annoying tendency towards cheap environmental deaths. Some are of the intentional variety, things like spike traps and deadly floors. Those are fine, that’s all a matter of mastering each level layout. The problem ones are the moments where perspective makes a jump impossible to judge, or the momentum of an attack throws Mr Wolf over the edge. In the context of an intense action game where an instant restart is all it takes to put you back at the start of the encounter you died in, but for anyone chasing those perfect runs it can be a right pain in the arse to be totally nailing it and then bail it over an edge you couldn’t see. Especially when reloading a whole level is decidedly less instant than a checkpoint.
That said, the joy of riding an explosive barrel into a group of enemies, being launched into the air and landing on a few more before grabbing the closest pointy thing and cleaning up the rest can’t be understated. It’s sold by a vivid, chunky visual style that calls back to games like DeathSpank (remember those??), albeit a tad more grim. The violence is chaotic, but superb audiovisual feedback gives it order in the moment. Motivation comes from the pounding soundtrack, which borders on homage to Hotline Miami on more than one occasion, not that that’s a bad thing. Again, the only sore point in an otherwise great effort is a tendency towards foreground visuals obscuring the action, leading to the same cheap deaths I lamented earlier.
Bloodroots isn’t perfect – some poor design decisions can get in the way of its rawest form of fun – but it’s still an exciting, inventive and stylish action game that’s both rewarding and cathartic.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher