When I first heard the announcement that Glass Knuckle Games, creators of the fabulous Thief Town (seriously, Thief Town comes in a VERY close second behind Knight Squad in my list of “Greatest Indie Party Games of all time”) were doing a Cyberpunk RPG. I was excited. It gets said a lot, but Cyberpunk is an often underrepresented genre in media and in gaming. I think that we could see Cyberpunk dethrone Steampunk from its places as the most popular geek sub-culture in the near future, but currently, seeing a good Cyberpunk game release is a relatively rare thing, particularly if you discount Shadowrun.
Defragmeneted is here to help scratch that Cyberpunk itch.
Defragmented knows what it is aiming for, and it hits the mark. It’s a fast paced, loot-based top down Run-and-Gun RPG, and while it is not without a few missteps, the mechanics are tight, and lend themselves to hours of mixing and matching guns and abilities, trying to nail down a combination of stats that’ll let you run and gun your way through the bright neon levels as long as your reflexes are fast enough.
The RPG elements of Defragmented are well implemented, if basic. When you begin the game, you have the choice of one of three classes, and have two trees of abilities into which you pump skill points as you level up. My main play through was as an Ascendant, and all my abilities felt powerful, if situational. I was able to use Fracture, a short range psychic melee attack, Ascension, which was a sort of stacking damage buff earned through kills, and Intervention, a psychic shield that drained my energy over time. However, once I got a couple good guns in my loadout, I didn’t end up using my abilities all that often. They simply didn’t feel as important while I was toting around a shotgun that could obliterate anyone I pointed it in the direction of. This very well may be a case of mismatched play style and class though, so take this critique with a grain of cyber-salt.
The best part of Defragmented’s gameplay however, is the random loot. Loot drops aren’t super common in the game, but happen often enough to keep you excited for the next one. Since weapon stats are randomized in both drops and at the in-game DEAL-EO shops, you’re on a constant hunt for a great new shotgun or SMG to use. And boy, is it a good feeling when you get a good gun. I almost think that gun power is tuned a little bit too high in Defragmented, as getting one legendary gun with the perfect stats can change the course of your gameplay. Yet, your so squishy to enemy attacks that I think this isn’t a substantial issue, and doesn’t break the game or your enjoyment of it.
However, somewhat frustratingly and somewhat brilliantly, this sword cuts both ways in Defragmented. Enemies also have their weapon type and qualities randomized in each level. On your first attempt in a new level, you might go up against a standard rapid fire turret, only for it to become an epic shotgun turret death-machine in the next run. This can feel a bit unfair at times, creating situations in certain levels where you don’t really have a chance, but I like it. It keeps you on your toes, forces you to pay attention, and helps levels remain fresh when playing them over and over again.
Which you will do. Because you will die. A lot.
Defragmented is a tough game, and after the first couple introductory levels there is a MASSIVE ramp up in difficulty (the game actually warns you about this, which I laughed at like a fool the first time I saw the PSA). I like this kind of challenge, but I’m sure there are many gamers that will find this a bit too harsh. And that’s okay; different strokes for different folks!
In regards to the look and feel of the game, Defragmented NAILS the cyberpunk aesthetic when you are inside the levels. Each level is a mix of bright neon lights, angular lines, and cold futuristic hallways. The pulsing synth soundtrack is one of the best electronic game soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and perfectly sets the stage for running and gunning in the Cyberpunk world that Glass Knuckle Games has created. I could go on, but I really don’t think I have to: the aesthetic of Defragmented’s levels speaks for itself.
However, in between these levels of run-and-gun madness are short narrative sequences. These felt very jarring to me from an artistic standpoint. I liked the story of Defragmented, which was full of conspiracy and terrorism, and a wonderfully imaginative cyber death cult,but the art style used in these scenes is vastly different from the art style you see when you are inside the gameplay levels. Inside these levels, there is a Tron feel to everything; bright neon lights, lots of angles, and low poly models. However, in these narrative sequences, the art style is done in a much more classically animated style; bright primary colors, crisp lines and plenty of detail. Both, individually, are done very well. However, side-by-side, they are so radically different that it takes me out of my immersion in the cyberpunk world of Defragmented.
When all is said and done, I’d recommend Defragmented to anyone looking for a fast paced, if at times punishing, game. Any fan of the Cyberpunk genre should certainly check the game out, if at a bare minimum for the soundtrack, and the few very minor missteps in design don’t in any way effect your enjoyment of the story, or of the absolutely fantastic gameplay. Glass Knuckle has delivered a very solid loot based RPG that promises hours of enjoyment and a great deal of replayability.