There’s merit in simplicity, which is perhaps the easiest way to approach perfection. Reality can never fully take the shape of an Idea – a drawn circle is never actually a circle – but there’s less room for flaw in drawing a line than there is in drawing a dodecahedron. Devil Daggers is a simple game, with few flaws I can think of, but is it a good game? It didn’t take me long to find out.
You spawn in an arena, the only visible part of yourself an outstretched gauntlet, facing a dagger under a spotlight: the moment you take it, things briefly fade to black before lighting up again, a deep, throbbing sound now surrounding you. You might not see anything at first, but your hearing tells you there’s something to your left side – as you look, a floating totem starts spewing skulls that fly in your direction. It’s almost instinctive to any gamer what has to be done at this point: you click your left mouse button and shards start showering from your gauntlet, destroying the skulls, and the glowing, red orb on the totem’s side is a clear indication of what needs to be done next.
Those familiar with Quake will feel at home with the game’s controls: you can expand the basic set of movement, jumping and running, by using methods such as bunny-hopping to increase your speed and
rocket dagger jumping to reach greater heights. Your weapon also has two fire modes, a spray of precise daggers if you hold the fire button and a wide, higher-damage burst if you press it once. Like Quake, standing still is often a death sentence, specially at the later stages of the game, and movement is as central to the game as is shooting, and fortunately both are tight and responsive. With your inevitable demise seconds away, as the onslaught of different enemies grows exponentially, mastering the mechanics is a gradual process that will raise your survival time by small increments as you get better, and as you gather the red crystals your dagger will in turn get stronger, increasing its damage output and unlocking a special attack, the homing daggers.
Now let’s take a look at the things you shoot at. Clear from the name, trailer and any screenshots you’ve seen, Devil Daggers is a nightmarish game: the enemies take on all the forms of dread, be it spiders, skulls, centipedes or other crawling, insectile things. You’ll start with the simple totems, that slowly roam the arena spitting out skulls that fly in your direction at a not-too-fast speed, and progress to huge spiders that steal your red crystals and churn crawling, green things that seek you out and massive centipedes that spawn from the ground and fly their huge, fatal bodies across the arena. There are currently thirteen enemies to face, though you’ll likely only see a handful of them until you get better at the game, and all look like something taken out of a nightmare.
While the pixelated, retro graphics look great and are largely responsible for conveying the game’s feeling of dread, I found the sound design to have an even greater hand in that aspect. There’s a slew of different throbbing, chittering and humming sounds, increasing in intensity and volume as they near you, and their growing presence, aided by the ominous but not intrusive soundtrack gave me the feeling of having a constant weight on my shoulders, that got heavier as more enemies – and therefor more humming, more throbbing and more chittering – filled my screen (or worse, the parts of the arena that weren’t in my view).
It also capitalizes on competition, offering players leaderboards to compare their performance with friends or the world, and the ability to watch replays of anyone, something that usually led me to watching the people who survived minutes, not seconds, and realizing just how bad I was at the game. Those who enjoy gaining the great prestige that attaining a high position on the leaderboard of an indie game gives, with all the fame and rewards that entails, will find Devil Daggers to be more than fitting for their needs.
Devil Daggers is a clear throwback to the 90s age of FPSs, such as DOOM and Quake, and it looks cool as hell (sorry) while also playing fantastically. The sense of dread is ominous, from the enemies to the soundtrack to the inevitably of your death: lasting two minutes will be an accomplishment, and only a select group of people have managed to get beyond the ten minute mark. It’s the distilled essence of what an FPS is, and it’s this lack of clutter and noise that makes it a joy to play – I’ll often pause my daily activities to spend five minutes on a couple of runs (who am I kidding, more like two minutes) – and it’s hard. If you’re not fond of challenges, steer clear.