A first-person shooter that prides itself on its complex yet beautifully fluid mechanics, Severed Steel moves at a rapid pace. It opens on a wordless cutscene that introduces your protagonist, Steel. She wakes up with one arm missing, scowls and leaps into action ready for revenge. From that moment, you guide her in a swift and violent rampage through a gorgeous futuristic world.
You are thrown into the action immediately. The first level requires you to escape a crusher. The first few levels quickly develop the skills you need to navigate the world at incredible speed. This includes leaping over chasms, scaling walls and smashing through windows. You’ll need these skills not only to travel but will come in handy when you meet your first enemies.
Because Steel is missing an arm, she can’t reload her gun. This means you have to be frugal with your bullets. You also have to be stealthy so enemies don’t waste too many of theirs, so you can take their weapons once you’ve defeated them. The way Steel’s disability is baked into the gameplay and mechanics is one of many instances that show how much thought and effort has gone into constructing this game.
The narrative is conveyed through largely silent cutscenes, and the instructions are simple. Severed Steel is made up of 42 levels in firefight mode and six chapters in campaign mode. Most of the tasks you face have simple goals: hunt and destroy a specific target or stay alive against hordes of enemy soldiers. The game doesn’t suffer for the lack of context, though.
Although it has a distinctive design style, it makes clever use of classic sci-fi imagery to absorb you into its futuristic dystopia without getting bogged down in the details. Steel is furious and you feel that rage with her, and that’s enough. If you want to give your enemies a backstory, you are free to project whatever tale you like onto them.
Instead, the game focuses on its mechanics. After the first handful of tutorial levels, you are trusted to use those skills to your advantage in your own creative ways. You are given endless opportunities to pull off truly awesome stunts, if only you have the imagination to combine the right skills.
Although there aren’t loads of levels, there are plenty of reasons to replay them. You can go back to enemies you’ve defeated to try a different approach with different move combos. There are a number of difficulty settings to challenge yourself (with charmingly themed titles: tempered, sharpened, molten). You can also level up in the firefight mode to unlock new ways to mod the campaign mode directly through the start menu.
The mods you unlock feel like the kind of thing you’d get from fans rather than directly from the developers, ranging from ways that subtly shift the gameplay to the outright silly. One inflates your foes’ heads to be an easier target. One gives the game spooky lighting. One makes every gun you pick up have only a single bullet. One makes the floor lava. This is a game that was designed to be fun above all, regardless of what fun means for you.