BUTCHER (Switch) Review
Take yourself back to the mid-nineties era of PC games. Things are dominated by extremes of almost absurd ultraviolence. Bloody games like Doom and Quake capture news headlines and the imaginations of teens looking for another way to push against the edges of society’s bounds. Coming from the creators of Soldat, Butcher takes the same side-scrolling 360° shooter concept and combines it with a drab, hopeless world ready to be covered in human viscera.
Butcher needs little cinematic prologue to set the scene. You are a robot with a bunch of guns, and humans still exist on Earth. You must change this by exterminating every last living person on the planet. That’s all there is to it.
Butcher’s play controls are quite unusual, though they’ll be familiar if you ever played the popular freeware title Soldat after it’s release in 2002. In Soldat you moved with keyboard keys, aimed and shot with the mouse pointer. It was fast paced and required pinpoint accuracy for victory, and for this reason I was a little concerned it wouldn’t translate well to a dual-analog controller. Turns out the analog movement and aiming work admirably, possibly even better than with a keyboard and mouse. By moving around with the left stick, aiming with the right, jumping and shooting with the L and R buttons respectively you have a whole lot of capability available to you at all times – capability you’ll need to master for any sense of success in Butcher.
Butcher makes no attempt to hide it’s difficulty, rather presenting it as a defining feature. The ‘Normal’ equivalent difficulty is labelled Hard, succeeded by Harder, The Hardest and Impossible. There is a ‘Casual’ difficulty which could be fun if you just want to cruise through the game, giving you 400% of normal health and reducing the reaction time of enemies, but in doing so you can’t collect the hidden skulls throughout the levels. I’d recommend that, to get the most out of Butcher, you choose a difficulty that challenges you. Butcher is at its best when it’s kicking your arse. Levels are fairly short and contained, and you will almost certainly fail on your first try of any new level. Possibly on your tenth try too.
Each level in Butcher is a challenge demanding you analyse your surroundings, memorise enemy placement and constantly improve your movement and reaction ability. Your first few attempts work out to be short lived reconnaissance missions – but you learn gradually where enemies lie and which weapons they use, you learn areas you can quickly take cover if you’re under fire, and you get to know your environment so you can more effectively move around to avoid fire and successfully send some right back at the human scum. At all times you’ll need to be making decisions taking into account known enemy positions, your own movement options, the location of important health pickups and your own remaining health and ammunition. The gameplay loop of try, fail and try again will be familiar to fans of Hotline Miami or even Max Payne. Like both games you’ll satisfyingly graduate from bumbling newbie to trained assassin each time you begin a new encounter – there’s nothing quite like besting a level by the skin of your teeth after mastering the controls and falling into a hypnotic pattern of death and retry.
In another similarity to Hotline Miami, environments and music help transform a relatively simple shooter to an almost trance-like celebration of nihilism. Your killing sprees in Butcher are accompanied by a heavy, atmospheric industrial soundtrack as thick as the gore you’ll be spreading around the game’s 20 levels. Environments vary from jungles and volcanoes, to factories and warehouses – seemingly dank with the scent of rust and decay, and all presented in an evocative pixelated art style. It’s quite a full on image to comprehend, one that I imagine some may find unappealing. If the idea of painting the walls with the insides of your enemies puts you off, this game is clearly not for you. Viscera from your past attempts remains even after dying and retrying, a constant reminder of just how many times you’ve attempted and failed to make it to the exit with your life.
Butcher commits to it’s ultraviolent nihilistic aesthetic completely and if you’ve the stomach for it, it’s a hell of a ride. Every piece from the fast-paced movement and gunplay to the thick atmosphere of the levels and music combines to form an immensely challenging action game where every death just begs you to take another stab. If you have a nihilistic bone in your body and an appetite for fast-paced challenging action – Butcher will satisfy.
Fast-paced, satisfyingly challenging gameplay
Thumping industrial soundtrack
Oppressively atmospheric, nihilistic aesthetic
Ultraviolence might be too much for some
Demands persistence some may not enjoy