Preview: Seraph (PC)

Because pop culture oftentimes gravitates away from the divine, I grew up with an unconventional fascination with both the grotesque and angelic. In New World Computing’s Heroes of Might and Magic series, the Necromancers have always been my favorite faction, but with HoMM3, I found myself often wanting to play with the Castle faction because of the splendor that is the Archangel unit (in later years I would settle upon the HoMM5 design as the best). The year 2000 would introduce a game called Messiah that I did not get to play during its time due to my poor PC specs; it features a baby angel as a playable character. However, the most iconic angel in gaming may very well be Blizzard’s Tyrael, introduced later that same year in Diablo II. Between the Archangels of HoMM and Tyrael, I would wonder if these were the kind of angels that God commands.

Blink dodge

When I encountered Seraph on Steam, I was given cause to pause. I am an unashamed fan of the Underworld series, and I could not help but to feel that the inspiration for the Seraph might be found in Selene’s dual-wielding gunplay as a Death Dealer in the movies. The exception, of course, is that the Seraph is an Angel of Vengeance, hunting down the Demons of Terminus in an effort to ascend and rejoin her brethren in Origin. As previously stated, I have always imagined angels as sword-wielders like in biblical times; Seraph’s preference for munitions that man has developed is bizarre, but such is developer Dreadbit’s vision, and I am willing to roll with it. Thankfully, each weapon ranging from dual revolvers to a rail gun provides their own unique feel. Unfortunately, game randomization means that I encounter the shotgun way too many times. 
Smite

The Seraph spreads its wings to smite thine enemies.

I love SHMUP, and have been itching to play one that will captivate me as Guns, Gore, and Cannoli did. I am pleased to say that so far, Seraph provides similar satisfaction, fusing components of several genres such as action, run-n-guns, RPGs, platformers, rogelikes, and RPGs, to produce a formula of procedurally-generated goodness in a cyberpunk setting. Unlike every shooter that I can think of, auto-aim in Seraph is not an easy mode-activated option, but is a core mechanic. This is because the game offers a skill ceiling that begins with shooting dumb, slow, near-harmless enemies, yet ultimately ascends into bullet-hell where evasion is as important as vanquishing enemies. Even as a fan of SHMUPs, I am alienated by bullet-hell games because I feel they limit players to only one “correct” to play, however Seraph may very well be the most entertaining prolonged introduction to the sub-genre that I have ever seen. The difficulty of the game actively but slowly scales upward as the player slays demons, yet declines dramatically every time Seraph gets hit down to a base difficulty that is established based upon the player’s performance in the previous stage. For example, I started at a difficulty of 1 and by the time I neared completion of the game, I was at a 5-point-something. As a reference, there is a Steam Achievement for defeating the mid-boss at a difficulty of 8; needless to say, I need to git gud!
Survival Mode Rewards

Similar to the Rayman Origins and Legends games, Seraph features daily and weekly challenges to reward players for competing with others in skill.

As the difficulty scales upward, enemies that were once passive with few abilities become more aggressive and dangerous threats, but they also yield more rewards in collectibles for upgrades. One such enemy, known as the Thrall, jumps toward me like a facehugger to strike. A simple blink—a short teleport that functions similar to a dodge or (barrel)roll in traditional SHMUP—evades this enemy at easier difficulties, but it becomes a relentless fiend at higher difficulties, jumping on elevated platforms and chasing Seraph with multiple pounces. Other foes gain projectiles, immunities to certain damages, and passives that negate some of Seraph’s hard-earned skills such as DOT damage, leech, critical strikes, and damage reduction! During the story mode, defeat results in two respawns at reduced health until a gamer over, which, depending on if the player has found a secret room that allows continuing on the same stage, might be final for that run. I mention this because there is apparently a “Rebirth” mechanic that I have only been offered once where Seraph can sacrifice its experience and progress to gain permanent passives that cannot be gained otherwise. I unfortunately do not know how to trigger this option, and wish I knew how to experience it.

Double Jump double shoot

As Seraph is an Early Access game, it is not without flaw. Dreadbit has included many tutorials and map features to point players toward objectives, but I still felt required to tinker more than I would have liked in order to figure out the upgrade systems. I was also met with a nasty bug that deleted my campaign progress. But because the developers have been actively attentive to user input, I would still recommend Seraph for purchase. After all, it feels so close to a finished product that I was considering giving it the full review treatment until I encountered that bug. So while lament having to grind through the earlier stages, I am looking forward to smiting mine enemies after gaining some power-ups in the Daily Challenges and Survival modes until launch. 

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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