Dead Cells Review

Dead Cells in a rouguelike-metroidvania game developed by Motion Twin. The game was in early access for about a year, leading to it’s release on August 7th 2018. It’s available on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Dead Cells is also coming to mobile devices in 2019.

In the opening scene you see something drop from the ceiling, approach a dead body and suddenly a corpse comes back to life. You dust yourself down and set off trying to fight your way out of a prison that’s crawling with enemies. As you go you gain weapons, armour and upgrades. As you defeat enemies they drop ‘cells’ which you collect and turn in for more various unlockable items and bonuses.

Dead Cells uses a permadeath system, once you die you go back to the start losing all your cells and items. Dead Cells is described as a ‘roguevania’ that combines a procedurally-generated roguelike style with an action/exploration Metroidvania game. The main protagonist in the game is a collection of cells who takes control of a dead prisoner at the start of each turn. As you explore through a series of randomly generated dungeons fighting nasties you collect weapons, abilities, power-ups, food and money.

Levels are procedurally generated keeping the game feel fresh each time with random platforms, obstacles, enemies and items. Combat in the game feels so good too with a fluid and fast feel to the action. A key part of the game is how good the game feels. It’s a similar feeling to that of the gun-play in Destiny, polished over years and years of development at Bungie. It’s hard to describe, but it feels great. You are going to die a lot in Dead Cells and it’s a fundamental part of the game – learning enemy styles and tactics for beating the bosses (or Keepers).

A great part of the game is the Twitch integration allowing viewers to influence the game via chat, such as voting for upgrade paths. It’s a really neat feature and promotes the game with streamers and audiences because of that two way interaction model.

There’s not much of a story to Dead Cells, but due to the addictive gameplay, it doesn’t really matter. There’s a sense of dark humour in the game which comes across pretty well. The game takes place on an unnamed island and the main character is referred to as The Prisoner. According to the Guard, the Prisoner was executed for some reason, but that reason isn’t detailed. Each time the Prisoner dies the island reconfigures itself, which is the lore reason for the roguelike mechanics in the game. Apparently, the island is a living organism that evolves over time.

The game looks and feels fantastic. The pixel art is beautiful and fluid. As well as looking great the UI design is very good too allowing you to take in all the numbers required like damage & upgrades. Sound design is on point too with a great soundtrack and audio design allowing you to orientate in your surroundings and understand the differences between a regular and critical hit for example.

Dead Cells looks great and feels better. What really makes it a winning combination is the level of risk-reward and progression. I started off the game meekly going through levels slowly but surely. I finally reached the first Keeper and was swiftly dealt with and killed. I felt like throwing the Switch down. But then I went through again, this time faster and faster reaching the Keeper again. It feels great and I can see myself getting better at the game.

In terms of weapons in the game, you have space for two melee weapons, ranged weapons, spells or shields. You also have two types of grenades or deployable traps. All these are colour-coded purple, green or red. Throughout the level you can pick up random weapons and items that are dropped from enemies or you can buy new gear at the end of the level. As well as new gear at the in-between level vendor there’s also mutations where you can apply certain buffs and boosts to your skills. For example, you can add a temporary damage buff +50% to weapons post kills. As you progress through levels there are secret scrolls to find that you can boost your damage, tactical weapons and health allowing you to survive for longer and hit harder.

There’s a wide range of weapons in the game, expanded even more by the recent DLC Rise Of The Giant. There are swords, spears, bows & arrows, whips, grenades, fire and ice attacks. The player can find combinations of weapons that add to the personalisation of your build. Random weapons and armour do play a factor here, but you can create awesome builds.

Dead Cells was initially launched on PC on May 10th 2017 in early access which led to some useful feedback from audiences before releasing the full version on August 7th 2019. The free DLC for Dead Cells Rise Of The Giant is planned for release on May 23rd. Since it’s initial release it’s won many awards including “Best Indie Game” at 2018 Golden Joystick Awards, “Best Action Game” at The Game Awards 2018 and was nominated for “Best Independent Game”.

Developer: Motion Twin
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac
Release date: August 7th, 2018

Final Score88