I feel I should start this review with a definition of ‘Roguelike’, as it’s the most frequently used word when people describe Teleglitch – and because, if you’re like me, you may have no idea what the hell it means. Roguelike is a subgenre of the RPG, characterised by randomly generated levels, permanent death and turn-based movement. 2 of these 3 defining aspects are present in Teleglitch, but it seems the term “turn-based” combat should be replaced with “extremely hard”, because this top-down pixel shooter is very much that. Hard. Like, old school hard. But, damn, it’s good.
It’s a lean experience right from the start, made abundantly clear by the ASCII logos that greet you upon booting it up. A wall of blocky, almost illegible text gives you the rundown of the situation you’re about to be thrown into, and it doesn’t look good. You play as an unnamed scientist, the last survivor of a series of disasters in a military R&D plant on a remote planet at the edge of space. Sound familiar? Well that’s because it is, and Teleglitch makes no apologies for this. It’s an easy sci-fi trope used to explain away all the rest of the madness that ensues, from zombies to killer AI, from teleportation anomalies to mutants. And it’s perfectly fine, because the narrative has so little to do with the enjoyment of the game. The atmosphere comes not from the plot or setting but from the gameplay itself, in all its minimalistic, pixelated glory.
I can’t stress enough just how well this game plays. The classic WASD/Mouse control scheme is tight, smooth and responsive. Right-click draws the selected weapon and aims, while left-click is your trigger button. The inventory & weapon select is managed by the mouse wheel and is quick and slick, which is very useful in more heated battles when overwhelmed by a horde of zombies and mutants. And believe me you’ll find yourself in a tight spot more than once in this game. Thankfully, there is a vast array of weaponry at your disposal ranging from pistols to laser rifles and everything in between – but guns aren’t the problem; ammo is. The scarcity of rounds had me relying on my trusty knife on numerous occasions while frantically running for my life with 20+ enemies nipping at my heels. Once you’re spotted there’s no escaping, as the horde will follow you across the map as you vainly search every nook and cranny for something, anything, to defend yourself with.
If you can’t depend on traditional weaponry then it’s time to bust out the tools and build something yourself. The crafting menu allows you to combine random, seemingly insignificant items into serious death-dealers that even the odds, for a time at least. For example, an empty food can, some explosives and a box of nails allows you to craft a “can-gun” that fires a devastating blast of nails. It’s just one of a huge number of weapons that can be created and upgraded, that get more and more creative as you gather additional parts.
It might sound like you’re a one man A-Team, but trust me you’ll never feel comfortable, no matter how well armed you are or how big of an ammo cache you’ve managed to stockpile. Teleglitch is a harsh, unforgiving mistress that will punish you at every opportunity. You will die. A lot. And perma-death will quickly teach you not to be reckless. When you die, that’s it. No checkpoints or quick saves; once you’re down it’s back to the start. If you do manage to scrape through a level, the game gives you the option to save and quit or continue, but if you do load that save, it’s deleted. Only when you reach later levels do you have the option of resuming from advanced points, for example, you can start at Level 3 if you manage to reach level 5 and so on. It’s incredibly frustrating, but it makes progression all the sweeter, and the sense of achievement from safely navigating just one level is immense.
Teleglitch can seem very one-sided at times because, well, everything that moves wants to annihilate you. There are no safe zones, even in rooms that you have already cleared due to enemy patrols, and teleportation anomalies that cause instant death become more and more prevalent as you progress through the facility. You may be lulled into a false sense of security as you master the first few levels, but the game introduces new monstrosities at every opportunity to upset this, such as machine-gun-armed soldiers. At times, it can feel like trial and error as you boot up the first level for the 100th time, but the randomly-generated levels offset this somewhat by making the game feel familiar but oddly strange. You may recognise a room here or a corridor there but it’s never really the same. This forces you to be on your toes at all times as there’s no telling what’s around the next corner. There are slight glimmers of hope in the form of secret rooms that usually contain invaluable supplies, and you’ll find yourself searching desperately in every shadowed corner.
First impressions are important in gaming, and there’s a danger that some may dismiss the game after a few minutes because of its difficulty or its looks. Its pixel art-style is very, very lo-fi, almost to the point where you’re not sure what you’re looking at. The camera zooms in and out dynamically depending on the size of the area and when it’s up close it’s a little hard to tell what’s what. But if you can look past the simplistic character models and animations, there is a certain beauty to be found. The locations are grim and the colour palate is full of bland, hopeless shades of green, brown and grey. The teleportation anomalies pulsate with vibrant reds and greens and have dangerous allure compared to the bleak backgrounds. The sparse audible elements are gritty, 8-bit punctuations of gunfire and explosions that leap out during the silent, lonely exploration.
VERDICT: Make no mistake, Teleglitch is a hard game. It’s old school to its core, from the art design to the perma-death, and for many it will be an education in how things used to be. It’s solidly built, with slick controls and a mean learning curve but it’s not the kind of game you would sit with for hours on end. Having to restart that first level over and over can get tedious at times so it’s more of a pick up and play job, diving in for an hour and attempting to reach a point where you can safely resume. But even with the high difficulty, it’s a testament to the developers that it still manages to be fun and engaging all the way through.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.