Developer: Santa Clara Games | Publisher: Badland Games || Overall: 8.5
8DAYS is an indie twin-stick shooter from two-man team Santa Clara Games. Drawing heavily from the contemporary example of Hotline Miami, you’ll even see influence from Metal Gear and traditional “shmups” in this genre cocktail. The action is spread out over five Chapters, each with a satisfying length and unique theme.
The scenario for the characters you play, known as Lola “Wasp” Cruz and Mike “Ghost” Doe, starts with them working for a Private Military Corporation known as G.O.D. Inc. (Gold, Oil, Diamonds Inc.). This PMC is apparently the most successful in the world and has its fingers in many political pies — being hired when shit goes down. For example, the first Chapter has to do with stopping a rice embargo, and the second with a nuclear plant being taken over by Eco-terrorists. Each Chapter starts with a little vignette to set up the specific mission at hand, and off you go. The game has tongue-in-cheek humor, considering that the rice embargo is only a problem because the affluent want their daily sushi; another example being the sewers of the nuclear plant have tentacle monsters swimming around in green water, a sharp contrast from the “grounded” first chapter. The nuclear plant is also occupied by droves of robots that use pistols/rifles/flamethrowers, and then in the middle somewhere you fight some strange mechanical/biological creature that barfs on you as one of his attacks. It would seem all of these experiments would be a bit much for an energy production facility owned by a utility company. You also see random “civilians” just moseying about as you have firefights and they tend to get killed in the crossfire or run around and make strange noises.
Normal gameplay consists of strategically taking down enemies before they kill you and getting to the next area. While there isn’t a requirement to kill everything, if you trip an alarm or are seen by them, they will engage and have the possibility of flanking you. Deaths will restart you at the very beginning of the area, and some of them can be a bit large. There are usually multiple paths or strategies to take when completing an area, so if one way doesn’t work, you can try another. Stealth is also an accessible strategy if you have a melee weapon, as there are a lot of places to hide while enemies patrol around. Some situations require a gunfight, but as long as you kill whoever is engaged with you, you won’t run the risk of drawing more enemies into the fight. Bullets are very large and also move slower than you might expect them to depending on the weapon, so it can either be a boon or frustration in that regard. Co-Op is also available, with a friend being able to jump in at anytime during play.
At certain points through a Chapter you’ll encounter a boss, which breaks up the methodical think-before-you-leap gameplay and works in a traditional shmup-style fight. As with many things in the game, they take the opportunity to be referential — the final boss of the first Chapter is a Rambo-look-a-like with a machine gun, knife, and red bandana. You’ll also encounter some other Easter Eggs, such as a “V Has Come To” scribbled on the wall and a party with Metal Gear Solid characters (which is oddly appropriate for me since I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for the past month and a half).
Weaponry is varied, and in the initial stages you’ll mostly encounter rifles, shotguns, and SMGs. You will also see a lot of melee weapons, and as you get further along rocket launchers, silenced pistols, flamethrowers, and EMP bombs become available. Sometimes destroying certain types of boxes/crates produce ammo, otherwise you’ll be scavenging from your enemies. Reloading is clip-based, meaning if you manually reload before completely emptying your clip, you will lose the ammo you had remaining. This might be a bit annoying considering the game let’s you reload even when you have a full clip, so you can easily waste bullets if you aren’t careful; you aren’t allowed to pick up a clip you threw away. You are only able to keep two weapons at a time, so if you wanted to hang onto a melee weapon you may be exchanging guns quite a bit.
Considering the game can be very challenging, the amount of playtime would potentially vary for you. Each Chapter kept me going for about an hour, and I died a lot on the way, having to retry over and over. When done with a Chapter, you’re treated with a little resolution to the problem you solved and then go right into the next scenario. Chapters are able to be replayed if you so desire, but will only fully unlock in the menu when you finish the level — if you are in the middle of the stage and start a new game you’ll lose all progress and start from the very beginning again. When you get a Game Over, it is unfortunately very easy to accidentally select “Retry Mission” instead of just “Retry.” There is no confirmation after accidentally selecting “Retry Mission” and you can lose all progress with no way to go back… admittedly, I learned that the hard way. There is also no difference in the gameplay between the two characters you can choose, but I personally preferred the character design of “Wasp” over “Ghost.”
The art style is a purposeful throwback to the 8-bit days, though it has a lot more detail to its art than you may normally see when you think “8-bit.” There is some gruesome death, such as decapitations and gore, and there are also depictions of torture and tons of previously-killed bodies are strewn about levels, which all enhance the violent atmosphere. The little intro movies to each Chapter are pretty neat, but aren’t too long. Other stylistic parts of the game also round out the unique feeling of the art and grows on you as you pay closer attention to the detail and are eventually exposed to the variety of locales each Chapter offers. The music is also a high point, but dips in and out, crossfading with “battle music” every time you start an encounter with an enemy. This takes away from the enjoyment of the main stage track since you’ll be constantly going in and out of two different songs, but it isn’t disjointed enough where its awful, just a questionable decision in the sound design.
If you’re in the mood for a side-scrolling shmup, 8DAYS is a challenging and satisfying experience. Defeating each area rewards you with a feeling of accomplishment — earning your wins little by little and progressing you to a new challenge. 8DAYS will be available July 22nd on Steam.