When you see a name like In Celebration of Violence, along with a patch note that mentions adding more blood because “it was necessary”, you know you’re in for a good time. Or, at the very least, a unique experience. In Celebration of Violence delivers both, but it’s not without flaws.
In Celebration of Violence takes top-down gameplay, careful hack and slash combat and classic RPG elements, sprinkles in a handful of intriguing mechanics, covers it with a shroud of mystery, and stuffs it all into a single package. There’s a lot going on for an indie game created by one guy, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
After a few hours of play, I have to say that In Celebration of Violence does one thing really well: it establishes an atmosphere that perfectly aligns with the title. The music is grim, and creates a sense of foreboding that makes me expect violence around every corner. And honestly, that’s not far from the truth. Plus, a game with violence in the title needs blood, and you get to splatter gobs of it all over the procedurally-generated, watercolor-like environments with hilariously oversized weapons.
The violence is real in this game, and I appreciate that there are no buts about it. The same can’t be said across the board, though. I encountered a but for almost every positive aspect that I experienced. These buts didn’t ruin my time with the game, but I can’t say they didn’t sour it some.
Combat happens in real time, and it forces you to approach encounters with a patient mindset and steady hands. Attacks need to be aimed and take time to wind-up – I’ve experienced up to about three seconds with large weapons – and they can’t be canceled. You learn to time your attacks carefully and around the movements of your enemies. Combined with two defensive actions in the form of dodge and parry along with a strong and weak attack, combat becomes a delicate dance that requires rigorous control, though it does feel mildly sluggish at times.
Unfortunately, there’s another element that almost entirely undermines that otherwise beautiful dance. Combat rarely occurs in a one on one or one on two sphere. Rather, you often have to deal with groups of three, four, or even five enemies at a time. That precise, timing-based combat we talked about earlier shines with an enemy or two, but not with more than that. This shifts the slow, thoughtful combat system into more of a frantic brawl, and it’s a gameplay contradiction that doesn’t make much sense. I’d say this is my biggest problem with In Celebration of Violence.
As with other popular roguelike titles, items play a vital role in your survival. Normally, I’d use this space to describe some of the insane effects I’ve observed, but I can’t do that this time because items are a little too mysterious. You can check the description of any item you’ve acquired, and while they’re usually engaging, they tend towards useless. I’m fine with trial and error, but why even bother providing a description that gives no practical information?
Weapons, on the other hand, I’m always excited to find. They’re plentiful on some runs and in pitifully short supply on others, but they’re always fun to play with. Each weapon behaves just differently enough to make it feel like an entirely new experience, and changing between weapon types — spear to sword, for example — makes you rethink your combat strategy.
There’s an element of persistence between runs that should, in theory, make each subsequent playthrough a little easier. That’s kinda-sorta the case, but the amount of grinding needed to make any meaningful difference borders on laughable. You retain some experience from each run – it’s still a mystery how the game determines the exact amount – that you can use to increase ten different attributes. It sounds reasonable, and I was on board until I bought my first rank. Sadly, each purchase yields a miserable 1% increase in the chosen stat. That alone I can deal with, but the price increases globally with every single point spent. That means even if you buy a rank of dexterity, the cost jumps up for mobility, fortitude, and everything else. Additional bits of progression apparently exist in the form of new characters, schematics, and items, but I’ve yet to find any.
I guess I should just be happy that some persistence exists to complement the difficulty. There’s a steep learning curve at the beginning of the game, but it’s mostly due to a lack of direction and the initial adjustment to the slow-paced weapon animations. The difficulty feels especially brutal for the first hour, then levels out as you start to understand how it all works. It’s still tough, though perhaps not the right kind of tough. I felt like my best runs were more often a result of luck than actual skill, and I don’t love that feeling.
In Celebration of Violence incorporates a few other elements that are worth a brief mention, though many I still don’t understand. Spells and potions spice up the combat system, but once again you’re forced to figure out the effects on your own. There’s also a ‘fog of war’ effect that rotates as you move, an ingredient collection mechanic that’s used to purchase item and weapons, boss scenarios connected to each area, and hunger management. Oh, and experience serves as the primary currency, forcing you to choose between immediate upgrades and permanent stat increases after you die. Whew. I’m sure there’s more I still haven’t discovered, too.
EARLY ACCESS VERDICT
Although I’m on the fence about In Celebration of Violence, I would still recommend it to roguelike fans who enjoy having to figure things out. I know I’ve mentioned that multiple times as a negative, but after some retrospection I’ve realized that’s why I keep starting again after each death. I just want to know more. I still think that questionable design elements bog down combat, item use, and progression, but that’s not quite enough to suck the joy from the experience.
In Celebration of Violence is available for $7.99 via Steam Early Access.