Redeemer: Enhanced Edition is the Ronseal of top-down beat-’em-ups. With no frills, bells or whistles, it does exactly what it says on the tin/box/eShop description. You’re a former soldier living in a remote monastery. And when some bad dudes attack your temple and kill your fellow monks, it’s up to you to embrace your old ways and react in kind. And that’s it. No airs or graces, just an angry bald man, his bare hands and whichever degradable weapons he can lay said appendages on. It’s not particularly memorable or creative, but it scratches the kind of itch only a top-down virtual murder fest can truly scratch.
Right from the off you can tell the kind of games Russian developer Sobaka Studio has been influenced by. There’s the top-down perspective and all-out bloody violence of the Loaded games, while the almost slapstick ways you can execute an enemy smacks of Sleeping Dogs with a pinch of Mortal Kombat. The ‘stealth’ aspect even hopes to invoke a little Metal Gear Solid action. And with open-ended levels full of items to collect and shortcuts to find, you can sense a real wannabe Diablo vibe, too. While you can see all the various points of inspiration, the problem is Redeemer simply doesn’t capture the magic that’s made any of these games so popular – and it’s left feeling identity-agnostic as a result.
Take its approach to stealth. As you make your way through the monastery, you’ll encounter increasingly large numbers of increasingly tougher enemies. You start out with no weapons bar your ability to punch and perform a roundhouse kick (ideal for clearing multiple enemies in close proximity), and with guns and melee items only last so long before you need to discard them, Redeemer makes it clear you’re meant to be at a disadvantage. You can’t sneak as such, only move at walking pace by slowly pushing the analog stick in a given direction. Get close enough to an enemy and you can press ‘A’ to quietly dispatch them.
The issue is there are so many enemies walking crisscrossing paths that most of the time someone will see you, so running in and smashing someone’s head against a wall is often far less stressful from the get-go than trying to employ a stealthier approach. And you can see Sobaka Studio really wanted to create something as fast and frenetic as Hotline Miami, but Vasily moves a little too sluggish to really match Dennaton Games’ seminal brawler. Even with his dash, you’re simply not moving fast enough to really feel that agile when dealing with multiple enemies. There’s been an attempt to emulate the FreeFlow system of the Batman: Arkham games, but your movements between enemies is never fluid enough to feel truly creative.
Still, while it drags its feet in places, when you do get your hands on enemies, Redeemer revels in the creative death you can unleash. Every map is littered with interactive environment assets, which enable you to finish off or highly damage enemies (including more than one at once), including dashing a foe’s brains in on stone block or burning them alive in an oven. And when Vasily isn’t using the world to kill people, he’s grabbing anything remotely weapon-shaped. He’s like a steroid-filled John Wick or Sammo Hung. Knives, hammers, swords, poles and more turn enemy soldiers to mincemeat. Even grabbing a flaming torch on a wall yields predictably gruesome results. The Enhanced Edition introduces a new approach to levelling-up Vasily, but it’s a very unintuitive system that over-complicates your progress by relying too heavily on the need to find multiple collectable types.
Both guns and melee weapons degrade through use, and you can equip one of each at any one time. They tend to break pretty easily, but the world is so full of them you rarely go long just having to rely on your bare hands and feet. Ranged weapons are the weakest, requiring you to aim with the right analog stick, twin-stick shooter-style, but they’re frustratingly inaccurate to use, making anything other than a shotgun up close a chore to use.
You can play through the story mode solo or via local co-op. The latter is easily the best way to play Redeemer, invoking a real arcade vibe as you team up to snap spines, stomp skulls and riddle bodies with bullet holes. There’s also an arcade mode for clearing waves of enemies, which can be a great place to get a feel for switching between melee attacks and ranged weapons.
The problem Redeemer really struggles with is performance. Even in solo mode, the framerate never holds a consistent figure. Sometimes it runs relatively smoothly, but other times it can really struggle to avoid frustrating levels of slowdown. Latter levels that up the number of on-screen enemies make this issue even worse, to the point where playing at 30fps feels like a distant memory. Having a second player running about in these instances can sometimes make things even more sluggish, irrespective of whether you’re playing in handheld mode or docked. The brutality of Redeemer’s kill system is easily its best feature, but it’s battered half to death by sloppy optimisation on Switch.
Redeemer: Enhanced Edition is something of a misnomer. Yes, it’s the same two-year-old top-down brawler/twin-stick shooter, but there’s very little that’s been enhanced here. Local co-op is technically a new feature for the game but considering its woeful performance on Switch that’s not much of an addition. There’s an attempt to divide skills between two different paths, but with such a barebones approach to stealth, you’ll often just run in, pull limbs off and start dealing death loudly. If these issues can be addressed then those looking for Mortal Kombat-levels of gore will slake their thirst for blood, but until then, its performance remains as battered as your unfortunate enemies.