The term ‘old-school’ can often be a poisoned chalice when it comes to the pantheon of the FPS, but every now and then a title emerges from the crowd that captures the brutality and unrelenting action of the classic corridor shooter. It’s time to acquaint yourself with the righteous violence of Polygod.
Make no mistake - you’ll die just as much as you deal death to its menagerie of alien beasts. That high turnover of lives isn’t just down to the fact it’s a rogue-like experience built for fast and bloody playthroughs, but because it’s purposeful in the steepness of its difficulty curve. It even includes a front and centre nod to Dark Souls, the modern synonym for ‘difficulty’, with a currency of collected souls to spend.
So don’t expect the team-based coordination of Paladins, or the story-driven set-pieces of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. This is something altogether more challenging. There are no reloads here or traditional loadouts filled with weapons; you have a single gun, the power to jump and a basic movement speed. It might seem strikingly spartan, but it’s actually the groundwork for some serious experimentation.
Every world in Polygod is randomly generated, with a seed that can be randomised creating an endless ocean of maze-like environments that evoke the corridor shooter mentality of early ‘90s shooters. Those corridors, dead-ends and small valleys can be a claustrophobic experience, with its myriad enemies often ambushing the player not wary enough to check their corners. It can make for a frustrating experience at first - hence the cycle of life and death gaining serious momentum in the first hour or two - but you’re not without your perks. This is a contemporary shooter, after all.
Each randomised setting is scattered with the Altars of Gaia. Each one has three random blessings assigned to it, which you can buy with the souls of enemies you’ve vanquished on your current run. The action is paused while you choose, providing a brief respite, but each one can transform your playstyle, gradually increasing your stats. You could use the power of Heavy Core - it’ll set you back ten souls and decrease your movement speed by one, but it increases your damage by two, reducing the number of shots it takes to kill an enemy.
Or maybe you’ll blow 15 souls on a Random Swop (the game’s spelling, not ours), which destroys one of your current blessings in favour of a brand new one. If you’re low on health, said blessing could be what sees you through to the final boss confrontation, or perhaps it’ll remove the one blessing that’s got you this far. There are so many of these to find and use, providing a risk/reward setup that gifts and punishes the warrior willing to explore in search of souls and new perks.
Enemy types vary - some are stationary, such as the turret, but others will approach and detonate like a homing proximity mine. Some will pursue you, while others will hang back and grief you from afar. The same tactic can be applied in your favour, and if you’re low on health, you’ll likely slow things down and start using cover. Each enemy also drops a single bead of health, so there’s a benefit to winning firefights. You can also shoot these beads to collect them, adding a handy dimension when low on health.
There are also bosses to contend with at the end of each realm. Each one is represented by a purple portal door, but sometimes you’ll encounter a red one. This makes the boss fight to come a little tougher and drops you right into the action. Each Holy Champion you face offers a refreshing challenge, such as the snake-like Quatzacoatl, which will split into multiple foes if you shoot its segments before destroying its head and tail. Not every boss is as memorable as the last, but build the right weapon before you head in and you’ll have a riot regardless.
Despite being built with many of the principles of a rogue-like, Polygod is actually ideal for speedrunners. As paradoxical as it sounds, the fact each given run is tied to a random seed means you can save it and share the code with others so you can burn through the same layout and enemy placements and try to rack up the best time. Add in those altars that enable you to effectively construct multiple ‘builds’ that enhance your gun and avatar, and you discover an incredible amount of depth for a game that holds onto such a minimalist art style. There’s even a benefit to strafing and diagonal jumping, with both providing a slight speed increase that’ll appeal to speedrunners.
Indie developer Krafted Games has also included gyro controls, should you want to enter its procedural mazes with a Joy-Con in each hand. It’s not the most accurate use of gyro we’ve seen in a shooter on Switch, but we find using motion far more rewarding than playing in handheld or with a Pro Controller and it works well with the acrobatic movement and chaotic firefights into which Polygod often descends.
Don’t let Polygod’s low-poly aesthetic fool you - this is no amateur hour shooter experience. With seven realms to explore (each with their own unique environmental motifs, enemy types and bosses), the game’s procedural nature and old-school mechanics make for a frightening deep source of replay value that harkens back to the good old days of Quake. The shot delay takes a lot longer to overcome on Switch, mainly because this is the kind of game that greatly benefits from the precision of mouse control, but persevere and there’s a speedrunning treat that’ll answer your prayers with violence.