Let It Die review

December 21, 2016 by Steven Strom

Dare you climb the Tower of Barbs?

There's a cyberpunk Tower of Babel sprouting out of post-apocalyptic Tokyo. At the top is a treasure many have sought, but nobody has reached. As luck would have it, though, Death himself is here to help you, uh... remote-control a comatose human body to scale this so-called Tower of Barbs... or something.

This is Let It Die. It's a roguelike-y, Dark Souls-y, perma-death-y kind of action game mash-up from Grasshopper Manufacture, the studio behind No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned. It's also completely free on the PlayStation 4. So if that already sounds like your thing (and you own the console in question), there isn't much barrier to entry keeping you from trying it out right now. I'll leave the chockablock art style and humor that are Grasshopper's signature for you to discover.

If you'd rather not waste the bandwidth, I'll add that Let It Die is very good. Surprisingly so, given the lack of faith "free-to-play" often installs around games not on phones and tablets.

Let It Die doesn't feel cheap, or greedy. In fact, when you start the game in the lobby of the all-important tower, you're greeted with more notifications about things to do than you'll likely remember at first, much less know what to do with.

All the leveling-up systems, gear crafting, mushroom collecting (for temporary stat boosts), and roads lead into the tower itself, however. There, after a whole lot of tutorials and preamble, you'll finally learn that Let It Die is a third-person dungeon crawler. You'll need to make your way up through each floor -- hunting for resources, elevators, and item-rich shortcut paths that let you duck the structure’s many other inhabitants.

Of course, you can't avoid fights all the time. Or even much at all. This moldering tower which looks like it was transplanted from sleepy Silent Hill to bustling Tokyo is filled with enemies, ranging from like-minded adventurers to mangled monstrosities that launch severed heads at you from chest-mounted railguns.

True to the game's style, the combat is a jumble of ideas. Baseball bats, hammers, "fireworks launchers," and hot irons found in the Tower of Barbs are always on the precipice of breaking from overuse. You'll need to manage which enemies need pulverizing first, and whether it's time to rely on your own two mitts.

Spotting and looting improvised weapons becomes a scavenger hunt designed to always keep you just on the brink of helplessness. Since you can only ever return to the blessed safety (and shops) of the tower's lobby at prescribed elevators, this turns up the game's tension considerably.

Whether it's your fists or something sturdier, though, Let It Die makes animation a priority. That is, once you commit to swinging a weapon, your character will go through with it. Hence the Dark Souls comparison. Pleasantly, Let It Die also copies the weight behind that series' hits (or at least gets very close). So every hit, stab, stop, and backdrop suplex you land conjures the satisfying sense of bone hitting meat. Which is, uh, a good thing in this instance.

Once you've collected enough blueprints for less fragile arms and armor, or unlocked a shortcut to a high enough level of the tower for the time being, it's back to the lobby. Which is where most of the game's "colorfulness" can be found -- mostly in its cast of weirdo characters.

Hey kids, I'm here to give you the straight dope on skateboarding indoors. Hey kids, I'm here to give you the straight dope on skateboarding indoors.

There's Uncle Death, for instance -- the game's primary speaking character, and de facto mascot. He's a skateboarding grim reaper with an arsenal of eyewear, and very little self-confidence. The character splits his screen-time setting up the mechanics of the game, calling you "senpai," and describing his recent medical checkups -- among other nonsense.

I could easily see Uncle Death' s mishmash of affectations as overbearing in another Grasshopper game -- the same way that, say, Shadows of the Damned needed to make its "weirdness" absolutely clear by having the protagonist scream "Taste my big boner!" every other minute. Yet Let It Die's commitment to raw mechanics puts him, and the rest of the supporting cast, off to the side. They're there when you want them as flavor, without getting in the way (too much) between ascending floors of the Tower of Barbs.

Its anime and punk rock artifacts are dropped like the proverbially mic, and left for the players who are into this sort of thing to discover. Or not! Whatever, dude.

Just when one joke, local, or aesthetic gets too tiresome, the game tugs you in another direction, anyway. You turn in and acquire quests at an arcade operated by an incongruous, totally mundane teenage girl. Some quests require you to return to previous floors and fulfill certain challenges.

If you should die in the process, you can overcome death by paying one "Death Metal" (premium currency) to Let It Die's fictional insurance company. That'll let you bypass the consequences of dying: losing your current character, and having to either fight their zombified body, or pay a pittance of standard currency to revive them.

Meanwhile, more slots for those disposable player characters that the game treats like meat suits you inhabit can be purchased with yet a third currency, one that's best earned by raiding other players in asynchronous multiplayer.

All the while, you're leveling up fighters, leveling up your skills with a specific weapon, or leveling up the gear you have blueprints for. The game is full of different ways to make you feel like you're making progress -- all of which nudge you from one joke or oddity to the next before you can get tired of the one you just saw, even if your actual progress through the single-player tower is stagger-step at best.

Sudden difficulty spikes can stop you in your tracks. Which is to be expected, given the game's influences. It's a shame, though, because Let It Die keeps on delivering fresh characters, concepts, enemies, and equipment as you climb the Tower of Barbs -- so if you you never make it past the slightly slow going of the early floors, you won’t even know what you're missing.

Of course, Let It Die's free-to-play model lets you speed up that process just a touch. Death Metal can buy temporary access to a free elevator, and increase your number of bank slots in the tower lobby. And that's... pretty much it, as far as free-to-play hooks go. Thus far I haven't felt much need to cheat death, and quest/daily login rewards have kept me flush with enough Death Metal to keep my bank nice and fat.

Although I've been having so much fun with Let It Die that I'll almost certainly kick some money over to Grasshopper just to support the rough, stylish anomaly. Which is exactly how I wish every free-to-play game made me feel.

In short, I'd like to see a whole lot more games like Let It Die. Whether that means more free-to-play games I can feel good about, more high quality, offbeat games of this scale, or just more unexpected console gems that catch me by surprise. Not all of them have to be about cyberpunk Towers of Babel sprouting out of post-apocalyptic Tokyo, though.

Verdict: Yes