By Evan Norris 10th May 2020 | 1,386 views
While many modern "AAA" games are locked into a certain mold — it's difficult to be weird and experimental with so much money on the line — small-scale indie games are typically free to do their own thing. They can play around with off-center ideas, combine unlikely genres, and speak exclusively to a niche audience. Fury Unleashed, a rogue-lite action title five years in the making — including three years in Early Access — is a product of this creative crucible. Due to its comic book aesthetic, pulp sci-fi setting, meta narrative, rogue-like randomness, and steep difficulty, it's not for everyone. Those that enjoy games like Rogue Legacy and Metal Slug, though, will find a lot to like.
At the start, Fury Unleashed seems to embrace little more than a conventional good-guy-versus-monsters plot-line. The game's art, depicting a Schwarzenegger-esque commando blasting skeletons, soldiers, and aliens, tells a similar story. Yet this is only one layer. As you progress through the opening levels, you'll learn that the hero of the game, the eponymous Fury, is fighting through actual comic book panels penned by John Kowalksy, an artist suffering from self-doubt and burnout. Amid its blood, brawn, and bullets, Fury Unleashed tells a surprisingly honest and vulnerable story about franchise fatigue, creating art in the age of social media, and finding meaning in your work. It's heavy-handed at times, yes, but ultimately it's a refreshing, sincere change of pace.
On the gameplay side of things, Fury Unleashed combines the frenetic run-and-gun pacing of Contra and Metal Slug with the rinse-and-repeat rogue-lite formula of titles like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy. The moment-to-moment gameplay includes 2D action-platforming, spraying bullets in 360 degrees, and exploring randomly-generated maps. The structure of the game, meanwhile, involves collecting and banking ink — the currency of Fury Unleashed, in a clever nod to its comic book milieu — to use on permanent upgrades that will carry over after you die, and are swept back to the start.
The forgiving nature of permanent unlocks — which is what nests Fury Unleashed firmly into the rogue-lite camp — is significant, as the game is brutal and unyielding. The default difficulty is "hard mode" and it rises to Incredible and Legendary after that (there's an optional "easy mode", but it disables certain achievements and online leaderboards). You'll perish early and often in Fury Unleashed, and revisit the same environments and face the same enemies again and again until you become wise enough and strong enough — fortified by RNG loot — to move through all four comic book worlds.
Like all games that descend from Rogue, Fury Unleashed is repetitive and punishing. Yet it alleviates much of the tedium and frustration intrinsic to the rogue-like formula due to three factors: the aforementioned permanent unlocks; the ability to start from the second, third, and fourth comic book worlds after defeating three bosses unique to previous world; and, most importantly, its strong combat, traversal, and combo mechanics. In short, Fury Unleashed offers several persistent perks and handholds so that you need not start from scratch each time you boot up the game, and delivers momentary action entertaining enough to prompt repeat forays into its deadly gauntlet.
Indeed, the mechanics in Fury Unleashed could stand on their own even without the rogue-loop. Bouncing around each randomly-generated room is smooth and easy, thanks to double jump and dash moves, and dispatching foes is fun and rewarding, due to an intuitive twin-stick shooting system and a combat framework that supports projectile, melee, grenade, and special attacks. This holds true both for solo play and two player local co-op.
Developer Awesome Games Studio doesn't stop there, however. It also introduces a combo counter that multiplies based on how many bad guys players destroy in quick succession. As you chain together kills you'll earn temporary shields and increase the likelihood that fallen monsters will drop health orbs in addition to ink. Thus the game, like Doom (2016), rewards aggressive players who press their advantage. The ceiling for top-level play is high in Fury Unleashed.
Similarly high is the number of weapons, armor pieces, grenades, and perks you'll find scattered across each environment. You'll start with shotguns and SMGs and graduate to lasers, acid-belching cannons, and grenade launchers. You can also purchase rare and legendary armor pieces and special attacks throughout the game if you've acquired enough gold ink. There's a tense risk-and-reward economy to Fury Unleashed that will decide your short-term and long-term fate: do you spend liberally for upgrades to keep you alive in the moment, or spirit away ink to make future runs more viable?
Fury Unleashed benefits from a unique hand-drawn comic book art style that dovetails neatly with its fourth-wall-breaking story-line. The character models (especially bosses) and special effects look great, although you'll probably grow tired of seeing the same backdrops and tiles over and over.
It took five years for Fury Unleashed to find its voice, but the wait was worth it. It's a stylish side-scrolling hybrid that succeeds as both a randomized rogue-lite and a run-and-gun action-platformer. The game's two-steps-forward-one-step-backward gameplay loop can prove tiresome and its steep learning curve is, at times, frustrating, but developer Awesome Games Studio has built in plenty of safeguards — including permanent unlocks, dynamic combat, and item variety — to encourage players to try, try again.