My first kill is a fluke. As is my second, and as I spend too much time lining up my third, I'm met with a fatal blow to the back of the head by way of a lead pole. Sprawled out on the floor in a pool of my own blood, I spend the next couple of seconds wondering: where the hell did he come from? Now my partner's been slaughtered and a quick restart lets us run the operation from scratch.
In God's Trigger things happen fast. Ahead of its Gamescom reveal earlier this week, Techland Publishing billed it and indie studio OneMoreLevel's first collaboration as "Hotline Miami meets John Wick." From a mechanical perspective this is spot on as God-Trigger echoes the former's fast and furious top-down gunplay, dogged enemies, and uber violent combat. It lacks the neon '80s video nasty charm and delightfully punchy techno soundtrack of Dennaton's masterful series, however its cel shaded aesthetic and Baz Luhrmann-esque slant on the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse parable fit just as well here.
Filling the boots of either Harry or Judy—an unlikely angel and demoness partnership—you're tasked with navigating segmented levels side-by-side, clearing rooms of the horsemen's faceless personified minions in a bid to save planet Earth.
Things get messy very quickly, to the point where even the smallest of missteps is punishable by instant death. Twitch shooting and sharp reflexes are a must, then, as you kill and die and die and kill, and should your partner fall in battle, you're afforded a brief window within which to revive them. Fail to do so and it's game over. Fail to spot the lead pole-brandishing baddie that's snuck up behind you while doing so, and you're looking at the brutally violent situation outlined above.
Against Hotline Miami, God's Trigger feels instantly familiar—if a little less forgiving and a touch more nimble. The short playthrough I get to grips with is broken into four sections which me and my partner storm together in local co-op. At first we struggle to find a common rhythm, chasing the same groups of foes while giving others free reign, mistiming both melee and range attacks, and failing to assist one another in death.
After a while (read: loads and loads and loads of deaths), though, we work out an unspoken system on the fly whereby we split each level, in turn dividing the workload/murder equally. We marshal our respective zones with military precision, only leaving our beats to revive one another on the scant few occasions our tactics go awry. Death comes most often when we first enter new zones as we learn our enemies' attacking behaviours, but a Hotline-like insta-restart function prevents multiple failures from becoming tedious.
Dressed in all white, I kick things off as Harry. My partner offs a couple of bad guys from the outset and I sweep up their fallen weapons. We clear the first room and move onto the next, which contains three stationary hostiles armed with guns and one patrolling baseball bat-wielding foe. After an obligatory amount of failure, I discover that by lining up the roaming baddy with the shotgunner across the room, I can waste two guards with one well-placed, door-breaking shot. I do so, and quickly follow up with a ricocheting crossbow bolt into the room before taking cover. After hitting a wall, it deals with a third aggressor, meaning all that's left is for my partner and I to double team the last one standing.
Later, one arena is divided by a central wall and is lined with eight doors—four on each side. Guards come at us at pace from all directions, latterly with guns. This section of the demo is easily its most challenging, however serves to drive home the importance of timing—so much so I eventually switch to melee and see out my playthrough confidently swatting my foes like flies. For extra fun, dashing at guards can knock them off balance, which can be followed up with a skull-crushing stomp.
Upon completion of the demo, my death count stands at an unflattering 36, with my partner racking up 40. Later still, I swap to the all black-sporting Judy who begins the fight with an ultra-cool flame-doused mace and chain. A Techland rep tells me our death tally should probably halve this time round, now that we're familiar with the controls and our enemies' routines. My partner and I successfully storm the same level, perishing just twice each along the way.
Despite playing and thoroughly enjoying God's Trigger in local co-op, it'll have online support when it arrives in 2018 too. From what I've seen so far, I can't imagine solo play having the same appeal as buddying up, simply because part of what I loved most here was striking up an unsaid understanding with someone I didn't know in order to overcome what the game was throwing at us.
Moving forward, I'm most interested to see how God's Trigger's levels and enemies evolve—and how its unforgiving difficulty arc adjusts to suit. It wasn't possible in this demo, however I'd also like the option of stealth when scoping out levels as I feel it'd aid the planning phase of attack. Then again, storming rooms with shotguns and dual pistols and crossbows is fun—and a game that's able to repeatedly kill you without compromising the player's enjoyment is doing something right.
God's Trigger is due at some stage in 2018.