I am a huge fan of 1980s-based scifi. Something about that particular brand of synth music, over the top gore, and ridiculous science fiction premises just fills me with joy. When Boston game developer Glass Knuckle Games told me about Defragmented, their upcoming cyberpunk-styled game with mechanics inspired by Hotline Miami and Borderlands, I was super excited. Having previously made Noir Syndrome, a game that focused on the film noir genre, it seems Glass Knuckle really like to play with their tropes.
With silly names like Mai Vermouth, corporate wars in a grimy city, and an increasingly impressive synthwave soundtrack, Defragmented checks a lot of the cyberpunk genre’s check boxes. The story is all told through a visual novel-styled narrative, though in my time with the game I have not run in to any dialog choices.
The twist that the game offers from something like Hotline Miami is a fairly interesting take on the 2D shooter formula. There are two camera modes. One involves looking from a fixed isometric view at the main character, the player can press a button to pan the camera outside the normal range, then release it to snap back to focusing on the main character. The second view mode is a little weirder, as it involves zooming in over the shooter’s shoulder, but still being fixed at an angle pointing towards the top of the screen. This seems like it should exist to make aiming easier, especially when going around corners, however I found this disorienting and was confused why it exists. The aiming in Defragmented doesn’t feel as tightly designed as it could be, and the camera would often throw me off and get me killed.
Outside of the tricky combat, other aspects of the game hold up quite well. In each level there are a bunch of lockers, dumpsters, and chests that contain random loot of procedurally-generated weapons and gear. This encourages players to go back and replay old levels to get better loot before trying some of the more difficult missions. The weapons have a fairly wide variety. Through the levels I played I was able to find slow moving projectile guns, laser beams, shotguns, and more. All the extra weapons and gear that is found can be sold to a robot called DEAL-EO, a quirky little vendor that the player has the ability upgrade in exchange for a better selection of goods. I am split on the idea of the loot system; it did make the game a lot more dynamic and gives a reason to revisit old levels, but not much of the rest of the game felt like it was designed for the player to play levels more than the first time.
Glass Knuckle Games are doing an excellent job of presenting what could be one of the best visions of 80’s scifi in recent years with Defragmented. Despite some clunky combat, I do have high expectations for the young team’s future as game developers. Defragmented launched February 12th on Steam.