Until We Die Review: Swimmin’ In Mutants
Remember the days of little side games you’d get in a franchise? You know the ones I’m talking about. Games that were never even meant to be spin-offs, just bite-sized mini-games to add a bit of fun fluff to a series. Like the Industrial Revolution thing Bioshock Infinite did for preorders. Or Fallout Shelter, which went from Bethesda’s attempt at entering the mobile market only to become a real juggernaut for the Fallout series. If you told me Until We Die was a mobile-exclusive bonus you’d get for preordering Metro Last Light, I’d damn well believe you. Is it perfect? Far from it, closer to early access than anything. Is it fun? More than it has any need to be, honestly. It’s short, sweet, simple, and to the point. Mutants are underground in the metros, and you’re part of a refugee group looking to reclaim the underground, one pointy bunker at a time.
That’s it. That is all there really is to it. But don’t let simple be confused for easy. You’re in an apocalypse, and Until We Die lives up to its name by making you remember that you’re on the losing side here of this disasterpiece. There’s little room for build-up and even less for survival as you’re zipping from side to side, watching your borders expand and shrink almost within seconds of each other. The enemies do not let up one bit. When you see the purple fog, a fight’s going down, and it isn’t gonna wait for you to get your crap together.
Yet, that’s part of what drew me in to be charmed by it. The sharp, unforgiving gameplay lends itself to simplicity but strives on testing you every minute to do better and better at proving to the end of the world why humans were meant to rule.
Divide and Conquer
You’ll begin by just scavenging supplies with your normal worker. While they are the defaults, they’re extremely handy as you can plop them in a barricade, and they’ll fix it as it takes damage. As you’d expect, the more you have in there, the faster the restoration. Which you’re gonna need, because, though it has a slow start, the later waves will demand your divided attention, and you better respond in kind with plenty of workers of all shapes and sizes. You can get Shovelers, which handle heavier debris clearing. Meanwhile, Mechanics can perform research and eventually start popping open any locked doors you come across in the metro.
Speaking of Workers, there’s a “recruiter” that you can feed supplies to in exchange for more help. And you’ll need to do this, too. Because the more people you have around, the more help you have fortifying, upgrading, and tasking people to research and the like, all stemming from some guy that wanders in and out from a handcart. How he hasn’t been turned into meat paste by the natives is beyond me.
From my experience, I had the best luck getting my fortifications stacked with helpers before spending a single moment expanding, and if I expanded, I made sure it was only one way at a time. The other direction needs to stay heavily fortified because sprinting back over to the other side is a righteous pain. You will lose people if you neglect one side, and if any little critters make it to your power plant, that means a big fat game over. So expand cautiously. Being ambitious can pay off, but it can also mean the end of your game.
This brings me to one of the points that kind of soured my time. There isn’t any form of save function. While I do wholly believe that save-scumming a game like this ruins the challenge, there were times that I had to restart thanks to a minor hiccup my computer had, or from one of the occasional bugs like two of my workers deciding they’ve had enough of this crap and just started walking off into the distance. Another larger gripe I had was that I wished the AI was a bit more cohesive. Most of the time, you can task a person just to run around and do stuff, but I think these guys have been inhaling a few too many spores for their brains to handle.
If you don’t explicitly tell them what to do, they’ll stand still as driftwood, waiting for you to get them going again. The build times certainly felt a bit too arduous for my liking as well. Either the times need to be cut down, or more people should be allowed to work on one thing at a time to speed things up. The number of times I had to go hastily pluck some workers to clean up the scrap in front of the recruiter was a tad annoying, too, because you can’t send him off with his food to pick up more workers until you finish your janitorial duties.
I think one of the strangest design choices was making the call-back function you use to get your workers to come to you as vague as possible, with no way to select a worker. You just call out and deal with whoever comes to your side, which is really annoying when you’re trying to pull out a shovel worker, and half the damn barricade decides to come with.
Harshing the Mood
The atmosphere, god that atmosphere. From the casual guitar the recruiter plays to the sound of a rat horde fleeing the incoming wall of feral creatures, the dripping water echoing faintly down the halls as a solemn warmth from a burning barrel illuminates the stagnant fog that slowly rolls in. It’s pixelated poetry in motion, reminding me so much of the dreary designs of Metro that kept me wandering and wondering the whole while I explored the ruins. While it’s a bit hard sometimes to sit back and soak up the sounds and metroscape with hundreds of foes giving no reprieve, it makes its atmosphere known from the start, and I can respect the hell out of that.
While I’d love to say I respect a good challenge, too, sometimes the game gets a little overzealous with demanding the most out of you. I’m no stranger to pushing myself, but damn, does this game hate the player. Some of the enemies pretty well one-shot you, and even a well-staffed barricade will be overrun at around day five if you don’t hustle on upgrading your walls and getting helpers to keep your home safe. When it says a horde is coming, it means it. You will get absolutely ravaged without everyone on deck ready to face them. You need to push your boundaries constantly, but you can’t get too cocky because you can and will get ambushed by a small horde of the critters, some of them carrying shields as early as day two.
Running Blindly Until We Die
It can leave your heart racing, and it can leave you stunned at the scenery, and, sometimes, it’ll leave you bewildered at how brutal the game can be, but ultimately, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a diamond in the rough here. It’s gonna feel unpolished and early-access-ish with paltry menus, no saving, and only one map and two heroes to play as. Still, there’s a lot of potential here. But until a few content issues, save system complaints, and AI fine-tuning gets addressed, I can’t quite give Until We Die too much of a recommendation unless you find it on sale.
That said, if you want to add it to your wishlist for when it does hit a sale, here’s the link to Steam. I really hope to see this little gem shines brighter in the future, but until then, this is Cory from HPP, signing off!
Final Verdict 2.5/5
Available on: Windows PC / Steam (Reviewed), GOG; Publisher: PixelEye Games; Developer: PixelEye Games; Number of players: single-player (campaign); Released: 6/3/2021; MSRP: $16.99
Full disclosure: The developer provided an Until We Die review copy.