Over the past decade its become a bit of a cliche to compare a difficult game to FROM Software’s output, and, well, I’m not one to break tradition. Though BPM is a very different beast to the likes of Dark Souls, its an incredibly difficult game but it gets the balance between challenging and just being plain difficult wrong in a few fundamental ways. First though, what is BPM? Screenshots don’t really show you anything about the game other than that it feels very similar to DOOM (2016) thanks to its fast, frenetic gameplay and colour palette, but there is a clue in the game’s title, developer Awe Interactive (a two-man team that have drawn upon other developer friends to help plug some gaps) have tried something unique or at least attempted to. You see, BPM is a rhythm action game, you progress through levels by shooting at stuff, but the twist is you can only shoot, reload or dodge on the beat. You still have full range of ordinary movement, so it’s not as restrictive as something like Crypt of the Necrodancer, but you still have to take into account the games beat when attacking your opponents.
This is where the game begins to show its difficulty, and I don’t think its even a case of the ol’ “Git Gud”, the soundtrack is metal influenced, and thus there’s a hell of a lot of drumming and noise going on, so how do you keep to the beat? Thankfully Awe have included a reticule that shows you the pattern you have to adhere to, including off-beats as some weapons let you fire at that rate too, but in all honesty, trying to keep to that, target enemies, avoid attacks and use any skills you unlock, its all a bit much. Now I’ll readily admit I’m no gaming god, I’m monumentally poor at anything competitive, so I’ll happily put my hands up and admit this is probably beyond me, and thus I didn’t find it particularly fun, but the game problems don’t just lie in its action mechanics.
Another one of its core concepts is that it wants to be a Roguelike, because that’s on-trend this generation, levels are randomly generated, including enemy placement and equipment drops, so no two runs are alike, if you die, everything resets and you go again. The randomisation of the drops only serve to increase that difficulty further, I’ve attempted runs where I’ve had no health potions drop or where I’ve only had one or two coins drop so haven’t even been able to buy a health potion from the giant bird that runs the shop and as for equipment… well.
You start with a standard automatic pistol, this fires both on and off beat, it also only requires two button presses to reload, which is a change from the norm in FPS’ but is in itself a mechanic that makes you feel really cool. As you kill stuff, you’ll usually (but not always) get coins and will sometimes (but not always) be presented with an opportunity to buy a better weapon. Though they all come with their strengths and weaknesses. I had an automatic shotgun that was really powerful, but required me to be much closer to the enemy to get a decent hit, making dodging their attacks much harder and the reload felt a little off, another time I had a revolver, which required me to reload the actual number of bullets I’d fired, so if I’d emptied the chamber, then that’s six button presses. Again, it all sounds cool written down, but in practice, it was cumbersome and added too much challenge.
This is where I loop back round to the old Dark Souls cliche, those games are known for being challenging, but even somebody as poor at games as myself will usually state that they never felt unfair, the game is only as difficult as you make it, if your impatient, it’ll punish you, if you don’t pay attention, it’ll punish you, but its core mechanics work when you want them to. BPM just doesn’t hit that, its mechanics sound inventive and exciting, and it does have its moments where you grin like a moron, but they’re few and far between as the game seeks to work against you. I’m all for pushing the envelope and challenging players to break out of their old habits when it comes to trying new games, but BPM asks too much of the player, this one in particular, and that’s a shame as the idea: A rhythm action shooter with an aesthetic and soundtrack straight from John Romero’s dreams, is an appealing one, but on this occasion Awe Interactive just haven’t gotten it right.
Formats: PC (version tested)
Release Date: 15 September 2020
Publisher: Awe Interactive
Developer: Awe Interactive