Loopmancer Review – Repeating History

Loopmancer can pack a punch, but it falls short of its own goals too often to be particularly memorable.

Posted By | On 18th, Jul. 2022

Loopmancer Review – Repeating History

Loopmancer strives for a handful of neat ideas and often comes close enough to pulling them off to create some fun moments. The action is fast and challenging and the combat is dense enough with different types of bombs, melee weapons and guns that the game does get some decent mileage out of it. That said, despite some admirable attempts at creating a memorable world, interesting characters, engaging level design and a satisfying loop to partake in, Loopmancer rarely finds – let alone keeps – its footing with most of that. Meanwhile, the game’s foundationally decent combat, while reasonably fun, just isn’t quite good enough to carry the game’s dead weight across the threshold into being something truly memorable.

If an original story, compelling characters and settings matter to you, then I can make this really easy for you. Loopmancer probably isn’t going to be your game. The game’s dystopian cyberpunk setting as well as its main story are derivative at best and downright forgettable at worst. This is also the case for the entire cast, with a soft exception for Wei Long, the main villain, who’s psychopathic tendencies and foolish arrogance can make him moderately entertaining at times. You play as detective Xiang Zixu who is repeatedly winding up dead and waking up at his apartment while investigating the disappearance of a reporter.

Loopmancer

"The game’s foundationally decent combat, while reasonably fun, just isn’t quite good enough to carry the game’s dead weight across the threshold into being something truly memorable."

This all comes after a horrible car accident that shattered his family you see, and the way the villainous Wei Long, the missing reporter, and Zixu’s strange experiences all ties together turns out basically exactly how you are expecting it to about an hour or two into the game. The incredibly stiff voice acting only adds to the staleness of the narrative, and at times made me wonder why they even bothered with this kind of story at all. Roguelikes don’t really need much of a story to work, so why they went through all the trouble to establish such a weak and uncompelling narrative and portray it so badly is beyond me. If you’re somehow new to the cyberpunk genre or sci-fi in general and are unfamiliar with its trappings, then it might not bother you too much, but for anybody else, it’s going to feel like you’re repeating history; and not just in the good roguelike way.

Speaking of the genre, this is indeed a fairly standard roguelike in that you are repeating levels every time you die while your upgrades remain. Each run you do leaves you better positioned to get farther next time, and that is something that I feel like has been improved since I played the pre-launch version where the difficulty was so high, I only rarely made it out of the first area regardless of what I had. Now, it feels much more like my progress actually matters and that’s a good thing for a game with relatively long levels that aren’t consistently engaging. Your progress also comes in the form of unlocking momentos and other pieces of info that you can reflect on in the apartment between runs. These things don’t add up to much narratively, but they do help you feel like your progress matters. Alternate paths to different levels can also enhance the feeling of discovery a bit and give you more reason to look forward to future runs as you can just try a different path next time.

Combat itself is Loopmancer’s strongest element. Baiting enemies to swing or shoot at you in one direction and zooming behind them is fun, and once you integrate all the different techniques you can develop with the variety of bombs, guns, and melee weapons it can get pretty intense and dare I say deep. Thankfully, another improvement I’ve noticed since I played the earlier build is being able to see the action through foreground objects that would otherwise obstruct your view, that, along with a handful of other balancing issues that make combat a bit less punishing, have smoothed the action out to a nice sheen.

"Combat itself is Loopmancer’s strongest element. Baiting enemies to swing or shoot at you in one direction and zooming behind them is fun, and once you integrate all the different techniques you can develop with the variety of bombs, guns, and melee weapons it can get pretty intense."

It’s still a healthy challenge, though and enemies will punish you for screwing up or falling out of rhythm. If decent combat is all you are after, this particular flavor of side-scrolling dodge-heavy fast-paced combat is certainly fine. Environmental hazards also play a role like dangerous traffic and explosive barrels. Later levels do show the limits of Loopmancer’s combat though with redundant enemy types and boss battles that don’t do much to stand out, so while it is fine and even above average at some points, it’s not top of its class by any means.

If the challenge ends up being too much for you, there is a story mode that arguably guts the core of the experience out by letting you restart on the level you died as opposed to going back to the beginning. This does create an easier experience in theory but it also robs you of all the chances to grab items and upgrades you missed in those earlier levels, which prepare you for the future. The loop mechanic is also central to the game’s story, but with this being one of the most skippable stories I’ve recently come across in the genre, I guess that doesn’t matter too much. Either way, I generally wouldn’t recommend doing the story mode unless you just want to see all the levels as quickly as possible. re-treading through the same opening levels multiple times can dry out the fun a bit, but it’s better than skipping the progression that those runs provide. Plus, the game does make some attempts at remixing the levels. It rarely feels like the changes are important, but it does help stave off some of the repetition after their novelty has worn off.

Speaking of the levels, it’s a mixed bag in terms of how fun they are to play through in my opinion but most of them look fantastic with distinct personalities and visual variety. Some of which tip over into being downright gorgeous with vivid colors and a good sense of depth. Some sections are particularly hard to look away from and might shock you with the depth and detail on display given how sterile and clinical the hub world apartment and office building are. Playing through these stages can be a joy when they’re at their best, while some fall back into the doldrums of the basic design cues of the first level where you’re just jumping and grappling around to different platforms. Even at their worst though, they’re perfectly serviceable. I just wish those high moments lasted longer and were more frequent. Up close, characters and objects don’t look as great, and it’s pretty clear everything is really meant to be viewed from a distance. Some muddiness is alleviated by turning off motion blur, which I recommend doing anyway given the precision the combat often requires.

Loopmancer

"Overall, Loopmancer gets enough right to be a compelling package for some rogue-like enthusiasts, particularly those that devour everything the genre spits out."

Overall, Loopmancer gets enough right to be a compelling package for some rogue-like enthusiasts, particularly those that devour everything the genre spits out. The action is fun and varied and the levels mix things up just enough to make replaying them avoid feeling like a slog most of the time. Had the levels felt more fundamentally different in subsequent runs or the designs of each stage been more consistently unique from one another, that could have really made me forget about the story, setting, and characters being almost impossible to care about. But as it is, it feels more like a good rogue-like that just holds itself back a bit and ultimately doesn’t quite stand toe-to-toe with the scads of better examples of the genre we’ve gotten over the last few years.

This game was reviewed on PC.


THE GOOD

Some levels are gorgeous; Combat is decently varied and fun.

THE BAD

Forgettable story, setting, and characters; Generic music; Levels have inconsistent fun-factor; Redundant enemy types.

Final Verdict:
FAIR
Loopmancer doesn’t get enough right to make up for its shortcomings, but certainly has some bright spots that roguelike enthusiasts will appreciate.
A copy of this game was purchased by author for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.
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