For what is self-described as an arcade stealth shooter, there is a lot going on in Metrocide’s world. Blade Runner is the obvious influence, a cyberpunk dystopian future full of rain and contract killers. It feels like a place where interesting stories will be told, but in Metrocide these result not from narrative beats but the interaction of mechanics.
Metrocide was born from the 2014 Cyberpunk game jam, an attempt to create a real time version of the Mega Drive action-RPG Shadowrun. It plays from a top down perspective à la the original Grand Theft Auto with the city created in detailed pixel art. Gameplay revolves around completing contracts of varying degrees of difficulty, from unaware targets that never see you coming to wary, armed targets whose body also needs to be disposed of. Getting in the way of clean kills is a surveillance state full of police drones, cameras, automated street cleaners, nosy civilians and opportunistic vigilantes.
Each of these elements interact independently of the player, creating a variety of unfortunate jams and lucky escapes. In one example an otherwise clean kill was interrupted by a vigilante witness drawing their own weapon to gun me down, that same vigilante was then shot as the murder suspect by a police drone who sees a dead body and a man with a drawn gun and puts two and two together. All NPCs have personality traits, from smokers who will stand under security cameras taking a drag for what feels like hours to the paranoid who will constantly stop and check their back. It means every kill requires a unique approach based on location, personality, the prerequisites (such as having to dispose of the body) and the level of heat your previous actions have drawn.
Bodies left in the streets will spark a murder investigation, with drones scanning civilians in the area and suspicious activity on your part resulting in a police chase that I found difficult (but not impossible) to escape from. A murder spree will result in an increased police presence in the city, making earning enough to buy your ticket to the next town a tougher prospect. While I only got to see the first city, the other two environments in Metrocide promise more surveillance and a hitman mechanic that will see you as the hunted as well as the hunter.
Controls take some getting used to, you move and strafe with WASD relative to your characters in world position, directing (and aiming) with the mouse. Drawing your weapon is a big deal, it will provoke vigilantes and scare your target; stealth and well planned operations make your life a lot easier as you won’t be able to gun your way out of a situation should things go south. The UI is clean but I found that some of the great interactivity in the world is hidden in small text messages on screen, in your hurry to escape a crime scene you may not notice the police have apprehended somebody else as the suspect and stopped the investigation.
I’m excited for the imminent Early Access release of Metrocide. The rogue-like, permadeath nature of the game may prove frustrating to some, especially if you progress deep into the second and third cities, but it inspires care and consideration with every move and makes the big moments where the game mechanics save or hinder you all the more interesting. Once the controls click you start to ‘see the Matrix’ and notice where a chain reaction of mechanics might be triggered. You’ll get the chance to play Metrocide within the next couple of weeks on Steam Early Access, with a full release expected by the end of the year. Flat Earth Games are hoping for a console version in the future but the current focus is on the PC release. A developer walkthrough that shows off some of the gameplay mechanics can be found here.
Disclosure: While the writer of this piece is not, Stevivor’s Editor-in-Chief Steve Wright is a friend of Metrocide‘s creators. As such, this piece has been edited by a third party.