The modern day gamer has it easy compared to those of the now-retro era. Not only do they have video guides and walkthroughs constantly at their disposal, but current video games hold their hands, often telling them what to do next and how to do it. Obvious exceptions are Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy and the like, which offer players who overcome the seemingly impossible a sense of reward and achievement; why else would people put themselves through it? Santa Clara Games has attempted a similar goal with 8Days, but unfortunately it’s wide of the posts, making for a frustratingly tough and uninspiring shoot ‘em up.
The game centres on an organisation named G.O.D, the world’s leading private military company. Our character, an expendables mercenary, is tasked with travelling to the East in order to break the world rice embargo, which is currently prohibiting Westerners dining on their much-loved Sushi. The end goal is to reach the dictator, and persuade them to end the embargo.
Unfortunately for us, the helicopter is shot down, leaving our character stranded in prison. However we’re soon back to the mission, fighting enemies in jungles, factories and deserts with knives, machine guns and rocket launchers, with bosses to defeat also.
8Days is an homage to the 8 and 16-bit generation of top down war shooters, specifically those based on Vietnam. It’s retro-inspired with 8-bit styled graphics, but with smooth and polished textures. The areas are packed full with different objects and items, and there are several different character types, all of which are well made with a bright colour palate. In this respect, Santa Clara has succeeded in creating an aesthetically pleasing game, whilst also maintaining aspects from the games which it has taken inspiration from.
Movement is as fluid and smooth in the game as its textures. Its twin stick mechanics offer a diverse range of movement, which is necessary for the fast paced and multidirectional shooting. The controls may feel alien at first for those who have never played a dual stick shooter before, but it doesn’t take long to become familiar with them.
On face value then, 8Days looks like a promising indie game, but its problems far outweigh its good looks. With only 3 health bars throughout, and a full one lost with every shot taken, you’d assume that the game would play more as a stealth shooter than all-out warfare. This isn’t the case. The game often throws a dozen or so enemies in each section, most of which spray bullets everywhere. Evading these isn’t really an option, and as soon as you’re out in the open, you’ll more than likely be showered with gunfire. As you progress enemies become more difficult, and the challenge can sometimes be overwhelming.
I’m not averse to difficult games, and in fact admire developers which challenge players. Yet in 8Days there’s no reward in completing each chapter. After attempting an area 10 times I expected to be given an additional health bar or weapon upgrade, but I wasn’t. This made the idea of moving on to the next stage feel more like a chore than anything. ‘Another one?’ I kept asking myself, rather than having a need to make it to the next chapter. It’s unnecessarily difficult, and that leads to a frustrating experience as opposed to a sense of achievement.
A major issue with the game is that it saves at the start of each map with the player’s exact same stats as when they first entered. Whilst checkpoints are a necessity, I was all too often stuck in a room with 1 health bar, only a few bullets, and a hoard of enemies to contend with. With no ammunition or health packs in sight, I was forced to attempt the impossible feat of reaching the next level, which sometimes took dozens of attempts. At first I did enjoy the challenge, but after finding myself stuck in this situation in almost every level, I felt uninspired to continue.
Admittedly I didn’t play with a second player, which I think would have probably made the game much easier and more enjoyable. It felt at some points that it was made to played with 2; as if attempting it on your own wasn’t what it was designed for. Yet a game shouldn’t have a reliance on co-op, I should be able to enjoy it just as much in single player as with multiplayer. I personally had no enjoyment in playing 8Days alone, and for a game which prides itself on its replay-ability, I struggled enough the first time around.
I admire Santa Clara for trying to challenge gamers, and create a demanding shooter; tough games need to be made more often. If I felt rewarded for overcoming the difficult then I no doubt would have rated it higher. Yet after a promising opening 30 minutes, I felt too hard done-by to actually want to reach the next area. It was too punishing. I still haven’t forgiven it.
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