First person shooters tend to favour one of two extremes, ranging from the ‘realism’ of Call of Duty through to the over the top styles of Shadow Warrior. Perhaps the most successful, and most extreme, example of the latter is the long-running Serious Sam series. The ridiculous nature of the enemies and environments, coupled with overwhelming numbers and unique weaponry made for a hugely satisfying and enjoyable take on first person conventions. Immortal Redneck is clearly influenced by Croteam’s approach, combining their Egyptian stylings with an explicitly rogue-lite structure. With that in mind, does Crema’s game move the genre forward, or is it left flailing in the desert dust?
In this age of well-crafted narratives, movie-like scripting and pretensions of artistic grandeur, Immortal Redneck’s narrative is refereshingly oldschool. Your foul-mouthed protagonist is racing through the desert for reasons unknown before crashing his buggy and dying in the sand. His decomposing body is enveloped in the shadow of an Anubis figure before a swift cut to him being embalmed and mummified. Sent out to embark on a perpetual loop of shooting and looting, the game begins. This makes an admirable lack of sense, and benefits from retaining an air of mystery that maintains throughout your repeated treks through the perilous pyramids.
The gameplay is also resolutely old-school. Running and gunning feels familiar and it is easy to get stuck in and blasting. Despite this ease of access, it won’t be long before the pyramid’s denizens will kick your arse and send you to the first of many deaths. In true rogue-lite style, however, this death begins the loop of treasure hunting and rebirths that will see you slowly increase your power and abilities. Exploring the procedurally generated pyramids always follows a similar pattern but the layout changes each time. That being said, it is clear that the rooms are not truly random but instead are chosen from a set of alternatives. The necessity of repeated plays means that you will soon recognise the rooms and be prepared for the dangers within. This happy medium between simple repetition and random progress works well, alleviating the potential boredom of retreading the same ground whilst also empowering the player through familiarity.
The layout of the pyramids is generally impressive. Rooms vary from massive open arenas to enclosed mazes, with the size diminishing the further up you go. Regular boss fights provide a change of pace, as well as a punishing roadblock, encouraging the determined player to return with a new set of skills and the knowledge gained from their previous defeat. The only downside to this mechanic is the frustration of dying when you have an optimal set of equipment.
It is the loot systems that really add a sense of randomness to proceedings. A wide range of weapons are available but it is pure luck which ones are found in the few chests across each level. It is perfectly possible to make good progress with the starting guns but a really successful run is often enabled by good fortune in the drops. Alongside the usual arsenal of rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers you will find bows, magical staffs and a surprisingly powerful potato launcher. Ammo is universal, meaning that you can manage your weapons strategically whilst still enjoying using the more powerful guns. In addition to weapon drops, you will also find magic scrolls that will provide you with powers ranging from extra jumps to increased explosive damage. My most successful run was helped out by a rare scroll that makes items drop from the many breakable pots that litter the levels. Ordinarily there is no benefit to destroying these, but the shower of ammo and gold coins from that run really changed the game. It is typically frustrating, then, to have died and not managed to get that power-up again in many runs since.
Graphically, everything is bright and colourful, with a well-thought out Egyptian aesthetic complete with hieroglyphics and sarcophagi. Enemies are nicely designed, if a little limited, and frame rates felt pretty stable on a basic PS4. The fast paced gunplay feels responsive and it is a rare example of enjoyable first person platforming. Jumping is easy to control and an automatic clamber mechanic prevents the usual annoyances of just missing a platform. Playing the game is consequently always enjoyable, which is fortunate given the huge number of runs it will take to make significant progress.
The coins gained from each run remain with you upon death and are used both to level up various abilities and to buy items from the unlockable shopkeeper. The abilities range from passive power-ups such as increased health or defence to alternative character builds. These are all inspired by Egyptian mythology and provide fresh approaches to the game. I found myself relying on the Goddess of Health build for its regenerative skills and a magical ankh weapon that balanced its relatively low firepower with unlimited ammo.
More confident/competent players can benefit from builds that offer increased attack power but my more tentative approach was dependent upon running away as much as standing and fighting. There is no multiplayer at present, which is a shame as it seems ideally set up for a co-op mode, but there is still a huge amount of content to get through. It remains to be seen how the Switch version will fare, but if it holds up technically, then it would be a perfect portable complement to the likes of Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon.
Beating a boss enables you to continue from a later point but the lack of power-ups make this option difficult to recommend. Restarting from the beginning each time is the best way to build up your arsenal and hopefully enable you to succeed. Well, until you inevitably die again, at least.
All in all, Immortal Redneck is a fun and challenging combination of old school first person shooter design and rogue-lite mechanics. It does require a great deal of patience and it’s easy to get frustrated when it feels as if the game is punishing you with the available drops, but when you get a good set of weapons and scrolls, you can breeze through the early levels with ease before the pyramids ramp up the difficulty. If you are prepared to make it through the cycle of looting and upgrade and have the patience to put up with the potential for horrible drops, then Immortal Redneck comes highly recommended.
Version Tested: PS4