Deadbolt: A Fantastic and Overlooked Stealth Action Game

Fear the Reaper. Fear it.

Hopoo Games are well known for their rather great action-platformer series Risk of Rain, rogue-likes where the goal is to gather as many stat-buffing items as possible before confronting the final boss. The first one was a very fun side-scroller and the second is a fully-fledged third-person shooter. Both are best enjoyed with friends, but are fun and very replayable on their own. I’m explaining all this so I can accurately convey how different the game they released between those two titles is from their other work. Coming out in 2016, Deadbolt is a different beast entirely, and displays creativity that I hope Hopoo continues in the future.

You play as a Reaper, who isn’t necessarily the Reaper, in a horror-themed world where supernatural gangs run amok. It’s unknown what the Reaper do in their downtime because the only thing you see them do is take instructions from a fireplace regarding where they need to go and who they need to kill. They then go there, dispatch everyone, and repeat the process. It’s unknown who the fireplace is, or what the end goal for the Reapers is. The story tries to be mysterious but comes off as underwritten, but it does provide a good enough excuse to hang the game’s fantastic gameplay on.

This is essentially a horror painted, side-scrolling version of Hotline Miami, and it lives up to that in most regards. Playing as the Reaper, you’re able to approach each new stage from a variety of angles, and the smart level design encourages experimentation and rewards creative thinking. You’re able to choose a main weapon and a side weapon to enter each level with. Main ones range from things like a silenced shotgun Anton Chigurh would be proud of (it’s my weapon of choice) to a silenced SMG and even a scythe if you so choose. Side weapons are things like a Derringer, or a hammer, which can be thrown to lethal effect.

Each level opens with you choosing that equipment from the trunk of your car, in what feels like an opening shot to an action movie, and from there you decide how to approach the situation. One level in the middle section sees you infiltrating a club filled with uber-tall vampires. You could theoretically knock on the front door and just blast whoever’s in the way, but that could lead to trouble, as the Reaper dies in one hit from just about anything. The smarter thing to do would be to turn into smoke and travel through the vents (this never gets old by the way) and kill the power for a few minutes by landing on the roof, then using the darkness and confusion to wipe out a bunch of bloodsuckers.

The Reaper stands in a building filled with dead zombies. Blood spatters the walls.
What happens if you play Deadbolt correctly.

This sounds like I’m making it out to be a fast-paced game, and it certainly can be if you know what you’re doing, but like Hotline Miami, you die in one hit from anything, which requires a mixture of recklessness and precision in order to get the best scores. It puts you in the mindset of a movie hitman, despite the game’s supernatural trappings. It forces you to take in the information presented to you and make informed decisions while improvising as needed.

That means when things go your way, it feels like nothing else. Clearing out a level filled with bad guys without a scratch on you is truly exhilarating, and makes you feel like one cool customer. But make no mistake: this game is hard. Things ramp up pretty early on, with wide, huge levels and small armies of baddies to dispatch. Expect to die. A lot. The good thing is that restarting is as simple as pressing a button and you’re back in action.

The level design makes the most out of the game’s simple set of mechanics. Light plays a huge role in the proceedings, with enemies being far more vulnerable in the dark since they can’t see you. But just like how you can turn the lights off, they can turn them back on, and being caught in the middle of a room surrounded by bad guys usually ends in disaster.

Then there are the aforementioned vents, which let you appear and disappear at will, popping up behind guys like you’re a supernatural Batman. Later levels really push the envelope, with one, in particular, standing out for its challenge and creativity. You are made privy to a sniper’s sights and must move and act accordingly. It’s an intense, fantastic set piece that gets flipped on its head as the level goes on.

The Reaper stands in the basement of the Dusk to Dawn club in the dark, unnoticed by the party goers above.
Darkness adds a dynamic and strategic element to proceedings.

The game isn’t perfect, though. For one, the frame rate stutters in later levels when there’s a lot going on, and it can lead to some cheap moments. Then there are other times where the game can feel flat-out unfair, with it dropping you into really bad situations you had no ability to predict. Hard games walk that fine line between challenging and frustrating, and this certainly moves its toe over that line at times. For the most part, when you fail it’s your fault, but every once in a while the game seemingly hates you and makes you pay for it.

Hopoo Games should be commended though. Not only have they created some of the most purely enjoyable co-op rogue-likes in existence with their Risk of Rain series, but they’ve also created a stealth action game that blows most others out of the water with Deadbolt. It represents gaming at its best—a simple set of mechanics that are used in unexpected and fun ways, with a nice difficulty curve that makes you feel like a professional assassin against increasingly overwhelming odds. As much as I love Risk of Rain, I would love to see Hopoo make another game like Deadbolt, one that steps outside their comfort zone. Deadbolt tells me that there are big things in their future, and I’m excited to see where they go next.

All Images courtesy of the game’s Steam page.

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Written by Collin Henderson

Collin has loved all things horror since he was a wee lad, as long as it's not filled with jump scares. He holds up It Follows as the greatest horror film ever made, and would love to hear your thoughts on why he's wrong about that. He's written a couple of books called Lemon Sting and Silence Under Screams, and lives in Massachusetts.

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