There is an issue in gaming lately where a title can be presented phenomenally, with the highest rendered, CPU-destroying shadows and incredible 4k textures on every grain of sand on screen, only for players to discover that the game is otherwise devoid of substance. This issue is majorly featured in some Triple-A quality releases and some titles built with Unreal Engine, the latter having incredibly advanced rendering technology that allows aspiring developers to make beautifully detailed environments long before they figure out the complexity of coding a game.
Strangely and to my pleasant surprise, S.E.C.U. is somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum. The gameplay feels solid, well-defined, and ready for release but is held back by its lackluster visuals and level design. As strange as it may be, S.E.C.U. is a game that could use a little more time in the oven, mainly because it just looks incomplete.
To fully understand what I mean, I first have to touch on the gameplay of S.E.C.U., where the title undeniably shines.
S.E.C.U. has a reasonably simple yet standout design premise. The game is a roguelike first-person shooter where you navigate through randomly generated levels fighting off waves of demons using guns and perks you earn through your kills.
It may simply be due to ignorance, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a roguelike FPS game. The idea is good enough to draw you in, but the good premise can otherwise fall flat if poorly executed. S.E.C.U. Thankfully, it makes good use of its solid foundation, even if it can use room for improvement.
The feel of the guns is one of the most vital aspects of S.E.C.U. and any FPS title. If you’re using a first-person camera for a shooter, you absolutely must take advantage of the perspective’s unique ability to make guns feel real and impactful. S.E.C.U. does this well, with each firearm having solid recoil, shell ejection, great reload animations, etc. It takes a much-appreciated step forward, giving each gun a unique identity. Damage, spray pattern, fire rate, recoil control, optics, etc., are different for each gun, which makes the firearms you choose a question of which weapon works best for you instead of just which gun kills the fastest.
S.E.C.U. has a very strong Call of Duty: Zombies inspiration that it wears proudly on its sleeves. It is a really clever way to make use of the roguelike genre’s RNG (randomly generated) mechanics. Collecting loot is primarily done through bunkers located on your path through a level, where you’ll find different loot boxes that provide randomized weapon drops and perk machines that give you unique passives, all for a price. Think Perk Cola and the Random Box from MWZ with greatly expanded depth, and you’ll understand the bread and butter of loot collection in S.E.C.U.
Gameplay-wise, S.E.C.U. takes advantage of these inspirations to make something that feels great to play. Killing waves of demons, finding the guns that work just right for you, and stacking perks until your inevitable death is a fun, easily repeatable gameplay loop that is sure to keep you hooked, trying new weapons every chance you can get and optimizing your build to clear demons faster.
That being said, the game does struggle with pacing. Getting through a level is a slog; everything moves too slowly. This isn’t because of the speed of the demons or anything, who will get up in your face using the burst of smoke and blood of their deceased comrades as cover to do so (an aspect I really, really like.) Levels just feel a bit too long. It only took me 30 minutes to get to the game’s first boss (who was a bullet sponge), but it wasn’t very interactive or exciting, and it felt much longer than 30 minutes.
This is due in major parts to the game’s lackluster level design, primarily due to the underwhelming visuals.
S.E.C.U. has an aesthetically pleasing red color palette (which swaps out in later levels for a cool green or cold blue) that makes the levels feel otherworldly. That is pretty much the depth of the visual complexity of the game. Beyond the cool colors, you will more or less be running down straight, narrow hallways with the same assets liberally reused along the way.
Walking in a straight line isn’t fun, especially when there isn’t anything to see. The levels in S.E.C.U. feel barren, as if the developer either doesn’t know how to or doesn’t want to decorate or clutter them. I don’t know if this was a choice made out of ignorance, hoping to save memory, or what. Still, I know that the Unreal Engine can handle more significant, better-looking levels than what S.E.C.U. has to offer, and the game is designed to take advantage of a gorgeous landscape. If all you’re doing is walking down a straight line with nothing to see, then what’s in front of you, a strong visual representation, feels like a necessary but overlooked aspect after the core gameplay is finished, which, as we’ve discussed, S.E.C.U. more or less perfect.
It isn’t just the levels that are hard to look at but the singular enemy type that can make the game feel underwhelming. Where is the variety? If demons are the game’s target enemy, then there is SO MUCH you can do to vary up the enemy types and give us exciting, interesting, and even scary new foes to kill.
The game’s simplistic UI also makes me think that the developer didn’t have the same expertise in that area of game design and didn’t have the time to learn. The normal HUD (Heads-Up Display) is great, save for the glaringly simplistic health and stamina bar, but all of the menus to interact with objects and loot are jarringly basic and hard to look at. Also, as a bit of a nitpick, there is no visual indicator that the interaction key is working on an object. This leads to about 2 to 3 seconds of just standing there holding the E button before you know something is working.
S.E.C.U. has potential. It has already mastered the game’s hardest part to get right, which is the gameplay itself. To really capitalize on the standout title it could be, it needs a visual makeover: New UI, better level design with more interesting environments, more enemy variety, and boss fights that are more mechanically complicated than sprinting away and shooting an enemy from outside their melee range.
I hope to see the developer, who is clearly very talented, hone his skills in the more artistic side of game design, hire a team of equally talented creatives to give S.E.C.U. a huge and much-deserved update or blow us away with S.E.C.U. 2.
The Final Word
S.E.C.U. has a strong gameplay foundation and ticks off all mechanical boxes for a good FPS game. However, the game struggles from boring-level design, unexciting boss fights, a lack of enemy variety, and underwhelming visuals. With a good update focusing on these problems, S.E.C.U. can take advantage of its already strong mechanics to make a truly standout title.
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