V.A Proxy is a Nier Automata-like that’s on a mission to parry everything, and now it has a demo

A good parry mechanic is a kind of redemption. Where blocking – aka holding a button to avoid damage – is a concession to the tedious attritional undertow of many action games, parrying – aka pressing a button on cue to cancel damage and often, prep a counter – is the act of cutting through the bullshit. It passively reduces any and all visual and thematic overwhelm the game would have you experience to a question of timing.

In the face of a good parry mechanic, the grandest of bosses are equivalent to rank-and-file mobs. You’re a monster the size of a building? You’re the demonic manifestation of a protagonist’s mother issues? You’re capitalism incarnate? You’re wielding eight chainsaws at once? Ehhh. I’m not just going to survive your onslaught. I’m going to dismiss it. All of it: your absurd DPS, your multiple elemental modifiers, your screen-blanketing special effects, your overcooked core concept, the very laws of physics – poof, gone, as though they had never been. Blocking is akin to maintaining a poker face while you’re being harangued by your boss over Zoom. Parrying is politely pointing out that your boss has left his camera on, and that he should probably wear trousers when he’s at work. It is “nope” said so quietly that it shuts everything else up.

I’m terrible at parrying but as the above hopefully suggests, I absolutely love it – and so does V.A Proxy, a curious mixture of Nier Automata and The Signal from Tölva, which has a Steam demo out this week. The game has found fame on social media by means of gifs of the robot protagonist deflecting hazards of increasing scale. At the lower end, you can parry balls of energy and the lashing tails of giant metal scorpions, restoring a little health in the process. At the higher end, you can parry nuclear blasts, projecting a corridor through the wave of atomic fire like Moses parting the Red Sea, except that Moses didn’t have to wait for God’s telltale audio cue.

Perhaps predictably, the demo’s combat isn’t quite as majestic as the gifs suggest. The controls are a touch fidgety, especially when it comes to making the transition from a jump to a glide, which is not helpful in a game with instakill water hazards (thankfully, these appear to be infrequent). The lock-on is a bit impetuous, yanking you towards off-screen enemies. The animations don’t communicate the combo timing as well as they could.

The parry, however, is immediately addictive with a generous input window, and the combat system as a whole has the makings of greatness, though it’s sorely in need of a proper tutorial. It threads together flips and slides, ground pounds and feints in a way that has me itching to go toe-to-toe with other, sword-wielding humanoids down the road. As any Platinum or FromSoftware player knows, the greatest opponents in a game like this are generally the same size as the player.

A screenshot from the V.A Proxy demo, showing an aerial view of a post-apocalyptic world with a flying robot bird in the centre

A screenshot from the V.A Proxy demo, showing the main robot character fighting with a huge robot bird

Image credit: Pyrolith

V.A Proxy’s other major hook is its environment. Following a mysterious offscreen conversation, you wake up in a scrap pile, having been restored by a flying drone who subsequently becomes your ranged sidekick, doling out scratch damage while you dart and dive. You clamber out of the pit and find yourself in a rusty, flaking and desaturated wilderness of pipes, reactors and skyscrapers, viewed through curtains of interference.

There’s a massive orange eye in the distance, peeking around a mountain. Nearer at hand, you see groups of creatures, including mechanical antelopes, insects and enormous crows, who appear to have predator-prey relationships – a touch of “living, breathing world” that calls to mind Guerrilla’s Horizon games. It’d make a fine setting for a walking simulator, and the game does give you plenty of opportunity to stop and stare.

V.A Proxy doesn’t have a release date yet, and I’m hoping it’s a long way off, because this feels like it could be quite special if given enough time to marinate. If you also enjoyed the demo, developer Pyrolith has a Patreon.

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