‘Severed Steel’ review: slow-mo headshots never felt so satisfying

Hardcore parkour with guns

Feeling like a badass is a power fantasy that many of us like to indulge in when playing video games, and last year’s Severed Steel delivered in spades. Now, this slick, chaotic FPS has made its way to consoles and it’s short but sweet on the PS5.

Taking inspiration from the likes of Superhot and Ghostrunner, Severed Steel sees you clear multiple levels of enemies at an extremely fast pace alongside a thumping soundtrack, with the titular Steel, a woman with one arm, only able to withstand a few hits before dying. the key weapon in your arsenal is the ability to slow down time as you rack up kills with a variety of weapons. That and the game’s parkour, which will see you chaining together moves to stay mobile.

Movement is a key focus during the game, and it does take a few levels to get to grips with. While similar games of this type also place a strong emphasis on mobility, Severed Steel takes it up a gear by making it the key method of preventing immediate death. Wall runs, slides and dives are the most effective ways to get around, and bullets can’t hit you while performing these moves. The fast pace does take a little getting used to, but combining parkour with headshots is immensely satisfying when it all clicks, as is leaping into a dive after finishing a slide, continuing your momentum.

Severed Steel. Credit: Greylock Studio.
Severed Steel. Credit: Greylock Studio.

Slowing down time also aids you in the ability to pull off these chained moves, with a hold of L2 enabling you to line up a tricky shot, or perform a somersault over an unsuspecting enemy before shooting him in the back of the head. It also allows you a welcome breather from the chaos to assess the situation, and choose the next direction to sprint in. It is too easy to rely on this though, as while the slow-motion mechanic is tied to a cooldown meter, you can use it continuously for far too long, reducing the element of danger. Higher difficulties do balance this a little better, not allowing the killing of enemies to replenish the meter.

Weapons feel satisfying to use, and there are a variety to pick up throughout the game. Even small pistols pack a punch, and some of the heavier guns are capable of blowing enemies apart in a visceral display of voxel violence. Sadly this isn’t translated through the PS5’s DualSense controller though, with no haptic feedback or adaptive trigger support. Providing you aren’t already carrying one, the protagonist picks up new guns automatically when you run over them, and steals sidearms from enemies’ holsters if you parkour your way close to one empty-handed, a neat addition.

Severed Steel. Credit: Greylock Studio.
Severed Steel. Credit: Greylock Studio.

Around halfway through Severed Steel, Steel acquires an arm cannon replacing her lost limb, used primarily to blast holes in walls to access different rooms and groups of enemies far quicker than before. It adds another element to proceedings and takes advantage of the destructible environments found in the game, aiding traversal as well as exposing hidden enemies.

The result of getting to grips with the abilities at your disposal is a feeling of immense power, but the levels themselves still help provide something new to adapt to, especially later in the game. Level design overall is excellent, with each one giving you a playground to parkour your way around, complete with small openings to slide under and windows to leap through while avoiding gunfire. Notable locations include a train, office building and even a hedge maze, with later levels focusing on more expansive arenas filled with enemies. For the large amount of enemies and locations seen in the game though, there is only one real boss fight, a missed opportunity to further test the skills of the player.

Severed Steel. Credit: Greylock Studio.
Severed Steel. Credit: Greylock Studio.

With such a focus on level design and the various mechanics aimed in giving the player a fulfilling experience, it is perhaps no surprise that the story is lacking. Finishing each of the six chapters results in a series of stylised cutscenes playing, but they are extremely vague and can be easily ignored. Games of this type rightly play to their strengths and prioritise the moment-to-moment action, but a little more story here could better tie together the large number of disconnected levels.

One of Severed Steel’s biggest positives is its simplicity, particularly through its visual presentation. The heavy use of neon can be overwhelming at first despite a limited colour palette, though the minimalistic voxel art style gives the game a smoothness that helps you adjust quickly. Visual cues are also executed extremely well. Neon lines appear in front of you as you wall run, indicating that you are indeed attached to a surface, while blinking lights on each weapon glow blue when you have full ammo, and yellow as that ammo is gradually depleted. Ammo amounts and your slow-motion cooldown bar are also smartly located around your aiming reticule, minimising the need to look around the screen for such information. Superhot-style text appears on screen at the start of each level, briefing you on the mission in just a few words. Words also flash up on-screen when you get a headshot or triple kill, while a pop sound that occurs when killing an enemy represents a satisfying audio cue.

The main campaign is disappointingly short, lasting around 4 hours, but there are reasons to play beyond the credits. New Game + is present, as well as Firefight mode, a compelling challenge mode where you can select a weapon, arm cannon loadout and various mutators that enhance the experience and affect your score multiplier. You unlock more of each of these as you progress through each stage, increasing your level with your score. There are also five difficulty settings and extensive accessibility options including full remapping of the Dualsense controller, as well as various toggles to make the game both easier and more difficult. These settings offer ways to change your experience if you want to replay the game again, also helping to offset the short length. It is also worth noting that performance on PS5 is strong, and I experienced no frame drops or glitches during my playthrough. Severed Steel might not be a long game and it has its problems, but it is ultimately a tightly focused and extremely satisfying experience.

Severed Steel is out now for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. This review was played on PS5.

The Verdict

Despite a disappointingly short length and lack of story, Severed Steel excels in how it actually feels to play. When it clicks, it becomes a zen-like dance, a series of playgrounds full of deeply rewarding kills and Matrix-inspired acrobatics. The levels themselves are varied enough to keep things interesting, and the game moves at an impressively fast pace. The lack of bosses could be seen as a missed opportunity, but the game still has much to offer. Severed Steel is a cathartic experience that thoroughly delivers in what it sets out to accomplish – making you feel badass.

Pros

  • Deeply rewarding parkour and shooting mechanics
  • Superb level design
  • Aesthetically clean, with smart visual cues
  • Extensive accessibility options

Cons

  • Lack of story
  • Short campaign length
  • Only one boss
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