‘Turbo Overkill’ is a wickedly stylish cyberpunk shooter

Two words: chainsaw leg

Unfinished Business is NME’s weekly column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access games. This week, Rick Lane takes a chainsaw to Paradise in cyberpunk shooter Turbo Overkill.

Any game that puts a chainsaw in its protagonist’s leg already has my attention, but it wasn’t until I picked up the arm-embedded micro-missiles that I knew Turbo Overkill was legit. Once you’ve grabbed these delicious bomb-babies, holding down middle-mouse button during a fight will see you can lock-on to nearby enemies before unleashing a barrage of tiny explosives that’ll turn your foes into dog food.

If you’ve played Doom Eternal, you’ll already be familiar with the delights of cluster rockets, and this isn’t the only thing Turbo Overkill borrows from id‘s beautifully revitalised shooter. Indeed, Turbo Overkill is well-versed in recent FPS developments, casting its cyborg eye across the genre and identifying all the best bits for glorious assimilation.

You’re Johnny Overkill, a cybernetically-enhanced mercenary tasked with travelling to the city of Paradise and cleansing it of Syn, a megalomaniacal computer virus whose personality can be summed up as “What if SHODAN was a giant eye?” This is all the setup Turbo Overkill needs to thrust you into vast, neon-drenched levels crawling with creepy cyborg foes driven to frenzy by Syn’s corrupted code.

Turbo Overkill. Credit: Trigger Happy Interactive.
Turbo Overkill. Credit: Trigger Happy Interactive.

Paradise is a pastiche of cyberpunk cityscapes, a maze of glittering skyscrapers and glowing billboards erected upon deeply rotten foundations. While it lacks the rich worldbuilding and outright weirdness of the criminally underrated G-String, it makes up for this in how it balances coherent geometry with the arena-like design of classic nineties shooters. Its locations are always identifiable as streets, subways, etc, but this never limits the potential for speedy movement and ridiculous acrobatics.

And Turbo Overkill‘s acrobatics are, indeed, ridiculous. From the off, Johnny is equipped with a double-jump, a double-dash, and a Bulletstorm-like slide that automatically deploys his chainsaw-leg to shred enemies that get in the way. Later on, you’ll unlock more advanced techniques like wall-running and a grappling hook, making it one of the most comprehensive FPS movesets around. With the exception of the wall-running, which still needs refinement to make transitions feel smooth, everything flows together well.

The game encourages you to take advantage of this extensive manoeuvrability. Not only is your chainsaw-slide an effective way of killing enemies without consuming ammo, some opponents can only be killed in specific ways. Drones, for example, can only be destroyed by blasting the brain poking out of their chassis (a slight design flaw) which often requires you to shoot them while in mid-air.

Turbo Overkill
(Credit: Apogee Entertainment)

Turbo Overkill clearly wants players to be as a creative as possible in their killing-sprees. This extends to the game’s arsenal. Your starting weapons are a pair of dual-pistols that have a lock-on alt-fire that can mince multiple enemies at once, while the next-weapon, an energy-shotgun, can pump multiple shells into the chamber to unleash an explosive electrical charge. Even the more conventional weapons are designed with pleasing little touches, such as how the chaingun’s bullet-belt runs through Johnny’s free hand as it fires.

It’s details like this that help lend Turbo Overkill a personality of its own. It could so easily feel like a hodgepodge of different influences. A little Doom here, a touch of Titanfall there. But the cyberpunk setting, alongside the smartly judged tone of the game – cool without being crass – help distinguish it from its various inspirations. Turbo Overkill also strikes the right balance between its retro and modern halves, taking the appropriate lessons from the past without feeling obligated to mimic it for the sake of purity. Like Doom Eternal, it uses classic elements to create something that feels fresh and exciting, a springboard for its own ideas about what a good FPS should do.

That said, there are a couple of issues that need addressing. While I love the imaginative weapon design, many weapons currently feel underpowered. The audio effects are quite tinny, which isn’t too much of an issue for the energy-based weapons. But the chaingun should have a drone like a B-52 bomber, and without that it feels underwhelming to fire. In general the audio design is very good – particularly the soundtrack, whose blend of synth and metal perfectly embodies the game’s technological dystopia.

Turbo Overkill. Credit: Trigger Happy Interactive.
Turbo Overkill. Credit: Trigger Happy Interactive.

My other issue is Turbo Overkill‘s poor implementation of checkpoint saves. The game will only save once every two or three encounters, which simply isn’t sufficient given how quickly or unexpectedly the game can kill you. It’s not that the game is especially hard, its interpretation of ‘normal’ difficult is about right. But when you do die, it tends to happen suddenly, and having to plod through fights you’ve already passed just to get to the one you’re struggling with is an unnecessary frustration.

These issues aside, Turbo Overkill makes an impressive Early Access splash. Jumping in now will give you access to the first of a planned three episodes, which will take you around five hours to complete. If you’re an FPS fan, there’s probably enough here to make Turbo Overkill worth your while, and if the second and third episodes can match the quality of the first, then developer Trigger Happy Interactive could have a minor masterpiece on its hands.

Turbo Overkill launches in Early Access on April 22 and will be available on PC, with console editions planned to arrive at a later date. 

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