Unfinished Business is NME’s new column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access Games. This week, Rick Lane stomps on puny humans in Giants Uprising.
Readers, I have a confession. I am a short man, and it sucks. I can’t reach stuff on high shelves, having to stand on a stool like some kind of circus animal. I get neckache when talking to my friends, all of whom tower over me like the engineers from Prometheus. Worst of all, whenever I get annoyed about something, I get accused of having “Small man syndrome”. Unexpected bill? Small man syndrome! Car accident? Lighten up, shorty! Dead relative? Geez, stop being so insecure, you stunted homunculus.
So I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be tall. To constantly bump my head off low ceilings. To have regular-sized men try to fight me all the time. To smash entire villages under my enormous feet, and wade through the blood of my enemies on an unstoppable rampage of destruction.
Giants Uprising mostly takes place outdoors, so I can’t rate it based on its ceiling simulation. But when it comes to biffing normies and relentless bloody vengeance, it does an admirable job. You assume the role of a giant named Rogbar, who exists in a dilapidated fantasy world where humanity has enslaved his race. Rogbar is destined to live out his remaining days fighting gladiatorial battles against his fellow kinsmen for the entertainment of the masses. That is, until a human tribesman named Kielbasa persuades him to break free of the arena and escape.
So begins a pacey and spectacular fantasy adventure in which the solution to every problem is to smash it into a pulp. As a giant, Rogbar’s abilities are simple but powerful. His basic punch can knock down a building, while his stomp and overhead smash abilities both trigger a shockwave that kicks up dust and obliterate anything in its path. Rogbar can also pick up and throw various items, chucking rocks at buildings and hurling tree-trunks like javelins.
These abilities are used to fight two primary enemy types. The first are the armies of your former masters, who swarm around your feet like angry mice, hacking at your toes and trying to pin you down with ropes. These puny humans generally do minimal damage, mainly there so you can enjoy decorating the environment with their tiny corpses. More dangerous are the other giants still in thrall to humanity. Their punches can knock big chunks off your health bar, so you need to be (slightly) more tactical, using blocks and dodges to avoid getting hit before whacking them on the jaw to send them toppling.
There are six levels in Giants‘ Early Access alpha, and they do a decent job of mixing up the game’s straightforward mechanics. The second level is a breathless escape from your prison, wherein you obliterate a village fete before running a gauntlet of cannonball-firing towers. Later levels see you causing rockslides to create ad-hoc bridges and using a giant boulder to smash through barricades. I like how environmental puzzles are always solved through some kind of destruction, it suits the game’s theme well. This is further complemented by the low fantasy vibe of Giants‘ world, which keeps the colourful medievalism to the fringes in favour of eerie woodlands and ramshackle villages, lending the game a more primordial atmosphere.
One thing that surprised me about Giants Uprising is how well its story is told. While falling short of your Mass Effects and your Witchers, the writing and voice acting are both decent. Your foul-mouthed human companion Kielbasa makes for an entertaining accomplice, and the game manages to establish a solid friendship between the two characters, impressive considering Rogbar only speaks in grunts. Meanwhile, the broader tale of Giants‘ fantasy world is told through evocative, illustrated cutscenes reminiscent of Thief: The Dark Project‘s mission briefings.
As a fantasy adventure, Giants Uprising has plenty of potential. However, the experience needs a big lick of polish to ascend from being a fun curiosity into a great game. The animations lack sharpness, while the deliberate slowness with which your giant moves is overdone, and makes the game feel sluggish more than it conveys Rogbar’s power. I also think the combat needs more nuance. Stamping on tiny humans was fun enough for a couple of hours, but I’m not sure how well it will hold up for a full-length experience. The game does sport an upgrade system, but currently it doesn’t show you it until the end of the Early Access content, which is an odd structural quirk.
Nonetheless, the slice of game that Giants Uprising currently offers was both entertaining and promising, and I’m keen to try the finished article. It also perfectly encapsulates what I imagined being tall was like, and it depresses me that I must now go back to a life of being able to see up other people’s noses.