An ARPG That Misses The Point of ARPG's
Johnny Graves - The Unchosen One is an early access title by developer Stupid Stupid Games. It’s an ARPG that's a bit light on both action and role-playing.
In Johnny Graves, I play as the titular character while he fights to fend off hell-demons from a 1979 era New York. In the early build of the game I am testing, the story starts off in a subway tunnel seconds after my train was run off the tracks by said monsters.
Trusty magic revolver by my side, I quickly memorized the controls before heading out into the level. However, the mechanics and design choices as I progressed through the game were far scarier than the any of the monsters I was encountering.
For starters, the combat in this game is not easy. That’s fine, I like a challenge. The developers even state that the game is made to be hard. What isn’t fine is that Johnny Graves’ difficulty doesn’t come from a challenging and smart a.i. with mechanics that I must slowly learn and eventually master. Instead, it comes from swarming enemies that I have no way of fending off, poorly designed top-down camera angles, and boss fights that drag on far too long without any forms of recovery to cushion them.
Combat is Difficult for the Wrong Reasons
In order to damage enemies, I have to make sure my cursor is directly on them when firing. Johnny can’t move when firing, leaving me open to attack. This is a great mechanic that I would normally recommend the game stick with, however, it likes to take advantage of that handicap a bit too much.
Take the first boss fight for example. It starts off as a simple encounter designed to ease you into fighting tough enemies. The boss then begins to summon demonic dogs. These dogs are quick to dispose of, but the boss gets into the bottom half of the screen. Due to the unmovable top down camera, I am at a severe disadvantage. The UI blocks the bottom of the screen. By the time I can see an enemy coming at me, they are already in my face and I’m taking damage. All of the enemies move faster than me and eventually overwhelm.
This would all be balanced out with some sort of melee attack that pushes them back for a second, or even a quick dodge. Instead, the dodge I get now has a long cool down. Too long to justify how short the distance is as well as how quickly the enemies catch up to me.
Johnny Graves' boss fights are long and have no recovery items. Dying and knowing I have to endure that entire fight over again is a big blow to morale. There is also the strange omission of a mini-map or any form of letting me know where I am going. The levels are not too complex, but there are multiple paths that lead to dead-ends and such, or even ones that don’t look like the right way to go. Any form of direction would greatly benefit Johnny Graves.
Issues Add Up to More Than a Lack of Polish
There is a story to the game. It is similar to Devil May Cry in that there are two demon brothers. One uses his powers for good, and the other for bad. The dialogue is passable, yet very expository.
It’s strange to me that Johnny Graves is an ARPG. There is no stat or loot system, and the skills system is about as barebones as can be. My health bar never rises. My special attacks stay the same, and my gun hasn’t changed a bit since I started playing. I want to say a lot of these issues are just because the game is in Early Access, but according to the Steam page, this is 70% of the finished game. The full release is very soon, and I can’t imagine this game being very different in whenever that is. The issues at hand are far more than just a lack of polish.
Game length is also in question. I finished the content of the demo within 45 minutes on my first play-through. There was then an update with some new content. I played through again and it only took fifteen minutes longer than the first time due to the new level.
The experience isn’t all bad, though. Johnny Graves’ levels have a nice sheen to them, and the objects and textures are charming and fit well with the universe that Stupid Stupid Games is portraying. It’s just a shame that exploring those levels is more struggle than fun.
A Prime Example of a Title that Needs More Time
Johnny Graves - The Unchosen One is a great example of a game that needs another year or two in the oven. There is a decent foundation here, but none of the gameplay is particularly stand-out. Nothing in Johnny Graves is done better than other games in its genre, and I have a hard time imagining any of that will change come full release.