Let it Thrive
HIGH Evolving from a ridiculously weak fighter into a nightmarish harbinger of death.
LOW Grinding for drops to improve equipment can be pretty nasty at times.
WTF Let it Die — a free-to-play title — launched without monetization.
Free-to-play titles have a certain stigma associated with them, and it’s generally well-deserved — they tend to be low-quality productions offering little value, yet often have obnoxious microtransactions hardwired into them, continually grasping at the wallets of anyone unfortunate enough to become even remotely interested. Thankfully Let it Die, Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest release (and exclusive to the PS4) doesn’t just buck that trend, it marches it outside and curbstomps it into another dimension. This is free-to-play done right, done generously, and done pretty bloody well.
There’s not much of a story to Let it Die, but what’s here is cool. After a catastrophe wipes out a decent chunk of humanity, a massive structure known as the Tower of Barbs is formed somewhere in Tokyo. Legend has it that making it to the top floor will lead to good things, so everyone sets off to climb it while violently murdering the competition with anything that comes to hand — whether dropped from their foes, found in a trash pile, or made by the local weaponsmith.
The player’s guide through this mayhem is the irrepressible Uncle Death. He’s a bit unhinged, but still keeps a cheerful attitude when carting corpses around and respectfully addresses the player as ‘Senpai’ every chance he gets. He’s also fond of loudly cheering whenever someone’s viciously dismembered with a hockey stick. He’s great.
As for how Let it Die plays, it’s sort of roguelike in execution because the layout of the Tower isn’t constant. Rooms and corridors shift around, and entire sections of floors may be unavailable at times. Furthermore, death in the Tower of Barbs isn’t pretty. Not because someone might decide to use an invader’s head as a nailgun’s pincushion (though that may happen in one of beautifully gory ‘goretastic’ executions) but because having a fighter die before returning to home base means that they’ll lose all their equipment unless a hefty rescue fee is paid.
It is possible to leave these fighters behind, mind. Doing so turns abandoned characters into ‘Haters’ — psychotic versions of their past selves, and they’ll try to murder anything in sight. Climbing back to the point of death with a new fighter and killing the Hater will restore them as a playable character, but forfeits their belongings at the time of death.
Early on, the available gear tends to be improvised, with characters relying on implements like hammers and hand saws to do their dirty work. As the game progresses, more standard types of weaponry such as machine guns, swords and combat knives come into play. Then things go a little strange when magical wands and baseball pitching machines suddenly become a thing. It’s a Grasshopper Manufacture game all right, so it’s best just to roll with it.
Despite the sometimes-goofy nature of the gear, Let It Die can be downright terrifying at times. It’s not possible to return to the player’s safe zone at will, so the decision between pushing onwards in hopes of an elevator back down or retracing steps back through zones that respawn enemies is unexpectedly harrowing, and brings to mind a similar sort of fight-or-flight tension found in From Software’s seminal Souls series.
It’s certainly worth getting back to base alive though — any retrieved blueprints can be handed in to a weaponsmith to create more powerful and sturdier weapons. Money earned can be spent on decals that provide passive bonuses like extra health, improved critical hit chances, or exotic benefits like being healed by poison attacks instead of being damaged by them. There’s also a place to store scavenged items for future runs. Socking away things like healing items are a benefit for later attempts, and valuable Mushrooms are critical, as their bonuses can often be gamechangers in tough situations — Guardshrooms make players temporarily invincible, for example.
Aside from the Tower of Barbs itself, there’s an ever-present online component where players can raid another’s base to accrue money. It’s also possible to build a small army of reserve characters that can be used to defend one’s own supplies from being stolen. These extra hands can also be sent to attack other players in the tower and retrieve items from particular floors. The game’s online systems are enjoyable, although the regional ‘clan’ feature needs some work. With seemingly no limit on how many players can join a particular region, there’s no point joining anywhere other than California at the moment — they steamroll all opposition on numbers alone.
So given that Let it Die is free-to-play, how are GungHo monetizing it? Right now, fairly bizarrely — it’s entirely possible to play through the whole game and not pay a penny. The only challenge in going cash-free is that some occasional grinding for items might be called for when the difficulty spikes on a particularly nasty boss or two. The developers have also been shelling out login bonuses like crazy, and good ones too. I’m half convinced they’re actually a bunch of secretive philanthropists simply trying to push great games into our hands at no additional cost.
For those willing to pay, they can continue immediately after a death by shelling out a ‘Death Metal’, and there’s a premium express service which makes elevator and train rides free of charge. I’d have bought this one in a heartbeat but it wasn’t available for purchase at the time this review was written. It was still absent weeks after release, even after I’d reached the top of the Tower and put around 200 hours into the game. That’s insane, GungHo.
While spending time with Uncle Death is generally rosy, the biggest issue with Let it Die is that the postgame in its current state kinda sucks. Basically, it consists of repeating runs on certain floors or against specific bosses in the hopes of getting rare drops, and the drop rates are not what I’d call kind. Rerunning the same floors a couple of hundred times for a pitifully small upgrade isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, so hopefully Grasshopper can get some meaningful additional postgame content out there before too long.
I’m not going to mince words here. Let it Die is pretty damn great, and easily one of my most favorite games in recent memory. It’s not for everyone, of course… it requires effort, patience and active engagement to get the most out of it, and it isn’t designed to impress anyone who needs the shiny graphics or lavishly-produced cutscenes found in so many ho-hum triple-A offerings. This isn’t slick, soulless and focus-tested into insensibility. Let It Die is rough and engaging on a primal level, and intensely refreshing as a result. It’s also a shining example of a free-to-play title that doesn’t make lecherous moves on anyone’s wallet every five minutes. This game is less about paying to win, and more about playing to win.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by GungHo Online Entertainment. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via free download and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 200 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Be aware that the game is required to be constantly online, and that multiplayer interactions are always enabled.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Nudity, Strong Language and Use of Drugs. I’m assuming that munching down mushrooms and experiencing weird side effects is the drug part of that, and exploding someone’s face with a baseball part during an awesome execution move is probably the violence bit. Not sure where the nudity comes in though. Players starting in their underwear’s about as far as it’s gone in over 200 hours.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There will be some problems for deaf players during this game — while all dialogue is subtitled, hidden enemies are often signaled only by audio cues without visual representation, and the toughest enemies in the game (also without visual cues) can easily one-shot newer characters.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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