Die After Sunset works. Not in the poetic way that others talk about games when they credit ingenious game systems with the simple but potent, “it just works”. When I say that Die After Sunset works, I mean that it has reached possibly the bare minimum of its goal at its launch. What we have is a third-person action shooter with rogue-like structure and pacing similar to genre leader Risk of Rain 2. The cycle of gameplay has you looting and shooting around a brightly stylized map to look for ways to get stronger before a roughly 7-minute timer goes off and calls you to the boss arena. After this, you can proceed to a new area and start again.
This is functional, and when I’m done with a run I actually look back fondly at the experience I just had. Unfortunately, the moment-to-moment gameplay is not as exciting as the game sounds on paper. The main enemy mechanic featured in Die After Sunset is the ability for enemy creatures to get stronger when they are in the shade. Their appearance changes, but other than that there isn’t a lot of noticeable difference between the enemies whether they are in the shade or the sun. I’m sure that they are hitting harder in the shade, however when you are being attacked by more than 4 creatures you start to lose focus on where that damage is coming from. The one time that I thought this mechanic was cool was when I received an item that let me turn stronger in the shade and I was the one becoming more conscious as to my positioning during fights.
The weapon combat is fast and fun. The guns are responsive and snappy, each new gun feels different from the last and there really wasn’t one that I hated using, I could pick up anything off the ground and have a good time mowing down alien critters. The most disappointing part of this system is how the actual enemies respond to gunfire. The enemy animations are very basic and this makes every kill feel more like you’re shooting targets rather than an actual opponent. The exceptions to this are the bosses which all feel incredibly designed and responsive, and these big bads also give the player more to think about when looting. Each boss quickly becomes the star of the game once they are revealed.
Some noticeable cosmetic bugs are distracting, with occasional environment pop-in and item visibility being one of the biggest problems. Another bug has weapons being held incorrectly, or that are altogether invisible once your character picks them up. Note that if a pistol is invisible it takes a few minutes to notice since most of the time your character is blocking it from the view of the camera. Once you see it you definitely can’t unsee it though. Frequently, machine guns would be held sticking out at a right angle. While it's a little weird to get used to, it actually gets kind of funny later on. None of these bugs make the game unplayable, and I’d say that if you have a strong stomach for seeing glitches like this, they matter very little.
The game features a lot of unlocks that carry over from run to run. At first, if you are having trouble defeating a single boss the progression through this is very slow. After you are able to make it past multiple levels at a time it starts feeling a lot more natural though so it’s just something to tough out if you are having trouble with the first area.
The actual collecting of items feels chaotic until you are familiar with what each item does. The game appears visually like Fortnite, and the looting will feel very similar as you go to bright yellow chests looking for other bright primary-colored gear. I like seeing the Battle Royale style of looting used in new genres and I think this is actually very fun when the time limit is introduced. It adds a challenge to your normal rogue-like in which looting and decision-making must be done quickly and you feel rewarded for learning item utilities.
The main way that you progress your character is through missions. These can be a bit frustrating at first because I don’t think they are explained well enough. If a tutorial screen was displayed whenever you entered a new mission for the first time I would have had a much better impression of this system. Once you learn what you need to do for each mission it actually becomes fun to try to complete as many of these as possible. On one of my better runs when I was running away with the damage upgrades and getting progressively stronger, these improvements made my character able to one-shot most enemies, which feels really good in this style of game.
Die After Sunset is not what I would recommend to the average consumer of rogue-likes. However, this is a game for children, built to resemble a popular game that they probably love. They even call their guns “toys” on occasion, which I find problematic but that’s another day's discussion. I could see this game becoming worth picking up with some more work done to polish it, but for now, I would suggest leaving this on a wish list and hope that eventually, we see this project get fully realized.
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