Fear is a compelling emotion. We never want to be in a situation where we have a genuine need for it, yet at the same time, we are perpetually drawn to experiences that elicit it. One need only look at the enormous success of thriller and horror fiction to find evidence of the fact that fear is an inherently compelling emotion.
There's also an art form to balancing tone with regards to horror. Too many shocks and scares and your audience's adrenaline stays elevated, while not enough scares will leave many horror fans unsatisfied or even bored.
RIPOUT, the upcoming shooter from Serbian developer Pet Project Games and publisher 3D Realms, walks that line very nicely indeed. Drawing heavy inspiration from the likes of horror movie classics like Alien and The Thing, this co-op horror FPS offers a refreshing twist on the Left 4 Dead formula.
RIPOUT is set in 2084, after humanity has lost control of a genetically-engineered bioweapon called The Cell. This particular weapon can fuse with human technology, creating biomechanical nightmares, and by the start of the game, it has wiped out all but a few remnants of humanity. Your job is to gradually retake the dozens of derelict spacecraft left behind, with the help of your team and your trusty Pet Gun.
Pet Gun? What?
RIPOUT is a cooperative multiplayer shooter, similar to Left 4 Dead, however that basic comparison doesn't do the game justice. Where Left 4 Dead consists of premade levels and adrenaline-filled encounters with hordes of zombies, RIPOUT leans far more heavily into oppressive tension and creeping terror.
Levels are procedurally generated, so you never know what you're walking into, and monster encounters are far less frequent. When they do occur, it's often a hulking bullet sponge of metal and flesh that bursts out of a vent and starts lumbering towards you down a claustrophobic corridor.
Each procedurally generated level has a few objectives, like retrieving data from a computer terminal or obtaining power cells for your ship. Lighting is used to incredible effect, and you can never be sure what is lurking in the dark corner of a room. Occasionally you have to switch lights off in order to progress past some exposed wires, leaving you to rely on your torch, which significantly narrows your field of view to the torch beam.
As you move through the objectives of each level, you'll need to manage resources as well - ammo is scarce, and facing one of the bigger monsters becomes significantly more difficult when you're relegated to a sidearm or your melee weapon. You can also collect crafting ingredients along the way, which can be used to upgrade your gear on your ship in between missions. Thankfully, RIPOUT doesn't rely too heavily on these loot-shooter elements, so the game doesn't become a tedious grind for crafting parts.
The Pet Gun is probably one of the strangest elements of the in-game fiction. From what I can gather, your primary weapon has a living biomechanical attachment that you can use to partially disable your opponents, rip pieces off them, or collect new biomechanical entities that provide additional powers like a melee claw or a shoulder-mounted plasma gun. If you think that sounds odd, then you're in the same boat as I was. However, this little quirk of the fiction leads to some very interesting gameplay and is an element I predict will contribute to some interesting tactics in co-op.
"We're Not Gettin' Out Of Here Alive. But Neither Is That Thing."
RIPOUT wears its influences on its sleeve. The level design is heavily reminiscent of the retro-futuristic, industrial, deep-space isolation that permeates the Alien films (particularly the first one). The monsters that you'll face are a clear throwback to the classic 80s body horror film The Thing; tying it all together is a dash of sci-fi horror classic Event Horizon, along with videogame inspiration from Looking Glass Studios' System Shock and id Software's Doom 3.
Despite the very strong sci-fi horror influences, RIPOUT manages to feel unique and not at all derivative. Part of this is down to the game-defining Pet Gun, but there is enough artistic originality in the game to make it feel as though it stands on its own merits.
As I mentioned at the start of this pre-release review, RIPOUT masterfully balances tension and adrenaline. With limited resources and the ever-present threat of a nightmarish beast around any corner, you never feel completely at ease while exploring. And when that monster finally does appear, you're faced with a chaotic gun battle in the cramped corridors, watching your ammo tick rapidly toward zero. There is a satisfying and addictive ebb-and-flow to the gameplay that never leaves you in one state for too long.
The Pet Gun prevents firefights from devolving into a monotonous bullet-sponge affair, and the attachments that your friendly little beast has acquired can help alter the tactics you employ. They can stun enemies, offering a brief respite while you search for health or ammo, or get close enough to deliver a killing melee blow.
The monsters you face aren't static entities either - they can assimilate bits of biomechanical technology around the level, and you may suddenly find that the mountain of flesh in front of you has just acquired a shield or a projectile weapon. Of course, if your pet is ready, you can use it to rip those same bits of technology off.
While you can definitely play RIPOUT solo, you're likely to have a tough time. The larger enemies are bullet sponges, and as I've previously mentioned, ammo can be very scarce. For the solo players, I hope to see some tweaks to the scaled difficulty in the future. It's not a game-breaker though because co-op play is where RIPOUT really shines.
I was only able to experience one cooperative session, which was as simple as an in-game Steam invite, however, menu options seem to indicate some sort of matchmaking (either public or private) on release. Whether RIPOUT offers other forms of multiplayer (local area network, or split-screen for the eventual console release) remains to be seen. As a LAN party die-hard, I truly hope that Pet Project implements some sort of LAN option, as this is undoubtedly the sort of game that could shine in that sort of setting.
My time with multiplayer was limited, so while I thoroughly enjoyed what I experienced, I am somewhat remiss to make any immediate judgments. Without a doubt though, RIPOUT is promising. Missions are short and sweet, with a handful of goals, so you can certainly sneak in a few sessions here and there when you get some free time. The addition of a friend somewhat eases your ammunition burden, although scaling difficulty will likely throw a few more challenges at you. However, the real joy comes from the shared horror experience - watching your buddy jump as a monster bursts out of a vent.
"Game over, man! Game over!"
RIPOUT still has a way to go - during my time with the game, I encountered a handful of the standard sort of bugs one might expect from a pre-release game - falling through levels, a handful of crashes, and physics glitches. That said, I was very impressed with the overall performance - the game ran at pretty steady frames, and even when dropping the graphics options, it still looked good.
What RIPOUT needs now is time and feedback. Thankfully, a quick look at the developer's Discord left me brimming with confidence. Pet Project Games communicates regularly with the community, responds to questions and feedback often, and has released a steady stream of patches tweaking and adjusting the game in a direction that hints at great things to come.
If I had one thing to say about RIPOUT, it is that this game shows promise. The developers are certainly inspired and seem to have a clear vision of what they want the game to be. There is no doubt in my mind that, once RIPOUT hits its release date (due later this year), this has the potential to be the Next Big ThingTM in cooperative multiplayer. The modern games industry has given me plenty of reasons to be cynical over the years, but smaller studio games like RIPOUT continue to give me faith.
So, with that, I am willing to make a prediction: keep your eyes on this game, because RIPOUT is going to be a hit.
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