Review: Fallen Angel

28 Oct 2020

Fast-paced action, pixel art, and religious undertones – there’s nothing about this concept I don’t love. Today we’re returning with a full-fledged review for Fallen Angel, which we covered in a preview last month, now that it’s been fully released.

A lot of the core first impressions were covered in the preview, but as a refresher, it’s a difficult hack-and-slash top-down action game developed by Matrioshka Games, out now for PC. It has many elements reminiscent of older games, while combining them with more modern design sensibilities. With our deeper dive into the title, let’s see how well it rides that line.

The End Times

Fallen Angel doesn’t give you a whole lot to go off of at the start. You’re Lucifer, and early on it becomes clear that you’ve rebelled against heaven, as one does. It doesn’t go into too much detail from here on out: Your motives for doing so aren’t explored in much depth, save for a desire for freedom, but the world itself makes up for it.

While what is explicitly stated isn’t much, there’s a lot done with the things unsaid. Between a few NPC comments here and there and the design of the world itself, it’s clear something has gone horribly wrong. Order has begun to break down, the various archangels you meet all have their own breed of insanity, and there’s this sense that everything is on the brink of collapse.

Speaking of the archangels, they’re where most of the writing comes in. Each one has their own unique area they inhabit and, between the style of their home and a bit of pre-fight banter, you can learn a lot about them. Now, they’re not the deepest of characters, but it is interesting to see such a variety of takes on how the enforcers of God’s will might react to this collapse.

It’s edgy and more than a little bit sacrilegious, but an entertaining romp nonetheless. Sadly I wasn’t able to see the secret ending which may have explained a fair bit more, but assuming I’m correct on what needs to be done, it’s quite the difficult endeavor. Which leads us into…

A Perilous Pilgrimage

Even in the full release, the difficulty is still a kick in the pants… at least at first. Past the initial struggles, the game evens out a bit as you unlock more options and become more used to combat in general.

Combat has a few components to it. You have a basic three hit combo, advanced melee commands such as launchers and AoE ground pounds unlocked through your skill tree, a dodge, and a heal that has a hefty windup to it and consumes a precious resource. While most of the basic combat feels like older games, the dodge roll and more importantly the ability to cancel any other action into a dodge feels very modern, and personally I really dig it. It keeps the veneer of being a classic game while having fast-paced action that encourages being aggressive and in the monster’s face.

Progress is gained in one of three ways. There are accessories that give passive benefits which can be randomly dropped or purchased once the shop is unlocked, there are a variety of guns you can find scattered throughout the world to grant new ranged options, and there are monoliths scattered throughout that allow you to earn new skills.

Two things I like about this setup. First, it highly encourages exploration. No amount of beating up protohumans in the initial area will give you anything more than the most basic of accessories. If you want new ways to hit things from a distance and spicier melee options you need to go out there and find them. The second thing I like is with the skill tree itself. While your first four options are fixed, beyond that you have more options to pick than you have slots, forcing you to make a choice and commit to a build. Usually this can be a frustrating endeavor, but by the time you’re unlocking your fifth ability you’ve likely figured out what sort of combat style you prefer and can pick skills accordingly. I personally used ranged weapons solely when closing the distance or as a last resort for a bit of burst damage, so I basically ignored the ranged buffs and went with abilities to increase melee damage and survivability.

Now, that all said, it’s not perfect. There’s not a whole lot of accessories or combo options, with every accessory (aside from a small handful of boss drops) accessible once the shop is, and most of the later skills being passive bonuses rather than new combat options. Really, outside of guns, it feels like the more interesting progression stops about halfway through the game. And unfortunately I didn’t find myself using the guns much due to what felt like some bugs with using them.

So, there’s a few bugs. Hopefully they’ll get fixed down the line, but for the time being they impacted my enjoyment of the game. First off was how my guns never seemed to really fire where I wanted them to. It felt like there was a bit of an auto-aim, which is nice when the enemy is to the right and a bit above me to make sure my little pellet hits them. But it felt like half the time my guns wanted to fire at something else, even if that something was behind a wall, or choosing a harmless bookcase over the roided up angel about to stomp me into a pasty smear.

The other major bug I encountered was occasionally, rather than do my melee combo, I would just do the initial hit over and over, which was annoying but not game-breaking. It didn’t interfere with the more advanced moves like my uppercut, and I was still able to beat things up with basic swings even if I didn’t get that juicy rapid thrust combo finisher.

Ancient Beauty

Fallen Angel really shows off that pixel art can be beautiful and detailed. As mentioned before, a lot of the storytelling is done through the environment. Broken war machines, once-great structures, and signs of decay all give a hint about what came before, and each area manages to look unique while keeping the important elements cohesive and easy to read.

The music and sound design is no slouch either. There’s some great tracks in here, and the combat sounds have a nostalgic low-bit edge to them. The one thing that does stick out though is the voice acting. It feels almost TOO crisp and clear in contrast to everything surrounding it, and just feels out of place. While I appreciate the effort, I can’t help but feel a lack of VA would have fit in better.

A Hell of a Time

While I wouldn’t list Fallen Angel as my game of the year, it’s definitely entertaining while it lasts. It’s hard to enough to be satisfying, has a fantastic variety of areas, and the combat is fast and snappy. There’s a few flaws here and there, namely in a few minor bugs and the combat stagnating partway through, but it’s definitely worth the asking price.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Matrioshka Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.