Review: Demon Skin
Discovering a new game can be such a gamble sometimes. Sure, you have tags and store page descriptions, but every publisher is putting their best foot forward and emphasizing their strengths while downplaying their weaknesses, stretching the truth just a little bit.
Or on occasion, stretching it a lot.
Today we’re looking at Demon Skin, developed by Ludus Future and out now for PC on Steam, with releases on PS4, Xbox One, and Switch coming later this year.
Fight the Darkness for the Artifact
In Demon Skin you play as one of the Order of Wanderers, people with superhuman divine strength that fend off the darkness. Witnessing a dark ritual being performed, you attempt to stop it only to get hit by a strange bolt and wind up turned into a demon. With only fragments of your memory intact, you embark on a quest to find the ancient artifact that will restore your form and mind, and save the world.
The premise is solid enough, but it really lacks in the presentation. For starters, there’s some poor translation, and the voice actors don’t sound like native speakers. The writing itself is often vague on details, and what little information we get is usually brought up with little context and then never expanded upon. This makes the plot twists that occur all the more frustrating as they either come out of nowhere with a flimsy justification or there’s no reason given for why this change should matter.
The ending sets things up for a sequel, but I can’t help but feel that if they wanted us to be excited for where the story would go from here, a LOT more effort should have been put into making us care about the story.
All Talk, No Game
The Steam store page for Demon Skin and the developer’s own website talk a big game, referring to the game as a brutal hack & slash in the same vein as Dark Souls. They say players can come up with their own unique tactics by combining stances and weapon choices, and promise an extensive skill tree. They promise a lot of things, but how do they deliver?
Ok, so first off, the Souls comparison. I’m starting to get suspicious whenever an indie game says this, because most of the time there’s little to no similarity and it just feels like a dishonest attempt to grab fans of the series, while the games that do feel similar often try to distinguish themselves on their own merit. For what it’s worth, Demon Skin has health and stamina and has a fantasy setting. The comparison ends about there.
It does attempt to do its own thing with the stances, and I’ll give them that. Essentially it boils down to a high, middle, and low block, where if you match what the opponent is doing and aren’t in the middle of an attack you’ll take no damage. Even this has its flaws, however. Attacking has three buttons for each of the stances, and your stance automatically shifts to the last attack you performed, but shifting outside of attacks for defense has you going up or down one stage at a time. This makes sitting in any stance outside of middle stance a poor choice, and makes the system boil down to “press up for high attacks, down for low, do nothing for middle, and choose any attack that doesn’t hit where the enemy has a white line.”
So, unique tactics…maybe I just didn’t discover the hidden depths to this combat system, but there really didn’t seem to be a lot of options. The stances appear to have no difference save for avoiding where the enemy is blocking, and while weapon type can matter, it boils down to “use sword or axe on fleshy things, use hammers on hard things.” It mentions a club weapon type to be the blunt variant on sword like hammer is the blunt variant of axe, but I never saw it. Given the lack of achievements for its finishers I’m guessing it was cut and nobody told the help text.
Weapons you find via chests or puzzles have either a special combo or a spell. The spell requires enough kills to charge it, though, so it’s too infrequent to be a part of your plan. The combo requires doing a specific set of three attacks first, all three need to happen to not be blocked, and it absolutely chews through stamina. On that note, stamina use is directly tied to attack power of weapons used, so even a quick swinging sword will chew through your stamina by endgame.
As for skill trees, there isn’t one. You get points you can allocate to either attack, health, or stamina, and that’s it. Oh, and one last gripe: The steam page mentions beating up enemies with your bare hands as a “less effective but fun” option, and as someone who frequently goes for fisticuffs this appealed to me… but you’ll always do one damage no matter how many attack upgrades you have and some things in the game break if you try using your fists.
Is this a good time to mention I had at least three game breaking bugs involving a post-boss sequence not playing properly and thus not unlocking the way forward?
Seen this Duck Before
What is there to even say here. Demon Skin looks like every other 3D-modeled fantasy game with realistic graphics on a cheap budget. I’ve seen these bricks a million times, that ice looks awfully familiar, the skeletons are old hat, and even the things that are unique don’t feel particularly inspired. Oh look, it’s a gray-skinned person with glowing blue stuff, incidental NPCs so cloaked in mystery they feel like every rogue I’ve met, and yet another evil lady in a dominatrix outfit. Spare me.
The sound isn’t much better. There’s little in the way of music outside of drums you swiftly tune out and plenty of stock sound effects, but here at least I have something of a mystery. Something so weird and bizarre it couldn’t help but drag me away from any immersion the game possibly could have had.
So, whenever I get an achievement (and there’s oodles of them especially for story progress or getting specific finishers) it plays a sound effect in case you missed the Steam notification. It really wants you to know you get this achievement. And this sound is… a duck quack. One of the achievements even appears to lampshade it, saying it’s for “Entering the Duck Forest.” It’s called the Summer Forest in-game, but details. Everything else feels like it wants me to take it seriously, but with this… I just can’t.
A Start, Nothing More
Demon Skin definitely needed a lot more work. It’s a buggy mess and a number of features mentioned in the help section or announcement trailers are just straight up missing. At its core, it has a plot they seem to be trying to do something original with, and a combat system that makes blocking more engaging. They could have done so much more, but at the end of the day I cannot recommend getting this.
Review copy provided by Buka Entertainment for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.