In Butcher for Xbox One, you play as a cyborg sent to wipe out the last remnants of humanity. This run-and-gun shooter features a retro pixel art style, lots of ways to kill victims, and persistent blood. But does it have anything going for it other than shock value?
It's a bad day to be a good guy
The name Butcher immediately brings to mind other violence-focused games like the much-reviled PC shooter Hatred and the more popular Hotline Miami. Butcher has a similarly dark premise: you play as a robot whose only goal is to exterminate humanity. Thankfully, the game uses a zoomed-out perspective with stylized pixel art to distance players from the grotesqueness of their mission.
The game begins with a minimalist introduction showing the player's ship docking in a space station. The station acts as a hub world, its portals leading to each of the game's five worlds and the final boss area. The hub concept is underutilized, as you can only visit each world in a linear order and there's nothing else to do on the station. Why even have a hub if the game is completely linear?
Each world contains four individual levels, all of which last about two-to-five minutes. Our antihero's primary objective is simply to reach the level exit, but he'll also have to kill plenty of humans along the way. Most fight back, but others simply run away in vain.
Butcher is a run-and-gun twin-stick shooter, so you can walk and aim independently. One trigger fires; the other jumps. The face buttons activate switches, toggle weapons, and perform a melee kick. I wish the buttons could be remapped, as I find jumping with the A button a lot more natural in games like this.
The deadly cyborg starts with only a shotgun and chainsaw, but over the course of the game he'll acquire weapons like an assault rifle, flamethrower, and grenade launcher. Everything but the chainsaw has limited ammunition, and some weapons work better against specific enemies than others. Ammo, health, and armor pickups spawn frequently, so keeping your guns stocked won't usually be a problem.
Your character can survive a decent amount of damage, but he only has one life with which to beat a level. Die and you start at the beginning of the level, which can be frustrating at times. Later levels step up the threat with instant kills from lava, sawblades, and other traps.
Every level has one or more collectible skulls to find. These seemingly serve no purpose other than contributing to a quartet of Achievements, but the game at least tells you how many are found in each level. The skulls are often visible at the periphery of an area with no obvious way to get there. This is actually a problem, because seeing an item but having no idea how to reach it gets old pretty fast.
Collectibles in games like Yooka-Laylee are fun to hunt down because they involve the basic skills you already use to play the game. Butcher's are just frustrating and feel unobtainable without help. Thankfully, there is a video guide out there for skull hunters.
The Xbox One version of Butcher features 25 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Besides the collectibles Achievements mentioned earlier, other tough Achievements involve completing speedruns on various difficulty settings and beating the game on Impossible difficulty. Earning all of Butcher's Gamerscore will involve some dedication (more than I feel it deserves) and occasional bouts of frustration.
Butcher's main selling point is its pixelated violence and gore. Blood from kills actually stays where it lands and will be visible on subsequent playthroughs, which is a cool touch. The premise is supposed to resemble classic shooters like Doom and Quake, but you play as a good guy in those games, not a bad one. Just being a remorseless killing machine (with no other explanation for your actions) might've appealed to my teenage self, but not so much nowadays.
Still, the actual gameplay is decently fun on lower difficulties. The main thing holding it back is the way-too-zoomed out camera. Everything is so tiny that it'd be difficult to see when sitting at living room distance. Developer Transhuman Design really should've added an option to zoom in the view.
- Lots of frantic shooting mayhem.
- Persistent blood stays in place across multiple playthroughs.
- Tiny graphics make everything hard to see.
- Collectibles are way too hard to get.
- Hub world is rendered moot by linear game design.
Butcher sells for $9.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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