Grasshopper Manufacture's Let It Die is either a pretty decent action game crippled by an egregious free-to-play/pay to win system and a catalog of quirks, or it's a pretty awful game that has some moments of brilliance and quite a few intriguing ideas. However you want to tip the scales, it's messy, weird, challenging, and fun, at least in the short term.
Although Suda51 isn't on record as the mastermind behind Let It Die -- he's listed as Executive Director -- the game is distinguished by the same off-kilter sense of humor and pop culture pastiches that characterized Grasshopper games such as Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw. Actually a game within a game, the player character is coached by Uncle Death and a handful of his buddies into assaulting a towering, monster-filled skyscraper in post-apocalyptic Tokyo.
The 40-level Tower of Barbs places the player's expandable home base at the bottom, and from there it's a steady climb up through floor after floor of human and monstrous enemies escalating in difficulty, if not always changing in design. Floors are connected by checkpoint-serving elevators, making it possible to take a break mid-climb to regroup and cash in credits and blueprints, craft and upgrade weapons and armor and stock up on consumables.
Let It Die features a huge number of ranged and melee weapons, and many of them are bizarre and brutally effective. None of them are terribly durable, though, so it's necessary to constantly swap between pieces of gear. Various species of mushrooms provide either buffs or damage, but an unfortunate UI design that places control over the mushrooms as a series of swipes on the PS4 controller's touch pad means that in the heat of combat, it's all too frustratingly easy to pick the wrong 'shroom.
Let It Die doesn't look super-polished, and its levels can become repetitious but it has a definite "Grasshopper Manufacture style" that helps make the game visually engaging. The voice acting is appropriately manic and the music is full of variety and growing menace.
Let It Die is a rogue like, but it softens the death blow through a couple of mechanisms, and here's where things start to get a little irksome. After dying, players can either buy an "insurance policy" with the game's "death metal" currency -- and pick up exactly where they died, with all equipment intact -- or they can start over at the bottom of the tower.
While players can farm and quest for death metal, a more expedient method is to pay real money, and the imbalance becomes an issue when the game's multiplayer systems are folded in. Players who have died exist in the world as ghost-like "haters" and will continue to fight enemies and players until killed. Additionally, players can send Hunters -- characters they have developed and leveled -- into the game world to raid other players of their loot and gear. The ability to circumvent the potential frustration or challenge of dying to other players or difficult enemies in the game through a cash exchange feels wildly unbalancing to the experience.
Let It Die's melee combat is vaguely reminiscent of a less precisely tuned Dark Souls game, but it's tactical, fun, and fast paced. The game only does a so-so job of explaining its many systems for questing, crafting and upgrading and players should have a pretty high tolerance for trial and error and sleuthing.
Coming at the end of a very impressive gaming year, Let It Die can't help but suffer in comparison to a whole bunch of other, more burnished titles. Still, the game's excellent action combat, weirdness, and variety of weapons give it just enough character to stand out and make it worthy of attention. The pay-to-win aspect is a bummer, and there is overall a sense of things being not quite solid, but anyone who's enjoyed other Grasshopper Manufacture games will enjoy this one as well.