Aging warriors share a chronic problem: they can't escape their past. Take Redeemer's Vasily, for example, a 20-year resident of a deeply secluded monastery. Once a prolific mercenary, Vasily slipped out of his company after seeing them turn his brother into a cybernetic lunatic. So have they finally found him? Are they going to ruthlessly invade the monastery and force him back into a life of killing? I'll give you a hint: this is a violent brawler-shooter.
Yes, developer Sobaka Studio hardly breaks new ground with Redeemer's premise, but then again, that's not the selling point here. Instead, this game is all about having fun with a robust and brutal combat system and making your way through endless corridors of enemies. Even here, however, problems quickly emerge, and long before you've reached that final showdown, you'll realize that the basic plot is the only thing that remains interesting.
No matter what it throws at you later on, Redeemer demonstrates a solid foundation in its opening act. You can pull off several combos of punches, kicks, counters, and dodge rolls, all of which feel perfectly timed and complement each other nicely. This system also fits right in with Vasily's character- you really do feel like a no-nonsense badass who just wants some peace and quiet. And be sure to use a gamepad; vibration adds a lot of payoff.
Also commendable in these early hours is the pacing. You start among the tranquil gardens of the monastery, with sparsely-armed grunts running up to you in small waves. As you learn to charge your attacks, pick up melee weapons, and disarm opponents, armored baddies teach you the importance of dodging. This combat system comes together to the tune of an excellent library of grunts, cracks, and splatters. Don't feel too bad for these guys, though. The ancient floors are densely littered with the bodies of monks they've heartlessly slaughtered in their effort to find you. It's compelling stuff, constituting the best this game has to offer.
Unfortunately, Redeemer's expertise dissipates shortly after Vasily is brought into the cold hallways of the cybernetic bioweapons corporation. At first, things seem promising as ever. Disgusting monsters hobble around, ready to attack you in animalistic droves. Some of these will lunge at you, forcing you to dodge often. Others rely on giant claws, thus requiring a weapon in order to be dispatched. Others still will explode when they've taken enough damage. But then something happens. Redeemer's entire design philosophy changes in an instant, from care and consideration for the player to just throwing everything at the wall. The remainder of the game consists entirely of rooms full of too many enemies in too tight a space. As a player, I went from chaining together varied and satisfying combos, to just dodging constantly and trying to land a stray hit before something kills me from offscreen.
So okay, Redeemer is hard, but that's not exactly the problem. The problem is that it isn't fair. Through its giant hordes of enemies, it becomes difficult to see when your melee weapon has broken, or when a mutant is preparing a lunge. Checkpoints leave you without the weapons you had, encouraging you to restart entire chapters. And again, if you stop dodging for even a moment to go on the offensive, you risk instant death. This means that fights drag on for far too long, and because something is always charging some kind of attack, the actual timing of your dodges is irrelevant. Just keep doing it! Let's be clear: there are still moments when you get to play this as an actual complex brawler. However, Redeemer perfectly exemplifies the extent to which poor enemy placement can undermine a well-done combat system.
If there's one thing that stays consistent throughout, for better or worse, it's the visual quality. Redeemer's geometry is lush and well-constructed, without a texture or polygon looking out of place. However, it's also needlessly blurry, as if the screen were covered in petroleum jelly. No change in the settings can alleviate this, nor can it entirely eliminate the slowdown issues ushered by the busier areas. I was also somewhat disappointed by the lack of any visible damage on the enemies' bodies. The soundtrack here is nothing special, typically standing in the shadow of last year's Doom, but well-sampled nonetheless.
Not everything after the first chapter is bad. As Redeemer's gameplay worsens, its story actually gets more interesting. At one point, for example, a cynical employee selfishly helps you on your journey. Meanwhile, the hallways between the many broken horde chambers give visual implications as to what happened before you arrived. New characters and secrets continue to pop up, and occasionally things can actually get pretty creepy. This growing sense of intrigue will be the one thing keeping you invested as the game drags through its 20-hour length.
Redeemer's great peculiarity is that it starts with strong gameplay and a weak story, and then the two switch entirely. Combat that was once challenging, varied, and rewarding gives way to enemy numbers and attack patterns that bottleneck the player into a constant dodge-fest that feels like breaking the rules of a broken game. Whether you succeed or fail, too little of what you do after the first chapter is based on any amount of skill. As monotony settles in, the captivating story proves not enough to pick up the slack. In its first four hours, Redeemer is great. Afterwards? Far from it.