8Days Review – Spray and Pray (PS4)
It takes a lot to make me rage quit. I have the constitution of an ox when it comes to infuriating difficulty levels. It’s a very rare experience when I get to the point that I’m willing to limp away with my tail between my legs. This weekend, I met my match. Santa Clara Games’ newest PlayStation release, 8Days, finally pushed me over the edge. The most unique part about the experience is that usually I rage quit because a game is being unfair. This time? I wasn’t even remotely irritated with the game. I was mad at myself. I kept making the same colossal mistakes, time after time, and it was entirely my own fault. Yet, for some reason I kept coming back.
Let’s Do the Time Warp
The world of 8Days is a bleak ’80s action-flick hellscape, brimming with violence and intrigue. When your intro sequence involves a helicopter crash, car battery interrogation, and mercy killing, it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows. So how is a game able to get away with immense amounts of violence, gore and even references to inhumane torture tactics? Let’s just say that an 8-bit aesthetic can go a long way towards smoothing out a title’s inherent edginess. Yet despite character models having a limited art palette, they do a pretty damn solid job of driving home the notion that it’s every man (or woman) for themselves. And Lord help the poor bloodied pixels that get in your way.
For their first mission, mercenaries Lola Cruz and Mike Doe have the straightforward objective to break up a rice embargo. The duo has been given the thumbs-up to accomplish their task by whatever means necessary. Essentially, this is code for, “make things go BOOM!” Either in single-player, or couch co-op, players traverse a wide variety of settings including military prisons, desolate villages, dank caverns, and high-tech military complexes. The settings fly by so quickly that it’s hard to shake the feeling that 8Days has a case of multiple personality disorder. Unfortunately, there is one thing that all of the personas have in common: they want to kick your ass into the next decade.
Every moment of this dual-stick shooter is spent hovering on the edge of the seat. As exciting as the blisteringly paced combat is, this actually has more to do with the constant need to be obsessively vigilant. All it takes is three hits and you’ll be taking an extended dirt nap, and heath packs are harder to find than a Big Mac in India. Matters are made worse by the size of enemy projectiles, relative to the cramped size of far too many corridors. It is damn near impossible to dodge a projectile that’s a quarter the size of an entire hallway. Killing enemies before they even catch a glimpse you is not only a strategy, it’s a necessity. Thankfully, most of the enemies have the intellect of a fence. As long as they haven’t seen you recently, it is as if you never existed.
Another One Bites the Dust
When the action gets hot and heavy, this is where 8Days shines. The breakneck tempo of the action combined with the sheer chaos of wave after wave of enemies marching directly in front of your crosshairs, provides some genuinely memorable experiences. Granted, this level of exhilaration can only come from fighting through the same scenario for the umpteenth time, only to be downed by the last unit on screen. I lost count of the number of times that I ran out of ammo, right before a room was cleared. Let’s just say that a machete is no match for an AK-47. I found that out the hard way, far too often.
Yet every time that I died, I never blamed the game. I never felt the need to. There was always something stupid that I had done, that was preventing me from succeeding. In line with its ’80s action flick theme, it also draws heavily from the era’s arcade and console action games. As such, it never does anything to disguise the path to success. How do you progress through a stage? Annihilate everything on the screen that moves. How do you kill a boss? A well placed shot to the “glowy bits” should do the job. It’s obvious how to win, but executing on that plan is another matter entirely. Hence my fits of self-rage, followed by a temporary rage quit, and usually concluded by me returning to make that encounter my personal bitch…after first dying on it another dozen times.
We’re Not Gonna Take It
The problem was, half of these rage quit loops were brought about by the game’s irritating checkpoint system. Under most scenarios, an automatic save occurring when you enter a new room would be viewed as a blessing. However, there were plenty of times where this would come around to bite the player right in the tenderloins. A perfect example of this was a frantic sequence where I had just ran out of ammo while attempting to clear a room. Instead of looking for more bullets, I had decided to go for broke and just book it for the door. While I just barely managed make it to the exit, the automated checkpoint treated me to playing through the next portion of the stage at least 30 times, with only one bar of health and NO AMMO. Sadly, this was far from the first or last time that this occurred. For all of the nostalgic fun that 8Days taps into, all it takes is a critical mistake of this magnitude to derail the entire experience.
Another key element that was missing from the overall experience was weapon variety. Sure, you could switch between a missile launcher and standard firearms, but aside from this minor permutation every other weapon felt like a re-skin of a standard gun, with varying rates of fire. It would have been nice to see more emphasis placed on a wider collection of weapons, a la Contra. Thankfully, the arsenal that was present is balanced in a way that even the smallest suppressed pea-shooter could be effective against a boss. Just be ready to replay that encounter a hundred times in order to get a positive outcome. We’ll all be praying for you.
If you are looking for a personality soaked nostalgia piece, that is as charming as it is challenging, then 8Days should fit the bill quite nicely. Though far from perfect, its charm helps cut through the frustrating quirks and lackluster checkpoint system. For some reason, even war crimes are more fun in 8-bit. So channel your inner Rambo, and stock up on ammo. You’ve got lots of cursing to do.
Review code for 8Days provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.