A unique vertical shooter sputters out with some truly baffling design choices.

H.P. Lovecraft is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time, trailblazing the frightening and uncharted genre now known as cosmic horror. Not simply content to introduce readers to shambling ghouls or a murderer with a knife, Lovecraft pits his characters against creatures that were at the time truly unnamable. His work has influenced everything from literature and television to cinema and video games. That being said, discretion should be used when deciding when and how to incorporate Lovecraft into something. Red Death did not use such discretion and instead completely wasted an otherwise interesting premise.

Released in 2017 by Panda Indie Studio and WrathSchneider for Steam and other digital stores, Red Death is an arcade-style vertical shooter. Players take the role of an intrepid pilots tasked with gunning down incoming waves of aerial monsters. There’s not much else to it than that, but due to the style of gameplay, it doesn’t suffer from a thin plot.

Red Death Offers Solid Schmup Action But Little Else

Red Death gameplay

Red Death is of the schmup or bullet hell genre, i.e., screenfuls of enemy bullets that players must navigate carefully while performing attacks of their own. Bullet hells are tough to a fault and not usually considered to be beginner friendly. Certain tactics and strategies are necessary to survive the onslaught of bullets, not to mention a finely tuned sense of reflexes and grace under pressure. In Red Death bullets come in waves, players dodge them, and defeat enemies. Rinse and repeat.

While Red Death’s core gameplay works it suffers from two major things: lack of originality and some truly awful writing. Games such as Progear and Super Galaxy Squadron prove you can have decent narratives presented in a genre that typically doesn’t really need them. The idea is to dodge bullets and shoot down enemies, right? Who cares about the reason? Well, when the game tells the player that the main villain is Nyarlathotep, a figure from Lovecraft’s work, a big question that arises is: why? Why did it HAVE to be Lovecraft? What makes this revelation worse is that the message the player gets, in-game, is, “Holy f****** s***.”  I’m not making that up.

Red Death Drops the Ball With Some Absolutely Unnecessary Dialogue

Red Death gameplay

That is completely unnecessary. Many games do use profanity, sure, but it has a time and a place. An arcade shooter is not one of them. As much of a square as this will make me sound, kids will play with this. There’s no reason to put that content into a game that would otherwise have no warning it would contain that kind of content. As an adult, it just made me frown. For parents who are concerned about the content that their kids are being exposed to (again, in an arcade-style shooter of all things) this can be an issue.

Most players probably don’t care about the inclusion of Lovecraftian themes or the weird inclusion of profanity in Red Death. Most players will only be concerned with how well the game plays and how rewarding its challenges are. This is fair, but it’s so frustrating that such effort was put into Red Death’s style, presentation, and gameplay but such mind-numbingly bad writing would be put into it as well.

An easy fix would be to just patch out the profanity and let the gameplay sell itself. Unless you’re a hardcore shooter fan who desperately needs something to scratch their itch, there are far better shooters available. Red Death introduces some solid concepts and nails the basics, but some fine-tuning is needed to make it an experience truly worth your time.

Red Death is available on Playstation, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

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