We recently burst a blood vessel playing the atmospheric but ridiculously frustrating Hotline Miami, the first game in ages to make us smash our mouse and mortify the neighbours with incessant screaming. While Teleglitch (one of the first proper indie games to emerge from Estonia) isn’t quite as patience-grinding, it’s another incessantly difficult top-down action title that will test your grit and perseverance until you break down and weep like a little child. A little child who just dropped their ice cream, and then got punched in the gut by an evil cannibal clown.
Teleglitch sees you as a facility scientist fella who’s who walled yourself in when the Teleglitch error occurred, which is why you start with limited equipment and weapons to start with. You’re on a planet filled with all manner of nasties, split into various large-scale levels, and your objective is seemingly simple – get to the end in one piece.
This is a top-down game, so you run your little man around with the W,A,S,D keys and aim your weapons with the mouse. Weapons and items are tossed together into an easily-accessible inventory. You can search containers for pick-ups, and check out data terminals for info on what went down before your regretful arrival.
Permadeath is guaranteed
As previously hinted, Teleglitch is a bloody hard game that will test the limits of you patience. Our internal alarm bells began pounding like mad when we realised that, because this is a ‘roguelike’ title, we couldn’t save at all during each level. Not even a measly quicksave, or a tension-relieving midway checkpoint. Some levels can take an hour or more to complete (they’re bloody HUGE), and if you make it all the way to the teleporter only to have some entrail-sucking fiend leap on you and gnaw on your face off, chances are your keyboard, monitor and/or mouse will be interfacing with your fist, over and over again.
To make things worse you’ll find ammo is rarer than a bottle of Evian at Charlie Sheen’s house, which leads to regular pant-filling sprints to find a supply container before you get surrounded and gang-molested. Because the enemies are so quick, they keep good pace with you – this isn’t Resident Evil where you can simply run past foes – so these desperate races resemble some kind of ludicrous Benny Hill sketch. The end result is almost always Game Over, as even if you find a container, you’ll be swarmed before you can grab the ammo, reload and let loose.
No smarts at all
Another annoyance is the enemy AI. The gribblies you encounter flock towards you, but not in a straight line - instead they do a sort of weird dance, weaving in your general direction before running around you in circles. This makes them a massive pain to hit, which means you’ll regularly waste your last precious bullets trying to take down just one bloody beastie you can’t quite hit. Dashing around in crazed circles while trying to finish off hordes of monsters is all too common and just plain silly.
Fair enough, this bizarre behaviour makes a change from enemies that simply run at you in a straight line, but it’s a poor substitution for actual intelligent AI (creatures that wait and jump out at you, take cover or run away when low on health etc). It also leads to the occasional glitch, where you crush yourself against an object or corner and the monsters can only bounce all around you without actually hitting you.
While the normal enemy encounters lack finesse, the sporadic boss battles are both memorable and heart-pounding. These enormous, macabre monsters are as mesmerising as they are deadly, and fights suddenly involve tactics and patience instead of mad button mashing. If only Teleglitch had more interesting encounters like these, we’d be a lot more forgiving of its shortcomings.
Once you get a bit further into Teleglitch, your weapons cache gets boosted with the far-more-useful shotgun, rapid-fire machine guns (which are a bad idea as your bullets run out faster than the beer supplies at a games journalist party) and heavy-duty experimental weapons that we don’t want to ruin for you. These more powerful weapons mean you don’t have to run in ridiculous circles as much, which is a welcome relief – until your ammo counter hits zero again, of course.
Teleglitch also gives you the chance to cobble together your own custom weapons using random bits you find in supply crates. The first time you pop one open expecting to find precious health kits, and instead pick up a fistful of cans and nails, you’ll probably curse out your laptop/cat/mother and whatever else is sitting around. But when you combine them with some other junk to create a nailgun, a smile will be etched on your face until the next inevitable permadeath.
Another area where Teleglitch does well is replayability. Like Diablo, this game randomly generates each level before you get stuck in, so no two players will ever have the same experience. This helps to boost the tension and horror of subsequent replays, as you have no idea what you’ll find when you stroll into a room or edge your way down a sinister darkened corridor.
Of course, the randomness factor can also completely screw you over, and often does near the start of the game. Our first few attempts at level one were met with unmitigated disaster as precious containers of ammo and health were placed far out of reach, beyond several rooms filled with carnivorous gribblies. The tension of not knowing what’s coming is also rapidly undone by the inevitable comedic dashing-in-circles that combat devolves into. Similar games such as Alien Swarm filled us with a lot more dread that Teleglitch thanks to the slow-burning horror and dragged-down pace.
Teleglitch is undoubtedly going to be a divisive game. Some players will relish the challenge of making it to the end, and soak up the tension and horror with masochistic glee, even as they meet a grisly end for the hundredth time. Others, like us, will smash every plastic device in range of our fists and storm off in a huff for a cigarette and a gallon of Special Brew. It’s a game best played with friends as you can laugh at each other’s stupid deaths and near escapes, which helps to greatly relieve the tension and frustration – shame there isn’t a multiplayer mode, or indeed some kind of easy difficulty level. Our advice is check out the demo on the developers’ website, as at £7.99 Teleglitch is one of the pricier indie efforts.