With Gone with the Demon Early Access, South Korean BoyAndWitch Studio created an intriguing project.
Expect the unexpected. Gone with the Demon is an odd one.
You play a man whose wife has been kidnapped by the titular Demon, and you must fight in a basement, faceless, red-eyed enemies with nothing more than a limited range of weapons.
Unfortunately for the time being, that’s all the premise you’re getting and that’s a bit of a shame: Gone with the Demon could benefit from a great storyline, to bring an additional layer of depth on an anxiety-inducing environment. Sadly, a playthrough at this stage doesn’t do much to build up on an enigmatic premise: your questions about the why and the who, considering the supernatural setting, find answers few and far in between. The storyline does evolve some as you play, but it remains paper-thin in the end. Segmented clues and pieces of lore are revealed through a few notes picked up during your time underground; still, these don’t do enough to serve and make the most of the game’s discomforting atmosphere.
On the bright side and if we are to believe the developers’ notes on their Steam page, some fleshing out is on the way. We’re promised an in-depth explanation of what went wrong for the world of Gone with the Demon to happen, though only when the title goes into full release.
In Early Access, Gone with the Demon has that ugly charm.
Enemies are plain-looking, but simple features such as glowing red eyes make them seem much more formidable. They’re also bent on gruesome killing, using sledgehammers and knives, and bosses bring forth such glorious images as a gigantic overweight red-painted man wielding dual meat tenderizers and pirouetting like the world's most dangerous, most unlikely ballet dancer.
Encounters are heavily driven by melee, so don’t count on sitting back with a ranged weapon to pick your enemies off. This said, don’t expect density in terms of a monster fest. You’ll find that most rooms only have one or two mobs. To face them you’ll gain access to a variety of weapons, and you’ll be able to experiment with different combos so that you may not only fight NPCs but also monotony in gameplay. The problem, however, is that these chain attacks are finicky at best. Sometimes they execute correctly. Other times they'll merely lead to a series of standard attacks.
Gone with the Demon is challenging enough.
Figuring out the mechanics, and each enemy's attack cycle, takes quite a few failed attempts to process. Welcomed then is the fact that the respawn system is forgiving, and coupled with mechanics to remove penalties after death, you’ll find dying doesn’t have much of a negative impact on pace.
Enemies do become easy to kill once patterns have been learned (hint: it's a slow one), but elements of surprise manage to keep you on your toes for the long haul. Opening doors, for example can result in unexpected assaults, which is always fun no matter how good you get.
Yet what distinguishes Gone with the Demon from its competitors is its unique approach to progression.
Firstly is the expected: character stats, such as strength and endurance, can be powered up by sleeping in a bed, which not only gives them a boost but also restores your weapons’ durability. This under the condition that enough Essence, the game's currency earned by beating enemies, be collected.
Now dying and respawning takes a similar approach to the recipe that made the Dark Souls series great: you don’t automatically grow stronger; you have to work for it.
Gone with the Demon's primary mechanic is that it gets harder with every death.
Monsters accumulate hatred towards you, and by extension, stamina, every time they slay your miserable self. When killed, you’ll respawn at the closest bed with your currency, items, and level-ups untouched. You’ll notice, however, a ring on the upper-left corner of your screen filled with blood. That means your recent death increased your enemies’ morale. Baddies are now tougher to kill, and the only way to bring the balance back between you and them, is to spend your hard-earned essence on a Totem you will, hopefully, find along the way.
For all of the above, Gone with the Demon could be a great action game.
Sadly, it also paces itself like it took a sledgehammer to the ankles. Player and enemies walk slowly and swing fists and weapons even slower. Dodging their attacks is a process of timing your own sluggish reactions rather than instantly being over there, out of the way. This issue is the one that most pressingly needs fixing, and if it doesn’t, a full release won’t surpass a lukewarm reception at best.
With an interesting mix of surreal elements and an ethereal, haunting soundtrack, Gone with the Demon is also that unfinished project released prematurely even for Early Access. The South Korean indie is marred by sluggish mechanics, a bare-bones narrative, and unbalanced combat; but considering its fun mechanics and the features promised by BoyAndWitch, including a comprehensive story and balancing fixes, there is some potential for casual greatness.