Space Roguelike Teleglitch Telegraphs Horror Through Attacking Mutants
Teleportation technology: The obvious bane of future humanity’s existence. Whether it’s cracking open portals to hell, accidentally inviting alien invasions, or teleporting sentient particles from across the galaxy that overtake human-built AI constructs, it seems clear that creating a teleporter is a terrible, terrible idea. The very least that could happen is you turn into a giant fly-man.
Such is the situation in Teleglitch, a top-down roguelike shooter, in which players take on the role of a sole survivor of one such teleporter experiment. On a science station on a distant planet, the player finds himself locked in a closet after surviving, alone, for days. The time has come to find one of those teleporters and use it to flee the facility — while fighting monsters and mutants along the way.
Sure, we’ve seen the premise before, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like the premise. After all, years after Doom accidentally populated Mars with cacodemons, we still donned Gordon Freeman’s HEV suit and did the same damn thing all over again. Teleglitch scratches that same itch, but from a different direction: it’s an incredibly low-fidelity game when it comes to graphics, but it uses a number of mechanics beautifully to generate fear and keep players guessing.
First off, though the graphics are highly simplistic — just a few pixels represent you and the monsters you face — the game still manages to pull off a high degree of creepiness. Playing the fairly lengthy demo (the game itself is billed at 10-plus hours of campaign, and the demo covers two levels and a tutorial), I found that I didn’t need to see glistening teeth and oozing organs in order to be afraid of reanimated combatants (zombies) or multi-armed demons. Enemies tend to fling themselves at you, so every fight is a tense one; the real trouble, however, is that you can’t always see them coming.
Like Mark of the Ninja earlier this year, Teleglitch makes great use of perspective and point of view. Your character trucks the the halls and rooms of an industrial, lived-in space facility, but he can’t see everything at once — your map remains mostly empty, and you can only see down halls and into rooms if your character could see into them. This creates a sort of roving perspective bubble that lets you see down some halls and into some rooms, but only as you venture into them. And that means that you don’t get any advanced warning before rounding corners, especially with Teleglitch’s slick, often noisy sound design that distracts you with the hum of machinery.
The other cool thing about Teleglitch is that you’ll find lots of loot along the way, but it’s not the standard-issue piles of junk. A robust and yet simple crafting system means you can combine a ton of items and elements to make new things. You’ll spend time slapping cans and explosives together to create makeshift panzerfaust rocket launchers, upgrading your weaponry, and building detectors to help you see enemies coming. But mostly, you’ll be on the search for ammo to keep yourself alive.
In terms of gameplay and control, Teleglitch does well to give you skill, but not too much skill, when fighting enemies. Sure, you’ll find shotguns and automatic weapons, but they’re not as effective at different ranges or in certain positions. Ammo is scarce, so while you might have a great weapon in-hand, you’ll have to balance its strengths with your own. Firing is done with the mouse and you can fire independent of your movement, but that still doesn’t mean you’ll always hit that at which you’re aiming.
Teleglitch seems to be a tough roguelike, with a fun, emergent science fiction story you’ll have to unlock by seeking out terminals and other sources of information throughout the game. It manages to be scary without pushing its visuals, but it’s the game mechanics of creating new items and only being able to perceive what you can see, that really make Teleglitch both fun and harrowing.