Immortal: Unchained Encapsulates Everything Wrong With Souls Clones

By Rich Stanton on at

It's not surprising that the success of the Souls series has led to a glut of imitators, and it's even less surprising that most of them are bad. Fromsoft's series is one of those where the overall achievement is so huge that the games looking to follow it face an unenviable task, and the examples we've seen so far - such as Lords of the Fallen - play like pale imitations indeed. Immortal: Unchained does not buck the trend.

A thirdperson action-RPG where you play an anonymous avatar who wakes up in a high-tech crypt, Immortal's main differentiating factor is an emphasis on gunplay as well as melee combat. In its opening stages you swiftly acquire first a handgun and then an assault rifle, plus a knife, and the gunplay is built around the lock-on guiding your shots while you dodge return fire. You can free aim but when the reticule is near an enemy it snaps to them.

Almost as soon as you start firing, it becomes clear that Immortal doesn't have the precision or feedback to make shooting things feel good. It has the feel of an early 3D shooter almost, as you spam the fire button and dodge the predictable enemy shots in the same manner, over and over and over. Repetition is not inherently bad design - you could argue it's at the core of the Souls games that Immortal is so in thrall to - but to get away with it, the activity you're asking the player to repeat has to be fun and somewhat variable in the first place.

Nor does the melee combat make up for this, missing that sense of connection when blows land, with your animations feeling overly fast and imprecise. The enemy hitboxes are dodgy, time and again their flailing fists would whistle by my avatar's body - and I'd take damage anyway.

Those animations as well... I mean, an enemy moving towards you and just throwing punch after punch, left right left right, might technically class as a threat. But next to the devious intelligence of Souls enemies it's nothing. This is the kind of combat system where you get hit not because you were outfoxed or slow, but because you're so bored you start running in and taking stupid risks.

I wanted to illustrate this by showing the game's first boss. Compare this kind of encounter with, say, Dark Souls' opening battle against the Taurus Demon, or Dark Souls 3's superb Gundyr fight.

Boredom. It's a factor, especially when a game's environments look like this - long dull corridors, the same assets popping up in every room, the same enemies with limited movesets again and again. It makes the core elements that Immortal has taken from Souls into something of a burden. You start to resent dying and heading back to some location to pick up your 'bits' (bloodstain), because the experience will be exactly the same as the last time. You see a group of enemies and you don't even think twice about how best to engage them, you just go in and start spamming fire - because what other option have you got?

Some might think it's unfair to compare Immortal with the Souls series, but that's really the only reason this exists. It wants the Souls comparisons! And the amount of effort that has clearly gone into its production raises an uncomfortable question: if you've got the resource to be making something like this, why isn't it more original? Why is this such a slavish copy of elements of those games, which carries over barely any of the important stuff? Is there anyone so desperate for more Souls that they actually want something so derivative and poorly made? Look at this dialogue:

THE CRADLE OF UNLIFE, UNSOUGHT DESTINATION FOR ALL MORTAL SOULS. THE REALM OF DEATH WAS CARVED INTO THE BOWELS OF AN ABANDONED WORLD BY THE QUEEN OF THE DEAD HERSELF.

Shoot me now, eh? It's a great example of how, when you copy something without thinking about why it was made that way, you can end up looking like a parody. One of the most-praised aspects of the Souls series is the ambiguous plots and resonant dialogue, which leave players to fill in the blanks. This dialogue is trying to create a sense of mystery, but it's so over-the-top, the language so poorly chosen, that it comes across as utterly ridiculous. Garth Marenghi rides again!

Copying is a part of how games work - great games become influential and the foundation for other great games. But there's a big difference between being inspired by something, and simply copying it without inspiration. It's not an issue that Immortal: Unchained takes the Souls games as its starting point. The problem is it can't match their design quality in any respect, and has no real ideas of its own. So what's the point?