Severed Steel is a first-person parkour-them-up where you play as Steel, a one-armed badass with gymnastic and time travel abilities to rival Max Whitlock during his ill-fated appearance on Doctor Who. In a world unbothered by trifles such as gravity and plot, Steel needs your help to smash her way through a fully destructible map using a gorgeously fluid combat and parkour system. All of this is made that little bit easier for the player’s stupid and slow brain by the ability to slow down time, giving you the time you need to perfectly chain together your jumps and dodge the bullets the bad men are firing at you.
First things first, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Mirror’s Edge. Mirror’s Edge is the pinnacle of the art form when it comes to games with parkour mechanics and nothing has vaguely come close to matching the feeling and look of the game in the *checks notes* 12 years(!) since its release. So is Severed Steel just a clone of a very successful classic game? Should you care about it or would you have a better time by just playing Mirror’s Edge?
The components that make Severed Steel distinct from Mirror’s Edge are threefold. 1) Severed Steel has a combat focus where Mirror’s Edge is all about avoiding combat and the purity of the parkour (apart from that one level everyone hated). A different direction in the gameplay priorities makes Severed Steel feel like its own thing. 2) Mirror’s Edge has a very white, futuristic and clean aesthetic which Severed Steel swaps out for the neon palette of a cyberpunk art style. This, again makes the game feel distinct from its spiritual predecessor and matches absolutely brilliantly with the slightly chaotic gameplay style that Severed Steel suggests. 3) Severed Steel has a ‘slow down time’ button meaning you can deal with the chaos and combat in a way that feels controlled and elegant, avoiding the pitfall there could’ve been by adding additional mechanics and making the game unplayably convoluted.
Now we’ve dealt with the elephant, let’s move on to the meat of the review.
The parkour. Is it good? Yes. With the perfect complement of moves, Severed Steel serves up your parkour fantasies, like a butler with a speciality in abstract concepts. You’ve got the basic moves you’d expect from your Call of Duty: Black Ops – you can jump, double jump, slide and wall run with elegance and ease completely at odds with the amount of screaming your average gamer would be doing on attempting those moves in real life. But Severed Steel ups the ante with a few additional moves that tie the whole system together in a bow. The first is a button that I think all games should have from now on to make sure you can live out all of your Matrix fantasies – dive. When you’re running along you can do a head-first leap that you’re heavily encouraged to use to make like electromagnetic radiation and transmit yourself through glass. You can tie this in with a double jump to get the extra forward momentum to make up the final few meters you need in the leap over the bottomless pits that are so prevalent in video games. The other button that Severed Steel adds to the standard set of gaming moves is kicking. You can kick off a wall after a double jump, giving you a little more height to scale those super tall obstacles in your path. You can also use the kick in combat situations to knock off your opponent’s block.
But kicking in an enemy soldier’s face, like it’s the Ikea box I just flattened for optimal disposal, is not the only tool on offer to ruin the bad guys’ whole day. In a crazy deviation from video game cliche, in Severed Steel, you have access to these things called guns. You can pick up enemies’ guns and use them against them, shooting from the walls mid-wall-run or kicking off enemy number one to get the flip you need to shoot enemy number two. And, as the game is as invested in you looking cool as Elon Musk is invested in not solving world hunger, you can obviously throw the gun once you’re finished with it, making sure the weapon has its final use once it’s out of gun food. The guns and kicks can be used on more than just guards – you can shoot windows to make a dive through them easier or just straight up shoot the walls and doors to make a path thanks to the destructible terrain.
An awful lot is going on in Severed Steel and, as much as Steel is a superhuman ninja who can think at the speed of light, you, as a player, are not. Juggling complex platforming and not getting shot by an overwhelming cohort of enemies is not an easy thing to do for us mere mortals so Severed Steel gives you a couple of gifts to maintain the flow and feel of the game in its panic-inducing, control-forgetting, damage-taking moments. Firstly, you don’t take any damage while doing acrobatic feats. Sliding, diving and wall running all make you invulnerable, meaning that, if you’re good enough at the parkour, you don’t need to worry about any enemies that aren’t directly in your path. But what if you’re not good enough at the parkour? The solution, as with most things in life, is to simply slow down time. With a click of a button, you’re in slow motion so you can perfectly time your attacks and moves to make you as smooth and talented as I believe you are. You can even dodge bullets. When you start the game, this mode is pretty much compulsory if you want to make sense of all the things going on that you’d have no chance of registering in real time. This lets you achieve your set objectives without worrying too much about being murdered, much like the improvements my office recently made to the alligator ceiling.
All in all, Severed Steel is a glorious ball of barely understandable chaos. A lot is going on which gives you a lot to master but Severed Steel has put a lot in place to make sure it’s manageable and even an idiot can make themselves look vaguely competent. If you want to feel like a slow-motion, parkour and face kicking badass then there aren’t a lot of better places to look than Severed Steel.