Monday, June 15, 2015

Hammerfight - 15/20 hours

How can I describe Hammerfight? What is the actual experience like, on a physical and sensual level?

There's no stillness to it. When you aren't moving the mouse, your machine drifts. You have to spin and loop constantly, tracing arcs through the air and leaving after-images of your weapon behind. Enemies are fast and unpredictable, often rushing in from off-screen and taking you unawares. Combat is a series of sudden jolts. You'll crash into your enemy, and the screen will shake and blur, and it won't be immediately apparent if you damaged them or they damaged you. Sometimes you'll get in a clean hit and your enemy will streak across the screen, dazed and helpless. When that happens, you'll want to dash after them in hopes of landing a devastating follow-up. Death can be sudden. It's rare to die from a single hit while you're at full health, but being even a little bit under can put you in peril, and you're never entirely safe from being stunned and comboed into oblivion.

It's a fast, brutal, chaotic experience where you can never let down your guard, and even if you do everything right, you still might lose. The thrill, I think, comes from this uncertainty. Hammerfight puts you on the very edge of your capabilities. Early levels can be pretty easy, but play long enough and you'll get to a point where you must trust yourself to dangle over the side of the abyss, to embrace the not-knowing and rely on adrenaline and reflex and luck.

It's not really my sort of thing. Dark Souls was more frustrating, but it was predictably unfair, if that makes any sense. It would kill you for the slightest mistake, but you could consistently learn from your deaths. The knowledge gained from an ambush or a failed boss run could be applied in the future to avoid the ambush or defeat the boss. Hammerfight is just as unforgiving, but you can never entirely eliminate the element of chance. Is your hammer pointed up instead of right? Congratulations, you just died. It's literally a roll of the dice. Skill plays a factor, an important one, but all skill can do is maximize your chances. You're still just playing the percentages, and sometimes you're going to get a bad throw.

Which is fine, but I'm not a gambler by nature. The idea of trusting myself to chance fills me with a kind of vertigo, and even when I win, the sensation is more akin to relief than joy. If the stakes were higher, Hammerfight would leave me one massive ball of stress. As it is, I just sort of tune the game out and reload when I fail. I'm just good enough that I can get through all the story missions if I play them enough times (I couldn't actually tell you what the story is about, however, because any sort of proper noun-heavy narration quickly becomes an undifferentiated buzzing to me).

Meanwhile, the Steam Summer sale is going on, and I have not been strong. It's difficult to put into words exactly how eager I am to get this over with so I can play with my shiny new toys. This has lead to me playing Hammerfight a lot more than I otherwise would. It's weird how when I view a game as a chore to be suffered through, I tend to muscle through on pure stubborness, whereas if it's a game I like, but am not particularly feeling at the moment (like Knights of the Old Republic II) I'll procrastinate and dither like no one's business. That probably says something important about my character, but that's not a pandora's box I need to be opening just now.

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