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The Hilltopper

The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

The student news site of Highlands High School

The Hilltopper

ULTRAKILL, and How a Shooter Can Encourage Creativity

Official poster made by ULTRAKILL’s parent company, New Blood Studios.

Mankind is dead, blood is fuel, Hell is full. ULTRAKILL is a game that on the surface seems excessively violent and simple. 


The player is a robot named V1, rampaging through Hell for blood, its source of fuel. Humanity is all gone, leaving the surface devoid of that sweet crimson fluid it needs to survive. But the game makes a genuine effort to not just be another mindless slaughtering game.


Through its style system, creative environments, and weapon interactivity, ULTRAKILL constantly has the player scrambling to figure out what to do next.


ULTRAKILL’s “style” is very reminiscent of games like “Devil May Cry.” The more variety in the way the player plays, the more style given to a meter displayed on the right side of the screen. 


The way that the style meter works is so complex that there are entire wiki pages dedicated to explaining it. But, simply put, it rewards variety. Each weapon obtained has a freshness bonus alongside it. The more the player uses a weapon, the more its freshness goes down. This freshness directly impacts how much style can be gained using that weapon. It starts off with a 1.5 time bonus, but it can go all the way down to 0 if the player isn’t careful, making the weapon give no style. 

This can be especially deadly, since there is a mechanic called “hard damage” that is directly related to how much style the player has. Hard damage limits how much health the player has for a period of time. The higher the player’s style, the faster the hard damage goes away.


On the surface, this seems a lot more annoying than fun. The optimal strategy sounds really boring; switching weapons constantly as their freshness rapidly declines, over and over. However, there is another mechanic put in place to make this much less appealing.


Explaining weapon interactivity is a lot harder than describing an example of it. So here’s an example:


At the third level, the player is given a shotgun that is able to shred hordes of weaker enemies, and quickly dispatch the heavier ones. But at some point, the player might accidentally discover a mechanic that would revolutionize how they use the weapon. If they punch and shoot at the perfect time, they will perform a projectile boost. All of a sudden, the seemingly useless fist is able to create explosions wherever the player looks.


This is what is meant by weapon interactivity. Various different parts of the player’s arsenal meshing together to create even more effective methods of destruction. This creates a huge array of options and opportunities for experimentation. In fact, an update from about two weeks ago added the final three remaining weapon variants and the final alternate version of a weapon, increasing the arsenal even more.


This massive array of options can feel overwhelming, but as the player experiments and discovers more and more ways to use their weapons, you gain a sense of absolute control. At the peak of player performance, the game becomes a breeze on even the highest of difficulties. 


Hakita, the lead developer, recognizes this. If the player completes a level with maximum style, all the kills, and in a fast enough time (without dying), they can achieve a “P-Rank.” Obtaining a P-Rank in every level for an act (name for a group of levels in the game) can unlock a Prime Sanctum. Without spoiling too much, Prime Sanctums contain the hardest challenges Hakita and the team could cook up for the player.


But these challenges mean nothing if the environment is bland. Thankfully, it is the farthest thing from that. Taking inspiration using descriptions from the titular Dante’s Inferno, the development team crafts unique levels for players to lose themselves in.


Secrets hidden throughout the levels encourage exploration and mastery of certain mechanics. Some even reward the player with special variants of weapons, completely reworking how they are used. Most levels have around three to five, excluding boss levels. Some of these secrets are downright hilarious, highlighting how little the developers take themselves seriously.


ULTRAKILL, despite coming out almost 4 years ago, still feels fresh and unique in an industry rich with $70 duds. The $25 indie shooter is rated 10/10 with almost 100,000 reviews on Steam, the most popular video game purchasing platform. It’s still in early access, with the developers citing that they “want ULTRAKILL to be the best game it can possibly be.”

ULTRAKILL is a computer-only game, rated M on IMDB for violence, profanity, gore, and disturbing imagery.

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