Hello again, you beautiful murderborgs. I know, I know, you’re feeling your programming starting to itch, and if you don’t get your hands on another simulator soon, all those little violent urges might spill out into reality. Fortunately for you, Wormwood Studios has you covered with their 2016 release, Until I Have You. Less fortunately, it’s not very good.
In Until I Have You, you play as the Artist, a freelance hitman (thief? mercenary? It was never made entirely clear to me) whose wife has been kidnapped by constituents of the resident criminal underworld. Having sustained disabling injuries during the abduction, the Artist equips himself with his trusty bat, gun, and an exoskeleton courtesy of a megacorporation known as Neo-Faith and takes to the streets in his vintage-looking car in search of vengeance, carving his way up the chain until he comes face to face with those responsible.
Following up on their previous release, Primordia, Wormwood has established for themselves a reputation as genre vets with Until I Have You, a love letter to the runner-platformers and cult cyberpunk hits of the ‘90s. Each of the game’s twelve stages, cutscenes, and hub world are all rendered with Sega Genesis-style graphics and set to a forgettable synthpop score. But this dedication to 16-bit authenticity also serves as one of Until I Have You’s biggest downfalls; while feeling as though it is worthy of the console generation it emulates, the gameplay is unrefined. All glitches and low frame rates aside, the controls feel sluggish, which is not a great quality for a game to have when everything you do depends on quick thinking and your character’s movement speed is too much to keep up with. Half the time, I forgot I had certain mechanics available to me, such as dashing or shielding. And the combat, frankly, is dogshit. Using the bat is difficult as it oftentimes takes more than one hit to kill an enemy, but at best you have two health points of your own. The only way to take someone down is to dart back and forth past them, pray that you don’t get shot, and mash the attack button mindlessly. God help you if there happens to be another enemy onscreen. Same goes with the pistol–there seems to be little rhyme or reason to aiming, with no reticle or way to figure out where your bullets are heading, boiling down to “press button, shoot bad guy”.
While the game doesn’t severely punish you for failure itself, allowing you to respawn at the beginning of a level or boss fight infinitely, the repetition made it difficult to play through in long stretches. Each of the game’s stages ends in a fight with one of the Artist’s adversaries, and these can be particularly infuriating, because they happen so quickly that it’s difficult to absorb and adjust to accordingly. Being that the gameplay is largely reflex-based and I have the reflexes of a sponge, I found myself dying over and over at the hands of kitschy baddies in what felt like a disorienting time loop–I could rarely change the outcome of the fights, and in turn would grow more and more impatient as this Pennywise-looking motherfucker fragged me for about the 700th time.
However, as with most games of UIHY’s ilk, you do gain muscle memory over time, so I admit that this issue may be partially due to my own shortcomings as a gamer. It would probably help if I stopped smoking weed. Fortunately though, a few chapters into the game, you unlock the ability to dilate time, which greatly helps the platforming aspect, even if using it for too long makes you start to see the world through Zdzisław Beksiński goggles.
The level design also felt somewhat lacking. While the backdrops are often well-rendered, the platforms themselves just look like floating rectangles to jump around on, and there’s no creativity in their placement, forcing you to move in what’s essentially a straight line from beginning to end. Similarly, I felt much of the character design didn’t have much imagination, as basic enemy types typically range between killer robots and killer androids. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that Until I Have You relies so heavily on familiar grimdark sci-fi tropes that it doesn’t really have an identity of its own to offer. While it may feel fresh and exciting to a newcomer to the genre, I came to realize that there aren’t really any solid ideas driving the game’s worldbuilding. Everything the game offers up feels like window dressing.
If my description of the game’s story strikes you as sparse, that’s largely because it is told in vaguisms. Very little of the game’s story is directly communicated to the player, other than through the Artist’s edgelordy monologues. I wouldn’t have a issue with that if the calm, story-dispersing scenes in the Artist’s apartment weren’t split up by janky, frustrating levels that quickly caused me to lose my focus on said story. Again, this may just be my problem. However, my biggest issue with the game is with its climax. Without going into details, there is a scene of intense graphic violence late in the game, in which the Artist beats a woman to death with his bat on a level of detail and gore (of which there is quite a bit between cutscenes) that had not been seen up until that point. Even in context, it felt wrong.
Perhaps that sense of discomfort was intentional, for shock value, thematic development, or otherwise, and that I can understand as a has-been wannabe storyteller. After all, think about the most gut-wrenching violence you’ve seen–not the campy, grindhousy I’m-gonna-hose-you-down-with-red-corn-syrup kind of violence, but a more realistic display, like something out of a David Fincher movie. Every time I get to the scene in Fight Club where Jared Leto’s face gets smashed in, even though it’s Jared Leto, I can’t help but feel queasy. This is by design–by adhering to the brutality of reality, it gets underneath the viewer’s skin and make them realize that, hey, maybe beating the shit out of each other isn’t the best solution to society’s ills (not that that got through to certain people). That said, I’m just not sure what to make of the scene in Until I Have You with what information I have. I can’t tell what message the developers were trying to send, if any, but it still left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Something was off. Just keep that in mind if you’re gonna give this one a go.
Ultimately, I can’t recommend Until I Have You. Wormwood Studios hit something of a sophomore slump with their follow-up to Primordia, and I think a lot of that has to do with the change in gameplay from point-and-click adventure to action-platformer. However, there doesn’t seem to have been a lick of true inspiration involved with the game’s development on all fronts, either. After all (sPoIlEr AlErT) the plot in a nutshell is a less-interesting, sci-fi version of Memento. Fortunately for you, all this means is that the game isn’t essential in any way. If you want to help Wormwood Studios out during these trying times, buy Primordia instead. If we keep throwing our money at games that devs apparently don’t want to work on, that’s all that going to get made in the future, and that’s the opposite of fun for everyone.
Until I Have You – 5/10
You can buy Until I Have You here, if you’re morbidly curious.
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