I can only play the ‘ageing gamer’ card so many times, so I’ve been keeping it in reserve. Might be time to scan through the deck and draw one of them, though, following my experience with Bullets Per Minute (BPM).
A quick description first: BPM is DOOM as a rhythm action game. Simple as that. There’s a block-rocking tune that’s represented as arrows moving towards your gun’s reticule. You have to shoot, dodge and reload following this beat precisely. Make sense? Well, if not, imagine how I felt trying to understand this thing without a tutorial.
Orientation aside, once things click it starts to make some form of sense. Your avatar works their way through a random dungeon a la Enter the Gungeon but in first-person. Each level consists of around 8 to 10 smallish rooms. In combat rooms, you’re locked-in until every enemy in that room is slaughtered, upon which loot will drop and you can exit.
The non-combat rooms give you stuff to spend your cash on, or chests to unlock with keys you’ve collected. There’s really no point describing this in any further detail, as it’s exactly the same as every other rogue-like dungeon crawler of the last four years. The individuality is all on the rhythm side.
There are a mind-melting mix of Industrial, Metal and rock opera bangers playing whilst you try and keep your shooting in time with the beat. Different weapon pick-ups act in unique ways. A revolver is powerful but each individual shell has to be loaded in lock-step, whereas an automatic is weaker but reloads with only two actions. The dodge button also must be used in-line with the beat, so deciding on a rhythmic sequence of dodge/shoot/reload is critical to success.
There are a lot of issues with BPM, in beta at least. Firstly, the difficulty is through the roof. This is in part because the enemies are frequently the same colour as the background, but also because the enemy attacks do not have solid audio cues. This made working out when I was in the next immediate locus of peril difficult.
There are no weak enemies either. The minor denizens take a couple hits with the basic weapons, and upgrades are hard to come by. Over dozens and dozens of rounds, I got the opportunity to upgrade (I think) three times. They often crowd you out and, with each one dealing around 25% damage, a run can be over in a matter of minutes.
Last but not least, the game randomly makes the dungeons even harder than base stats. So you may get a ‘frozen’ variation where the floor is slippery, or one where there are no money drops. You might start a run where the entire level is upside-down and therefore your controls are inverted. Seriously, I know rogue-likes are defined by being tough, but this can totally hit another level.
All the above could well be the ravings of a bitter old man who is just too slow to pull reactions out in time, I admit. Still, codger card aside, there are some mechanical issues here making the experience poor. Or, at least, less fun than it could or should be. Make the enemies green or blue — to pick them out against the red walls — sharpen the audio cues so the attack patterns become easier to read, make enemy movement more starkly differentiated (at the moment, there’s a lot of scuttling!) then enable more access to upgrades and guns, and you’ve got a deal.
At the moment, BPM is not moment-to-moment fun enough or empowering enough to get you past the steep difficulty curve. Let’s hope that, by the time it’s released, it becomes the guitar shredding, monster-mulching hit it has the potential to be. And that old men like your humble writer can play it, too.