Let it Die, the new free-to-play PlayStation 4 game, is absurd to the point of incoherence, brutally violent, and quite possibly very stupid.
I think I love it.
If you’re at all familiar with developer Grasshopper Manufacture, this may not surprise you. It’s led by Goichi “Suda51” Suda, a Japanese creator known for the bizarre. His most famous work, Killer7, is a neo-noir pastiche with anime flair that revolves around the adventures of a crew of assassins, all of whom are alternate personalities of the same man. Suda51’s games are violent, stylish, and singular in style and mood. Suda didn’t direct Let it Die, but he oversaw the project and left his fingerprints all over it. Like Suda’s best work, it’s an attack on the senses, tenacious and loud.
In Let it Die, you traverse a tower of urban refuse after the apocalypse, a Babel of broken buildings and deranged murderers. You brawl with them, and with monsters, robots, and odd creatures that I’m pretty sure are Christmas ornaments in space suits. You’ll begin and end most bouts naked, fists clenched, covered in blood. It’s not played even a bit seriously: Your guide is a grim-reaper type named Uncle Death who rides a skateboard and swings his scythe like Johnny Carson ending a monologue. The tower is full of subway tunnels and staircases adorned with Christmas lights, a fact that is never commented on by anyone.
The brawls are clunky, but you quickly get used to it. Let it Die delivers a slow but addictive rhythm of combat that manages to be simultaneously meaty and plodding. It feels like a game from another era, devoid of the polish that most big games get—“polish” meaning paying attention to whether the systems in the game are easy to learn and use. Let it Die is clumsy and wild, which does not preclude it from being hypnotic in its sheer unrestrained spectacle.
Like a lot of Grasshopper’s work, Let it Die defies interpretation. It’s such a Frankenstein of influences and design ideas, such a mess of mechanics and tropes, that I can’t make heads or tails of it. It might be brilliant, an anarchic expression of carnal game violence in an absurdist parody world of the medium’s silliest ideas. Or it might be idiotic.
The violence might be there simply because Grasshopper finds violence hilarious. And there’s an undercurrent in how the characters, especially the women, move that sexualizes all the gore in a manner that is frankly upsetting. I honestly can’t tell, and the game offers no footholds from which to mount an interpretation. Whenever I try I imagine Uncle Death shrugging, riding away on his skateboard, kickflipping over my integrity as a critic on his way out.
Let it Die is certainly addictive. There’s something there, in its madcap core, that is good and possibly great. I’m just not entirely sure what it is.