Voltage High Society – in its current, extremely early-access form – is weird and bewildering, but also intriguing and full of potential. According to the developer, Platonic Partnership, this early build of their first-person Metroidvania only offers 20-odd minutes of gameplay with a thin narrative veneer. In practice, the interconnected level design, multiple paths, deadly creatures, and a boss fight provided a tense and gruelling experience, which kept me tentatively exploring for almost 2 hours.
Voltage High Society takes place in a dystopian future in which an offshore island city has become infested by cybernetic fusions of robotic skeletons and organic tissue. If your protagonist – seemingly a prisoner for undisclosed crimes – can gather enough data for the authorities and escape, they have a chance of extraction, freedom, and even a cash bonus. Unfortunately, most of that background comes from the storefront description and snippets of dialogue from two fellow prisoners lingering on the rooftop starting location. There are some poorly written text logs – usually found on abandoned terminals in dark corners – that hint at the source of disaster that befell the city, but there’s no cohesive narrative trajectory at present.
Thankfully the gameplay, even in its current state, is far more interesting. You can run, jump, and clamber around the world with relative ease, occasionally interacting with terminals or buttons to add data cube locations to your HUD or open shortcuts. The traditional Metroidvania elements – encompassing combat, light puzzles, and opening up alternate routes – rely on assigning gear to either hand. At first, you’re limited to punching robotic skeletons to death and searching for breakable barricades, but you’ll soon find a taser that allows you to stun-punch enemies and activate electrical panels.
For now, it looks like equipment is only found in the world; whereas defeating enemies, punching containers, and exploring out-of-the-way corners often nets you scrap that can be spent on passive abilities at a lizard-like merchant – think more health, double jumping, and breathing underwater. In fact, punching containers (or any physics object) is an essential mechanic – especially in boss arenas – as they also spit out health shards and energy shards that power your pitiful torch and taser.
Combat, on the whole, is awkward. It relies on a strike-dodge-counter rhythm but it’s hard to tell when you’re in range to strike or far enough away to avoid getting hit. On the upside, the single boss battle was all about staying mobile and triggering switches at the right time, rather than a clunky fight – a puzzle-like design choice I hope they stick to.
Voltage High Society currently has a rogue-lite progression system that’s forgiving when it comes to combat, but unforgiving when it comes to hoarding enough scrap for upgrades. Radiant green couches serve as a checkpoint when you fall, but any enemies you’ve killed stay dead and the damage you’ve dealt to a boss is retained. However, any scrap you’ve collected is dropped, ‘Souls-style, but a) it’s difficult to find enough for any significant upgrade in the first place and b) it’s easy to lose the dropped pile in many situations (think scripted level destruction or falling out of bounds if you’re near the edge of the playable space). These decisions result in a compelling mix of cautious exploration followed by recklessness once you’ve got a feel for the level layout and cleared out lesser foes.
By far Voltage High Society’s strongest element is the presentation and atmosphere – rough as it may seem in video clips and screenshots. It’s weird, confusing, unsettling, and sinister but also a little goofy.
The visuals use that blocky, texture-warping, early-3D style from the mid-90s – with some sprite-based decals – commonplace on the PlayStation One and SEGA Saturn consoles. Enemies are far from geometrically complex but they still look distinctive and horrifying; think a mix of robotic skeletons, metallic weapons, and deformed fleshy bits. The colour palette and lighting, at least so far, range from desaturated greyscale to garish neon colours, while the one modern-ish feature is the real-time shadows that make exploring by torchlight terrifying. Parts of the world are incredibly dark and there’s a massive sense of relief when you find an exit or shortcut back onto the streets and rooftops.
Of course, a strong visual style is nothing without a decent soundscape and Voltage High Society does a great job with limited assets. Traversal and combat sound fine, but it’s the distorted cries of the enemies and unsettling background ambience that maintain the creepy atmosphere. The music is also a highlight. What’s currently on offer are mostly subdued electronic tracks that transition smoothly as you move about, giving each area a distinct feel.
Now, there’s no denying Voltage High Society looks and plays rough in early access – especially the stock, half-functional menus and HUD – but there’s potential here for a compelling and unsettling horror-themed Metroidvania. When I wasn’t falling through level geometry, I was creeping forward through the gloom, hoping to find a new tool and path forward, rather than a quick death at the hands of some lumbering cybernetic monstrosity. It’s a barebones mechanical experience for now, but the level design and incredible atmosphere – think dystopian cyberpunk by way of Silent Hill – feels novel and worth supporting.
A preview code for Voltage High Society was provided to gameblur by the publisher.