And then, like a hopeful ray of light shining down from a bizarre Japanese sun, The Undead Syndrome 2 ($1.00) was released onto the indie channel. Only momentarily blinded by its arrival, my heart stirred at the sight, and I was bathed in memories of foggy environs, KI powers, crystal implants, and giant, vein-covered babies. As the sequel to one of the oddest experiences around (and a personal favorite), this new game had quite a bit to live up to.
Once again channeling parts of all the great, classic survival horror games (notably Silent Hill and Parasite Eve), you’re dropped into the continuing saga of our unknown— and possibly murdered— female lead. After the events of the first game, she wakes up in an alien structure, impaled on a spike. Nearby, others are similarly hung up, including her attacker. She learns the Matrix-like truth that she is being ‘plugged into’ the unending nightmare she’s experiencing, and that whoever or whatever is behind it all is studying them for research purposes. Hmm, guess we’ll be taking the red pill today.
The game’s alien rabbit-hole leads back into the interconnected nightmare, and it’s as strange (and familiar) as ever, morphing from claustrophobic Japanese-style rooms to large, open dreamscapes filled with all sorts of ugly creations bent on stopping you. Using the gifted-to-you ability to shoot energy from your hand (known as KI), you’ll have to cleanse the dream bit by bit, exploring, finding keys and other useful items through some simple platforming, and then revisiting old areas once you’ve gained a new way forward.
That route is mostly trial and error, mind you, as one of my biggest issues with the previous game— the lack of a map or objective markers— leads to some guesswork once again. Helpful floating text in the environment occasionally points you in the right direction or offers a clue to solving some basic puzzles (plus it looks really cool), but it’s largely on you to make a mental diagram of your surroundings and remember which doors were locked the last time you came through. If you’re like me, you’ll get lost a few times before eventually stumbling onto the path the game wants you to take.
Combat feels more amped-up this time around, introducing new enemy types and larger battles, for better and for worse. Given that foes respawn the minute you leave, and backtracking plays a huge role in the game, you’ll be fighting a lot. A lot. Thankfully, the RPG-style leveling and versatile body implants return, rewarding you for fighting those waves of enemies and experimenting with your crystal loadout, trading off KI power or health for greater protection from poison or paralyzing blows. The higher the percentage, the less susceptible you will be to enemy attacks, and really, this perk is worth its weight in the diamonds you’ll equip. Trust me.
That’s right, random status ailments rear their ugly head again, and are more annoying than ever. Having to pause mid-fight to bring up the menu and scroll down to the required item is a momentum breaker, and that’s assuming you’re carrying the herbs you need. While enemies drop money (the mysterious spectral salesman and his store are back!) and said healing items, it’s never a guarantee you’ll have what you need in any situation. With the hulking crab-baby bosses (a total of three) guarding the keys you’ll need to progress deeper into your nightmare, you’d be wise to stock up.
Each fight plays the same, with you first attempting to hit their weak points on their arms to expose their head, which takes more damage. This is easier said than done, with the game’s loose combat controls not-suited to precision hits. All this while the bosses give chase, stomping you and inflicting those goddamn status ailments you’ll learn to loathe. Your best bet is to carry plenty of curative items and use the game’s speed run feature to keep a distance buffer between you and them. Otherwise, you may be forced to restart or backtrack to a shop to purchase more. Which is… very not fun.
It’s a shame, as the rest of the game flows well-enough. It ends on a cliffhanger, of course, without any definitive showdown or further exposition. Although abrupt ends tend to infuriate (especially after another 3+ hours of work), that means we can probably expect an additional chapter or two in the series at some point. Which I’m all for. Minus those truly terrible boss fights and the absence of a map, The Undead Syndrome 2 is an intriguing follow-up to an already plenty-intriguing original that fans should enjoy.
This review is also featured at Indiepitome