If Painkiller was a 3D Realms game made with Unity trying to be a rogue-like with a bright Serious Sam aesthetic, it would be Immortal Redneck. Surprisingly, it would also be really good. Definitely better than you’d expect from something with the word “redneck” in the title.
A couple of things elevate Immortal Redneck above just a dopey shooter. It’s that, too. But it’s more. The main thing it has going for it is a ton of gameplay variety. It’s gradually folded in — see below for the second thing that elevates Immortal Redneck — so it’s not obvious at first. You’re running around with the obligatory shotgun and a “shoot really fast” power up on a cooldown timer. That doesn’t seem like much. Been there, done that, got the Steam achievements. But hang onto your britches, because it’s going to get crazy. The weapon variety, the additional powers, the passive abilities, the medallions, and especially the scrolls. Oh, those scrolls. The “redneck” part of the title gets more and more irrelevant, giving way to the “immortal”.
When your immortal redneck dies, he reincarnates as a god. Each god has his or her own unique weapons, and a unique power, and a unique passive bonus. Sorry, you don’t get to choose among everyone you’ve unlocked. Don’t expect to play your favorite every time. Call it forced variety. If you want to be a baby about it, just let yourself get killed by the first monster you see and try again. In a normal rogue-like, you might find new gear. You know, new weapons, better weapons. You would at least improve your existing weapons. You would level up your powers. But that’s not what happens here. Your starting weapons will probably be the weapons you have when you die. Your unique power and passive bonus won’t upgrade. You’re not even improving your stats as you level up, because you’re not even leveling up. In most rogue-likes — heck, in most games — you get more powerful as you progress. In Immortal Redneck, you get more different as you progress.
As you kill monsters, some of them drop scrolls. You have no idea what a scroll does, so you pick it up, because who’s not going to grab treasure? A scroll applies a gameplay tweak, whether you like it or not. There are literally dozens of different scrolls and I’m still finding ones I’ve never seen. The longer you live, the farther you get, the more scrolls you’ll collect, and therefore the more you’ll tweak the gameplay. But these scrolls aren’t balanced. They’re not even all good. They are an element of chaos that will at turns delight and infuriate you, arguably more important than whatever god you’re playing and weapons you’re shooting.
Too many game designers are shy about adding negatives (i.e. subtracting). The conventional wisdom is that you don’t take something away from a player. You don’t frustrate him with permanent debuffs. Curses have fallen out of favor. But the scrolls in Immortal Redneck didn’t get that memo. They can make dramatic differences and not always for the better. I tend to remember my Immortal Redneck playthroughs not so much by which god I chose, but by the combinatorial chaos of whichever scrolls I found.
Immortal Redeck is also elevated above being a dumb but gratifying shooter by its progression. When you die, you spend all the gold you collected at the skill tree. A literal tree. Sometimes when Immortal Redneck is trying to be funny, it’s actually funny. Sometimes. The stuff you unlock on this tree, including new gods and upgrades to gods, makes you more powerful to help you get farther. It’s a sign of a good rogue-like when you’re sort of glad you died, because now you get to buy stuff.
As far as the procedural generation (modern rogue-likes are characterized by the three P’s: permadeath, progression, and procedural generation), the pyramids you explore are randomly arranged, but they consist of pre-built rooms. Oh, this room again. The monsters vary, of course. Any given room is a monster closet, and you can’t leave until you’ve cleared it. So the familiar geometry is actually a bit reassuring. Since I hope to stay as intact as I can, I don’t mind knowing the nooks and crannies. I don’t mind knowing where the last few monsters might hide, or where I can take cover. The rooms aren’t afraid to get very vertical, with the usual lava pools under the jumps. But the jumps are forgiving in the extreme. If you get in the general neighborhood of something to grab, Immortal Redneck assumes you meant to grab it. There aren’t many games where I don’t mind having to climb to the top of a huge room by jumping onto tiny platforms while monsters shoot stuff at me.
It’s all quick arcade action, a la Doom, but it’s not afraid to show you numbers. The risk/reward balance increases as you climb levels, with the specific math on a splash screen at the start of each level. Although you don’t earn experience points, your objective is to collect gold, which you spend on the skill tree after you die. And since monsters drop gold when they die — as well as ammo and the occasional haunch of healing meat — it might as well be experience points. But the unlocks get increasingly expensive. And you don’t get to save any leftover gold. Every time you start a new playthrough, your balance is reset to zero. This isn’t grinding. It’s pushing forward as far as you can. Eventually you’re reach the boss. Supposedly. I haven’t gotten that far. I blame the scrolls.
It’s all very cheerful, friendly, cute. Fat pharaohs and stubby boars and hopping sarcophagi spitting out midget mummies and some sort of weird Cirque du Soleil gymnasts hanging from ceiling poles shooting fire and dog-headed archers and hordes of hopping toads. Dopey, but self-aware dopey. Polished. Slick. Smart. In other words, not what you’d expect from something with the word “redneck” in the title.