Splatter begins on the floor of an arcade. A shooting star on the patterned carpet gently warps and distorts as the camera bobs with your breathing. You lie below a row of arcade machines. One’s powered on. Light emanates from its screen and a mysterious color-changing liquid coats the bezel in a way that looks like it shot right out of the CRT. You look to be resting in a pool of it yourself, half-dead, with your vision blurring in and out. Meanwhile, the music bangs. Despite your situation, it’s time to click “Begin Session” and play; a game beckons. And what a game it is.
Splatter is a first-person shooter where your body is your weapon. No, you’re not punching and kicking enemies – you shoot projectiles with various hand gestures. It’s kind of similar to this year’s PS5 exclusive Ghostwire Tokyo, but Ghostwire feels more like a Dr. Strange simulator and Splatter is more of a boomer-shooter with (literal) handguns. You’ll be provided pistols, a machine gun, a laser beam, rollable bombs, a rocket launcher, and more by munching on CD-ROMs (yes, compact discs) that’ll spawn in the levels.
Your fingers have infinite ammo, but they do need to reload. The way this works is novel. Players wield a max of two weapons at a time. When one of them is out of juice, indicated by an empty testosterone or estrogen bar, it’s time to swap. The use of the second weapon, as well as time passing, restores ammunition for the first.
Near the start of Splatter, I was shooting until I heard my finger guns dry fire (indicated by the Windows XP error sound). Before long I’d grown so acclimated to my weapons and their ammo count that I was keeping rhythm and switching just before I ran out of uses. This system, along with a Devil May Cry-ish combo meter, encourages players to regularly change weapons so that they never stop raining bullets on enemies.
Splatter‘s levels are called “sessions”. You progress through them by fulfilling objectives displayed on a Winamp-skin-looking device featured at the top of your beautiful and busy HUD. As your goals transition, a Nokia-esque vibration alert sounds and the screen washes out into a sea of pixels before snapping back to normal. These goals range from collecting trails of coins in rapid succession, picking up health (energy drinks), gathering and deploying weapons, or exiting a level, but most often your goal is just to lay waste to hordes of Splatter‘s color-changing humanoid attackers.
They pursue you relentlessly. Some shamble, some skitter along the ground, and some float around shooting missiles, but they all share a single goal. They want you to lose. And they’re good at their job. I don’t mean to gloat about being a god-gamer, but for context: I finished last year’s Returnal without much stress, and I got Sifu‘s platinum trophy this February. With this in mind, know that Splatter put me through my paces. It’s one of the harder games I’ve played.
Splatter even adapts to your playstyle to keep you on your toes. If you’re constantly aiming at enemies’ legs, they’ll pop up with shin armor before long. If you regularly give foes a wide berth, they’ll get faster to close the distance. This system does a great job of not allowing complacency, but still affording the combat’s flow state.
Gamers on the casual side need not fret though; there are difficulty modifiers. I used them to varying degrees in about half of my time with the game. Enemy health and damage output are adjustable, and you can give yourself regenerating life. These modifiers will dock your points and hinder you from climbing the leaderboard, but they don’t get in the way of Splatter‘s chaotic fun.
I Heard You Paint Houses
Splatter is named for the gallons of enemy blood you’ll spill as you make your way through its 16 levels. Though “blood” doesn’t feel like the right word for the colorful liquid that sprays out of these creatures. Slime? Goop, maybe?
This gore gets everywhere. It coats the floors, walls, and ceilings of Splatter’s liminal spaces. If you’re close enough to your target when you slap or blast them to death, it’ll briefly spray onto your screen. Enemy corpses disappear, but their juices don’t. The trail of your carnage remains, covering more and more of the level until you’re done.
Splatter‘s soundtrack is described by its composer Leaf Let as “electronic bangers, vaporwave, jazz, and uncomfortable amounts of weird voices speaking gibberish”. I don’t reckon there’s any better way to put it. It’s sometimes dreamy, sometimes breakneck, and always a highlight. Leaf Let’s score helps cement Rat King Collective’s vision of Splatter as a fever dream. I really dug it. Some of the songs called to mind Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes‘ OST, one of my all-time favorites.
The levels literally thump to these tracks. The entire environment pulsates to experimental electronic music and ground textures warp underfoot as you run, painting the walls with rainbow gore, slamming energy drinks to restore your health before sending rockets hurtling into enemies and chewing through their bodies with your shotgun hands. It’s as satisfying as it sounds and somehow less disorienting. The difficulty combined with a near sensory overload-inducing presentation can be exhausting, but it’s gratifying.
Internet Hate Machine
All this chaos takes place in a digital mindscape filled with imagery, sound, and vibes~ from internet culture. But it isn’t a lazy 3D recreation of a vaporwave album cover, nor is it a parody filled with shallow references eagerly asking players if they “remember this, bro”? Splatter is definitively “of” the World Wide Web. This is the juice that has collected at the bottom of the garbage bag that is the internet, crystalized into a traversable space. Splatter‘s world feels like the product of a team that’s been too online for too long, and it’s magnificent.
With visuals and sounds from the early internet to the modern day in locations that belong to no single decade, it’s hard to tell where the anachronisms begin and end. The Windows XP error chime and the still widely used Vine boom sound effect coexist in harmony within the game. “Claim your prize” pop-ups that I remember from Myspace live side by side with modern-day “you won’t last five minutes with this game” adult website ads. The tutorial level has you smacking pop-ups like these out of existence to learn how to melee. This same tutorial features target practice dummies that look like 90’s clip art wearing “Girlboss” shirts.
Splatter features as much flavor from Gaia Online as it does from 4chan, as it does from Twitter. For someone like me who’s spent too much time on all three in my life, it was a surreal experience.
Heartbreaking: The Worst Person You Know Just Made A Great Level
In-game, this mindscape’s arenas are the product of four mysterious administrators. Sessions begin with messages from these users, and you’ll hear from them during gameplay too. As you get to know them, if you’ve spent any time online, you’ll realize you know exactly the kinds of people you’re dealing with.
There’s a millennial weeb who’s lonely and pining for human connection, as well as the days that anime and games were still good in his eyes. There’s a crypto-bro who’s laser-focused on the grind, investing, and being a winner because he can’t stand to lose again. And then there’s a New Age spiritualist who’s obsessed with helping others “ascend” through mindfulness and the almighty power of oils. The sessions are designed by these personalities; there are arcades for the weeb’s levels, gambling wonderlands for the sigma male, and odd takes on malls and churches for the spiritualist.
The fourth admin doesn’t appear to be a user, but the system itself. It speaks to you directly through static and seems to talk candidly about the game in a meta way. System’s levels are warehouse-like and are like a peak behind the curtain of the otherwise loud dreamscape. Outside of the sessions, back in the game’s menus, you can view each admin’s social media page. They’re updated with the completion of each level and along with your direct communication with the four users, will help you piece together the game’s story. These pages look like old 90’s websites, are covered in obnoxious GIFs, and are regularly hilarious.
Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride
There were only a few snags in my journey through the game, but since Splatter is so demanding and engrossing, they pulled me out of the experience pretty hard. Some goals felt unclear and finding the location of these objectives within a time limit while desperately trying to stay alive was too tall of an order. Certain sessions gave enemies a bit too much health for my tastes, leading to the usually satisfying weapons feeling wimpy. Sometimes enemies swarmed me to the degree that even with a jump, dodge, dive, and two guns at my disposal I couldn’t manage to make it out of the huddle. I usually assign fault to myself in situations like this: “just don’t let yourself get surrounded/corned”. But in these scenarios, it felt like it was a mission or level design cramping my style.
Platforming is sometimes required of you, and it’s not the game’s strong suit. One of crypto-bro’s sessions has jump-pads, an obstacle course, and constantly rising lava. Because the game had required raw platforming before and because these objects had giant arrows on them, I figured they’d automatically bounce me to where I needed to go, but a bit of steering is still required, and it feels off. Falling from platforms in the level would sometimes have me take a bit of damage and warp back up to continue playing and sometimes I would bounce up and down on the hazard until I died. Another level requires a rocket jump that I either couldn’t get to work half the time or I was clipping against something above me that I wasn’t seeing.
Session 8 is rather rough, introducing you to enemies that have telepathic homing blasts while having you do platforming on tightropes and staircases where dodging is almost guaranteed death. Splatter’s levels aren’t long, so there aren’t any checkpoints. This makes situations like session 8 extra frustrating as you clear the opening wave of enemies, begin platforming while listening to the administrator dialogue, die to the unfair scenario, and repeat this process until you get very good, receive a miracle, or change the difficulty modifiers.
The Transcendence of the Ego
Splatter is fun, funny, frantic, and deeper than a game with a weapon called “Fuck” and a Monster Energy drink parody for a health pick-up would have you believe (following in Kojima’s footsteps here). It’s sometimes euphoric and sometimes frightening. Splatter had its hooks in me from the moment I saw its opening user agreement regarding the 100+ things it planned to subject me to. Be sure to click “deny” on that screen at least once; I won’t dare spoil what happens.
I’m sure its ending will be contentious, but it left me even more positive about the game when I was done. Whether you come to Splatter for over-the-top finger-gun shooting, to talk a walk through an internet-inspired wonderland, or to discover the fate of the four users in its digital mindscape, you’re in for a good time.
Rat King Collective provided Final Weapon with a copy of Splatter for review purposes.