Do you ever wish you could play a Buffy The Vampire Slayer video game that didn't feature whichever cast member you like the least (such as all the men Buffy dates because they are terrible models for young people's relationships)? Slayer Shock might have you covered. Slayer Shock is the latest from Minor Key Games, the developer behind two of my favourite stealth games, Eldritch and Neon Struct. The sparse, blocky aesthetic for which the studio is known is back, here less in service of pure stealth and more to create cavernous, creepy spaces where hordes of vampires and other monsters mill about, waiting to be staked. The game takes place in a town called Lancaster, Nebraska, in 1996. It's broken into "seasons", each leading up to a confrontation with a Big Bad.
There's a lot of leather vampires walking around. I dig it.
The Buffy touches, though obvious, are light. The hub area is a coffee shop rather than the school library or The Bronze. You have a small team of Scoobies: A researcher, a mentor, a weapons expert and a shopkeeper. They will have little interactions with each other while you're out on patrol; in my playthrough, two of the female characters dated (they didn't sing a suggestive song about it though, or at least not in my presence). By spending dust you gather from killing certain vampires and other monsters, you can unlock new weapons, skills and gear. Giving the researcher dust uncovers the season's Big Bads and their weaknesses — one might be immune to silver, for instance, which means taking wooden weapons into battle with them. Each research phase takes several days, which gives you time to collect the dust necessary to arm up for the final fight.
The outfits are spot on.
The weapons are varied but fall into categories. There's the ubiquitous wooden stake (called, yes, Mr Pointy); a water gun that can shoot different types of water; a crossbow; holy water grenades and even a camera with a flash that can stun enemies. There are usually a lot of enemies around — you can take the stealth route or go in like an action hero, but I found it best to take out the vampires I could from a distance before diving into the fray. The sheer number of enemies can turn an encounter pear-shaped quickly, and if you lose a mission the threat level of its area increases. If the threat gets too high, that area gets locked for the rest of the season.
The areas and their missions have some variation, but not a lot. One night you'll be rescuing hostages from Lancaster's university, and the next you'll steal vampire relics from a besieged train station. These goals don't make a huge amount of difference to your behaviour, really, and you'll find yourself doing pretty much the same thing regardless of what purpose it's dressed up in. The areas don't change between seasons, either, and while they each have distinct looks and layouts, Slayer Shock's visuals don't do much for making them feel like vibrant, exciting places to explore.
There's a House joke here, obviously. Crossover episode?
The most complicated thing you'll do in Slayer Shock is lockpicking, which is sound-based. I found it a little imprecise and fiddly (which, given that it's lockpicking, might be the point). The game doesn't pause while you're lockpicking, which creates a lot of tension but can also be frustrating, especially on harder locks. Lockpicking lacks the charm of Neon Struct's hacking mechanic (a tiny version of Breakout); it can start to feel repetitive, which might be both Slayer Shock's biggest weakness and greatest strength.
Given a long enough play session, Slayer Shock can start to feel a little shallow and same-y, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The basic format creates a game that's perfect for dipping in and out of rather than marathoning. There's no big plot to forget or complex mechanics to re-learn if you come back after a long time away (a tragic weakness of mine). Eldritch is similar in construction, and it's one of my favourite games to have a go at between other tasks. As such, it's long been a staple in my Steam library, and I can see Slayer Shock occupying a similar place. Slayer Shock is perfect to boot up and spend a little time with, like how we used to watch Buffy on TV before we could all binge it on Netflix.
I've seen people on the internet proclaiming Slayer Shock their favourite Minor Key game yet. For me, it lacks some of the native personality of Eldritch and Neon Struct, but its departure from pure stealth into more action-oriented territory made it an enjoyable change. It's certainly a game I'll be revisiting, not least because there's an achievement I haven't gotten yet called "Once More With Feeling", which I am now going to go and watch.