Shardpunk: Verminfall is described by its developer as a “tactical squad-based survival strategy game, based in a steampunk, rat-infested world”. Developed by Clockwork Pile and published by Retrovibe Games, Shardpunk: Verminfall is available for PC.
It is available now and will set you back £9.99/$11.99 on Steam and will require 3GB of storage.
Survival of the Rattest
Now, I’ll start off the same way the game does, by telling you that Shardpunk: Verminfall is not an easy game. Basically, you’re going to die. After that, you’ll start the game anew, with new skills and new characters to choose from. Then you’ll die again. So on and so forth. I’m sure more competent players will be able to play the game all the way through with fewer restarts than I did. But not many will complete it without any at all. So don’t worry, it’s fine, you’re doing great. It’s a rogue-lite, dying is all part of the experience!
You play as a ragtag group of survivors, in a post-war steampunk world, where you must stay on the move and fight off hordes of Rat monsters dubbed vermin. The war was already lost, but there is an automaton that could turn the tide. Except first, you have to deliver it. I’m sure that’ll be fine, right?
You start the game by picking 3 survivors and an automaton who you have to escort throughout the game. If the automaton dies, it’s game over. Each character and automaton has different abilities, weapons, strengths and weaknesses. You have to make your way through each stage to the bunker on the other side. It is a turn-based tactical RPG, with levels consisting of grids. So you have to spend AP (action points) to do everything from moving to fighting. You start each turn with 2AP for each character, though there are abilities to give temporary boosts to AP and movement or reduce the AP cost of abilities.
You’ll need to constantly be on the move, scavenging and fighting off hordes of vermin. Some stages will present other challenges to navigate, such as lightning storms. While others will have rules such as “no grenades”. Along the way, you’ll find other survivors who you can save and recruit. But if a survivor dies, they are permanently dead for the current playthrough. You’ll run low on resources and will need to decide what to upgrade, or which character needs healing the most. Characters also have a stress meter. If it’s maxed, your character can run off and find cover, effectively taking the character out of combat for one turn. It’s gruelling but in a fun and challenging way.
Between stages, you will find yourself in the safety of a bunker. In here you can heal up your comrades or automaton, craft equipment, give yourself buffs, upgrade your gear and level up skills. You still have action points here and must utilise them in the best way possible to give yourself the edge in the next stage. It is from here that you will choose the next destination.
Each destination has different traits. As I have said, some will have lightning storms or won’t allow grenades. There are other traits such as a certain type of enemy, special encounters or loot. There are also nests where you can destroy the enemy’s lair to make future levels a teensy bit easier. It’s up to you to decide which route you think is best to take. And as all the maps are random, no 2 playthroughs will look the same. I found I took the ones that said they would take a bit longer to complete but offered more loot the most.
Graphics & Audio
We seem to have mastered pixel-art games now, and it’s rare for one to come out that doesn’t look great. That is to say, the developer did a great job of capturing the moody aesthetic of this rat-infested post-war Steampunk world. Each character manages to look unique and cool, with minimal detailing and the enemies are all easy to tell apart and well designed. The game runs and looks great. Together with the soundtrack and audio design, which is equally as moody, everything just fits perfectly.
The very nature of rogue-lites has you replaying the game over and over, so you’ll have many hours of fun with Shardpunk. Some levels can feel very samey and though beautifully designed, there are minimal aesthetic differences so it can feel a bit repetitive at times. There are only so many things you can do with a sewer I guess. But popping vermin is always satisfying and keeping your survivors alive will take most of your attention anyway. So this isn’t a deal breaker really. The story is pretty linear, there are no twists and turns, so it is definitely the gameplay that will keep players coming back.
Shardpunk was a passion project for Clockwork Pile and it’s always a great pleasure to see someone’s passion bloom into something wonderful.
I really enjoyed the gameplay of Shardpunk. I’m a sucker for a good turn-based game anyway. But the tactical element of traversing each stage, trying to find cover to fight through the hordes of rats while trying to survive and manage resources really keeps you on your toes. The game can get a little repetitive at times, but I think that is kind of par for the course with a game of this type and it doesn’t take too much away from the experience. Also, the game isn’t particularly strong in the story department. But to be honest, my main issues with the game were my own shortcomings and I can hardly blame the developer for that. It evokes feelings of playing Fallout 1 or 2 again; nostalgic, but new.
Shardpunk: Verminfall fights its way to a Thumb Culture Gold Award!
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.