Teleglitch: Die More Edition is a fun little slice of top-down shooter action with all the potential to turn into something truly great. The problem is that the due date for the game to live up to its potential has largely passed – it’s now released in the Steam store for $12.99, a bit late in the development cycle to hope much more really comes of it. Graphically, it’s a charmingly simple game – a mixture of hyper-pixelated graphics with simple mouse/keyboard controls, wrapped up in a sci-fi story about the experiments of an aggressive military weapons corporation. The basic features of randomized maps, roguelike-style ‘one death allowed’ difficulty and the focus on scavenging/managing precious weapons and resources are solidly thought up and well-implemented. But instead of growing these systems into a fully fleshed-out game – and despite being released with an edition that adds more content than the first iteration of Teleglitch previously had – it still comes up short for the $12.99 price Paradox Interactive is asking.
One of the eye-catching things about Teleglitch: Die More Edition is the loading screen, which comes in what seems like the exact mix and balance of colors to offer a great imitation of a classic Blue Screen of Death. That’s not a complaint, but it certainly made my eyes open wider and riveted my attention right from the start of the gameplay experience. After tapping my way through the pleasant if simple ASCII art, I was greeted with the ultra-simplistic introductory movie illustrating the game’s title, a very brief rundown of the current status (Basically, ‘military research outpost on a distant planet has had an experiment glitch and there are problems’), and then you’re right at the menu. There’s a quick tutorial available to familiarize yourself with Teleglitch’s controls, and they’re easy enough to learn – move with W/A/S/D, aim with the mouse, right click to aim a projectile while, left click to fire it, and so on. Nothing too complicated to speak of, but it’s well-executed and helpful, and it’s presented in the context of military robot training – a nice touch, making the training an in-character event.
The actual gameplay of Teleglitch is as straightforward as the controls – your goal is shoot and generally survive through the ten or so levels (plus Die More Edition added content) the game throws at you. Each level you’re thrown onto an apparently randomized map of doorways, outdoor areas, tight corridors and dead ends, where you’ll do your best to kill the variety of totally aggressive enemies the game sends your way, usually way far too little ammunition to get the job done. With luck you’ll manage to find your way to the teleporter, which will throw you to the next level – and maybe along the way you’ll scrounge up more supplies than you came in with, patch up your wounds, and generally try to avoid dying. That last part is a particularly difficult thing to do, and ultimately requires not only intelligent and skillful use of your available resources, but good timing, reflexes, and luck. Dying is final – there is no ‘restart the level’ or ‘reload from your last save’ in Teleglitch. If you die, you’re either starting all over again from level 1, or from the latest level you’ve unlocked the ability to start off at: get to level 5, and you can restart at level 3, for example. That’s easier said than done, but at least trying again at these advanced levels also grants you more starting equipment than you get at level 1 (a pistol, a couple bombs, and whatever happens to be on the ground nearby.)
So, what we have in Teleglitch: Die More Edition is a punishing game that features randomized levels, punishing roguelike-style deaths, 20+ types of enemies, over 40+ types of weapons and items, all based in a refreshing sci-fi setting. Very simplistic graphics, but the simple can be charming. In fact, on the surface, this is my kind of game – I love roguelikes, I’m very much at ease with simple graphics, randomization of levels entices me, the gameplay style is fun. If Teleglitch was being offered up for $4.99, I wouldn’t have much negative to say about it – that would be a fair price for a decent, if ultimately rather limited and punishing game. But the asking price on this one is $12.99, and every time I alt-tab over to the Steam store to make sure I’m reading it right, all I can think is… no. Sorry, but no. Even with the added content of the Die More Edition, this does not feel like a $12.99 game, and the reasons ultimately boil down to two issues. First and foremost, a relative lack of content – when the enemies are as simple as they are in Teleglitch (both in terms of graphics and AI), having only 20 different types to encounter feels tremendously phoned-in. Consult the screenshots on this one – we’re talking about distinctions in design that mostly cash out to ‘slightly larger, more tinted squares’. The same can be said for the level variety, the weapons variety, the variety of possible rooms to encounter on any given map. As with art, there comes a point where minimalistic design is no longer an aesthetic issue and starts to feel more like a bit of a ripoff, and Teleglitch skirts that issue awfully close for the price it’s launching at.
The second glaring problem with the game is the difficulty. Yes, I know it’s the Die More Edition. No, I don’t have any problem with games that are punishingly difficult – I just finished up several days playing Dungeons of Dredmor only to end up dying to the titular character himself at the last minute owing to impatience on my part. Days of progress and play, wiped out – and I enjoyed it. Just as I enjoy (for teeth-grinding definitions of enjoyment) having my fortress overrun in Dwarf Fortress, dying for the 300th time in Rogue Legacy, starving to death in Nethack, getting cursed to oblivion in Dark Souls, and all the other games that truly, if reasonably, punish the player for their failures. I don’t get that ‘reasonable’ feeling of punishment in Teleglitch. Instead, all too often it felt like the difficulty on offer wasn’t arrived at via careful and purposeful tuning, but more a case of artificially adding longevity to the game by making some of the monsters so incredibly deadly that you’re practically guaranteed to croak no matter how careful or prepared you are, unless you get lucky. Considering the randomized nature of the game, and the fact that you start off each level with the map completely obscured, the knowledge that at any point you can turn a corner and encounter a monster armed with a gun and way too skillful aim makes Teleglitch more frustrating than it really should be.
What drives a lot of these complaints is the price of the game, and the distinct impression that Teleglitch’s developers now consider this title something they can consider quite done and leave behind them. Once you get beyond the difficulty and the lack of variety, what you have here is a pretty good game. It’s graphically charming, the premise is entertaining, and there’s untapped potential everywhere from the weapon selection to the monster types to the rooms you have to make your way through with each level. I can only imagine what could have been done with Teleglitch if it were put in the oven for two more solid months of attention. As it stands, most of the potential it has feels ultimately wasted, and the price tag seems way too high for what it is at the end of the day – particularly for a game available on the normally somewhat selective Steam service. If you’re looking for some sci-fi shooter action and a game you can legitimately brag about defeating if you manage to get to the end with, keep an eye on this one and wait for the inevitable price-chop to take place at Steam, or via an indie game bundle. Otherwise, let this one pass you by.