Demon Spore preview [PAX] — Infectious challenge

A good action-horror game is a delicate balance. Action necessitates fighting, and if the player is too strong, then the stakes drop off and the game ceases to be scary. If the forces that antagonize the player are too powerful, then players could grow frustrated and lose interest. There needs to be an ebb and flow. Demon Spore, a top-down action-horror roguelite developed by DinoBoss and published by Null Games, knows how to strike that balance.

Taking inspiration from 80s sci-fi horror movies such as The Thing and Alien, players assume the role of a scientist trapped in a lab after their genetic experiment to solve world hunger goes horribly wrong. What was supposed to be a way to increase an animal’s growth rate for an endless supply of meat has devolved into a horrible, fleshy monstrosity that is rapidly spreading through the lab, the Demon Spore. Uncover the shady circumstances behind the monster’s existence while trying to survive.

In order to escape, players have to make their way through a series of rooms in the lab. The first room is safe, allowing the player to get their bearings. Approaching one of the doors will reveal the rest of the lab, which is divided into squares on a grid, showing weapon rooms, armor rooms, and where the main body of the demon spore is going. Take advantage of this information to scope out a possible route to the exit, but beware, the Demon Spore is expanding and will mess with your plans. If you feel brave enough, then go on into the den of the beast, but be warned, it’s no cakewalk.

The player will be met with enemy encounters as they move from room to room. The game is challenging, but not unfair, as enemies will kill you in one hit, but there are plenty of ways to fight back. If you have yet to find a weapon, you can use throwables to ward off enemies. Given that you’re in a lab, you have plenty of chemicals and substances at your disposal to destroy the various forms of the Demon Spore. Flammable jars, explosive barrels, sticky gel, acid bottles, water jars, and throwable computers that electrocute enemies are all quite literally on the table. These throwables even have synergies, for example, throw the computer into a puddle of water to deal extra damage. On top of your throwable options, there’s a fire extinguisher that freezes enemies in place. Guns are the most effective option by far, but come with limited ammo. Always search every available create to stock up on ammunition before moving on to the next room—every bullet counts.

There’s a good deal of variety between enemies. Sometimes you’ll walk into a room to find that none of the spore pods have hatched yet, which begins a mad dash to smash them all before they awaken. Other times spore monsters will lunge at you, or fire an appendage from a distance, but by far the most frightening form is the one that can rapidly grow across the floor. In order to kill it you have to destroy the pods on its body, but it can regenerate rapidly. Watching this monstrosity unfurl its body is, quite frankly, terrifying – especially when it begins to corner you.

While killing enemies right off the bat is smart, sometimes you’ll want to reposition. Turning on a printer or centrifuge will attract enemies. However, you can’t bypass enemies entirely by distracting them, so as long as the security system detects the presence of mutants, the exit doors will remain locked. The only way to override is by finding a breaker switch to turn off security, allowing you to escape, even if there are enemies in the room. At the same time, because security is now down, you lose access to the map preview.

On occasion, you will find a dead scientist who might have a key to a security system in a nearby room, which grants you access to a security computer. As of now, the only option is to lock the Demon Spore in, but in the future, there will be more ways to manipulate the map, such as immolating an infested room. On the flip side, they might already be infected, and tampering with the body will agitate whatever has taken to calling their corpse home.

If you plan on mastering this game by memorizing the whole map, every room, and the spreading patterns of the monster, then you’re out of luck, because every run is procedurally generated. However, you will be able to unlock more scientists by stumbling across them in rooms throughout the lab. There will also be a roguelite progression system, so you can progress permanently and get stronger between runs. Of course, the best way to get good at the game is to get good at combat. Positioning, strategy, and mastering risk vs reward are the most valuable skills you can have in Demon Spore.

If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, bring a friend in the co-op mode. If you’re killed, you can help each other up. The ability to revive buddies is very powerful, but make sure you clear out nearby spore monsters beforehand, as the process requires you to stay still, leaving you vulnerable.

Overall, Demon Spore just does so much right; the gameplay feels genuinely challenging, its art style is polished and lends itself to the game’s visceral body horror, and it’s nailed its theme as a homage to 1980s sci-fi horror. Demon Spore will be launching sometime in 2024, and I’m excited—and terrified—for its arrival.

Jackson loves to play and write about video games. Rogue-lites, FPS, and RPG games are his favorite. He's a big fan of the Battlefield series and Warhammer 40K.

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