You hear them before you see them – the awful croaking of the flap-handed poison frogs, the cosmic rattling death-baa of a squat and villainous ram. It’s a tiny detail, but it brings so much to proceedings: when you enter a new chamber, seconds after you find yourself locked inside again, a game about shooting is briefly, regularly, a game about listening. What’s coming next? Oh god, it’s frogs! Luckily, I have exactly the right tool for dealing with frogs.
All of which is to say that Immortal Redneck pulls off the near-impossible. There is a funny thing about procedural games – games which are always relentlessly different – and that’s the fact that, over time, they often become entirely samey. When rooms, weapons, enemies, timings are scrambled artlessly, you frequently get something with the consistency of other scrambled things. You get scrambled eggs. You get ludic sludge. Immortal Redneck is a shooter/roguelite hybrid: you grab your guns and race through a series of pyramids, each one formed by increasingly hazardous floors composed of procedurally shuffled rooms filled with a range of gloriously colourful baddies. Every now and then there is a boss, and when you die you get to spend your winnings across the spreading boughs of a skill tree that will hopefully allow you to play better next time. Let scrambled eggs commence!
But it never does. Partly this is because of obvious things. Immortal Redneck is a beautiful shooter to control. Movement is smooth and fast and traversal allows you to jump and mantle with no snagging and no interruption to the flow of your intuition. It’s Painkiller-ish, Serious Sam-type stuff, pleasantly retro and twitchy, and crucially the guns – they range from six-shooters to magical staffs and electro-swords with some wonderful curios in between – feel nice and punchy even before you’ve started plugging in points.
Then there’s the setting: I have no idea why a redneck finds himself mummified in Egypt – this is all explained in an opening cutscene; sadly a game with this kind of paciness in its soul demands that cutscenes are skipped on principle – yet Egypt is very nice to look at and dash around, sand piling on time-smoothed stone floors, huge statues rising broken from the earth in underground chambers lit by wall-mounted torches, enemies who take the form of sarcophagi, say, lumping awkwardly towards you and then disgorging mini-mummies. Egypt’s ancient gods were the original MOBA line-up, really – I hope this isn’t too offensive a point to make, but since the ancients did not draw the same borders between the sacred and the secular I reckon they’ll forgive me – and they erupt out of this game with their jackal-headed charisma entirely undimmed.
But partly it’s the stuff that Immortal Redneck gets right that other games often don’t. Take the procedural rooms, slammed together into gauntlets that you fight through, enemies getting trickier and rewards getting rewardier with each floor. The arrangement of rooms is always shifting, but the rooms themselves are the work of proper human craftspersons, and you can tell: algorithms are shown the door. They’re beautiful, these rooms. They have internal flow so you can move and move, dashing forward and looping at that beautiful headlong pace. But they also have verticality, so you can race up and down in surprising ways. They have their own characters, and they pose their own challenges. A wide-open place is terrifying when filled with frogs, but it’s a different kind of anti-picnic when it’s just you, no cover, and a distant sniper. (Enemy types fit together with geometry so well here, of course, because it’s the kind of old-school game where you can duck around incoming projectiles if you’re fast enough. Enemy types are often intimately related to questions of geometry in fact: they may look like a gabbling micro-whale or a contortionist hanging from the ceiling, but you know them by how they aim, how they charge a shot, and how fast that shot then moves through the air.)
Then there are the scrolls. Let us bow our heads briefly and give thanks for the scrolls in Immortal Redneck. Yes, they are simple modifiers dropped by fallen enemies along with money, ammo and health top-ups, but they are also the reason each runthrough has its own narrative, its own peculiar trajectory. Scrolls can be good or bad, and when they’re bad they can be very bad. You don’t have to pick them up, and at times they can be so bad, so game-changingly terrible, that I have actually left them where they lay, which is the ultimate accolade for the power of a modifier in a game, I would argue.
But I rarely leave them where they lay, to be honest, and man, these things mess with me. They’re a welcome splinter of chaos, basically. They hide the map or they reveal distant parts of the map. They force me to constantly run, or they halve my health in exchange for gold that I did not ask for. They fiddle with gravity. When you start to pick scrolls up, you start to make each run genuinely distinct, you start to tell a story that feels bespoke and almost crafted. Just now I had a run where my weapons were swapped out randomly and I was suddenly left to make do with bow and arrow and throwing knives. Minutes later I was given floating hands that fired plasma balls and I also gained the ability to throw out an expanding boundary of flame whenever I took damage. Finally, a scroll removed every weapon except the one I was using at the time – a shotgun – which effectively meant I had to kill up close. Every run is like this, which is a paradoxical thing to say because what I mean is that every run is nothing like every other run. Cor!
And phew. Throw in that skill tree, forever tempting you in new directions, its branches reaching out until they hold the sky. Throw in a merchant selling consumables and equippable medallions. Throw in daily challenges and all that sweet jazz. Throw in classes, of a sort, unlocked via the skill tree, which see you cuddling up with deities to possess different starter weapons and different active and passive skills. Throw in the endless headlong pelt of a game that is gloriously familiar and old-fashioned, that is built around craft and cruelty and just the right degree of imagination. Immortal Redneck is super-duper.