A traditional review approaches would not be kind to Guts and Glory.
The game’s recent exodus from Steam’s Early access program and onto PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch would seem to signal that the game’s fundamentals have been refined. But they aren’t. From a camera that moves unsteadily enough to induce motion sickness, character models and environments that seem culled from a royalty-free catalog, to the sporadic game crash, Guts and Glory undoubtedly lacks polish. But surprisingly, many of the game’s rough edges contribute to its experience. Yet astonishingly, it offers a wonderfully sick and twisted good time. Despite all the issues, I had a hard time putting it down.
2007’s Pain was one of the first mainstream games that entertained players by subjecting a ragdoll character to a multitude of masochistic incidents. Players would catapult a variety of archetypical Americans into signs, in front of cars, and threw planes of glass. Unsurprisingly, a variety of titles followed suit, with Goat Simulator and Happy Wheels offering their own interpretation on urban mayhem.
But with the popularity of streaming (aided by the unabashed appearance of several YouTubers) this type of game seems ideal for proliferation. Solo developer HakJak Productions understands this, adding all the obligatory elements to propel this toward viral growth.
Like Happy Wheels, comic violence is in excess with Guts and Glory. Although the introductory levels don’t signal this, the game quickly becomes sadistic. After a skeletal tutorial that imparts the basics of movement for vehicle as well as button that can give you a slight boost, or slow down time, Matrix-style. After a bit of stunting around, you’ll soon encounter a turret that fires arrows toward your character, with the occasional dart becoming ledged in their body. Things grow even more comically violent, with giant saw blade that can sever appendages, and spikes to impale yourself against.
Oddly, one of Guts and Glory’s most polished elements is the bloodletting. Individual arms and legs can be amputated leaving of geyser of blood pouring out. Mines split bodies into tiny pieces, flying logs bludgeon people into pulp, while other deaths leave a gruesome scene where bodies are hanging lifelessly or ripped apart. And while it’s rather graphic, especially when children are involved, it’s presented in a Grand Guignol-like fashion. As such, its feels theatrical rather than any type of realistic portrayal of bloodshed. Hell, the game even has a blood multiplier to transform its characters into gore balloons.
As disturbing as it might seem, there’s a point to the viscera. Early on, you might plow one of the characters into a pole, they’ll crumple into a contorting shape, and you save for the on-screen appearance of a respawn button, there’s ambiguity to their physical condition. With the carnage, there’s no wonder if a character will move again after losing their head to a sawblade. The game’s is also a bit cathartic, as you propel annoying suburban stereotypes to their doom. That annoyingly attractive couple shown in a dozen rom-coms who share a romantic bike ride together? Guts and Glory give you the tools for revenge, letting you write the third act that Hollywood would never sanction.
From the bicycle-riding love birds, an overly cute elderly couple, a rich family in a convertible with a personalized license plate, a redneck who rides a hunting quad, and even a misfit who’s turned a propane tank and a lawn chair into an imprevised jetpack, you rarely feel bad for Guts and Glory’s satirical fodder. Sure, there’s an instance or three of offensive stereotypes, but the game aims to offend equally, so it might be a pardonable offense.
Gameplay typically consists of selecting from one of the eight main vehicle/rider combos, and driving, riding, or flying through markers or checkpoints. On the upside, it’s basic, and there’s little ambiguity in what you should be doing. Instead, the main concern is how to get there. But on the downside, it can get a bit tedious over long stretches. To help counteract that, there are a number of noncompulsory tasks you can perform, like running down pedestrians or destroying property. But don’t expect any incentive for your hardworking vandalism. Woefully, Guts and Glory doesn’t keep any kind of score. When accompanied by a leaderboard system, this could have incentivized level replays.
Guts and Glory is a stimulating example of indie gaming. By stringing together assets and some basic mechanics, developer HakJak a created a brilliantly sadistic playground, where freeform fun is just as important as structure. The game isn’t for everyone, especially the squeamish or those repelled by depictions of violence. But if can get past that and lack of polish, Guts and Glory is an unexpectedly addictive experience, but one I’d love to see get a comprehensive coat of polish.