We don't feature a lot of violent games here on JIG, but Adult Swim's Death Vegas, a superb technical fighting game from Spiritonin Media, serves up a rare mixture of thrills and substance. Though it has style to spare, and action so visceral you can practically feel someone squeezing your viscera like those stress-relief martians with the pop-out eyeballs, it also features a unique and balanced combat system. It won't rival Guilty Gear or Soul Caliber for complexity, but there's enough depth here to satisfy anyone looking for a good juicy brawl in a browser.
A slick tutorial will ease you into it, but Death Vegas operates very differently from other fighters, so it may take some getting used to. The basic back-and-forth revolves around high, mid-level, and low attacks. When a fighter is about to strike, a preview of the blow flashes on the screen for a split-second, warning you where you'll need to block. Hold [up] to block high, [down] for low, and [left] for mid-level. Press [A] while holding an arrow key to unleash your own punches and kicks.
Making successful attacks and blocks builds up your Star Meter, which fuels the intimidating Hyper Attack. Being on the receiving end of one of these combo-licious bad boys essentially requires you to play a quick game of Simon Says. Memorize the sequence of attacks, and you may be able to deflect them all and emerge unscathed, ready to return the favor. Fail to block them all, and you may experience some light bruising. Your other option, if you've built up enough stars yourself, is to counter the Hyper Attack with one of your own, which results in a dramatic, silhouetted, button-mashing mini game of DEATH.
Thus far, all of the game's characters play the same, but the key to mastering Death Vegas lies with their special abilities. Each fighter has two, and it's just as important to understand what you may be up against as it is to wield your own tricks effectively. When fighting chubby sleaze-meister Duff, it's wise to aim for his face or his ankles, since he can parry your mid-level attacks with his powerful belly. Knowing that the German goliath Helmut has a slow but unblockable long-range attack should persuade you to keep him within arm's reach whenever possible.
Death Vegas includes a surprisingly lengthy story mode, with a chapter devoted to each of the game's nine characters (for a total of eight, since nearly indistinguishable villains Dante and Onward share the final episode). You can't save your progress, but after completing the first chapter, you can skip to any section of the storyline freely. You also have the option to play a quick duel against the computer, or another player on the same keyboard. There is no online multi-player, but this game requires so much precision, even the slightest lag would have spoiled it anyway.
Analysis: To put it in our own Grimmrook's words, "It's like if Sin City and Street Fighter II had a love child that resisted its parentage just enough to become a unique and beautiful snowflake." A snowflake that will head-butt you in the chest and kick your eyeballs in the kidneys. From the take-no-prisoners opening metal theme song, to the impressive character animation, to the pop-in close-ups of every brutal impact, Death Vegas will continually show you it means business. Rarely have I seen a game that so thoroughly evokes the crunch and grind of hand-to-hand combat without resorting to blood or dismemberment. In fact, a few well-timed moments in the storyline are the only time we see blood in the entire game, other than the background splatter that appears for emphasis at the end of a fight (visible in the title screenshot at the top of this article).
The story is much better than you might expect from a fighting game. True, nearly every scene serves as a justification for more fisticuffs, and the style owes more than a little bit to Frank Miller neo-noir, but it's all quite entertaining in a seedy, desperate way. It's fun seeing the narrative jump from character to character, Crash-style, and the presence of such bizarre characters as Lourdes, a plunger-wielding assassin posing as a cleaning lady, proves it's not really taking itself too seriously. The one curiosity is that some of the story sequences are unskippable, and sometimes you just want to bury the gabbing and zip to the next thwack-fest.
As for the combat, I can imagine the shine wearing off of it, once the initial adrenaline rush dissipates and the stylistic flourishes start getting repetitive. There is a lot of smart design work here to delay that moment, though. While in theory, you could play eternally by simply paying close attention and blocking every telegraphed blow, in practice Death Vegas is constantly trying to trip you up. The longer a strike-and-parry session goes, the more the Diamond Meter in the top center of the screen builds up. That means the hits start coming faster and faster, and the next strike that connects will do more and more damage. That's called building tension, son. And even with a limited move set, taking full advantage of your fighter's special moves will let you sneak hits on the most alert of opponents.
If you do find Death Vegas getting stale, the experience is customizable. Are your opponents crumbling too easily? Crank up the difficulty. Do you need less warning time before you block? Turn down the Slow Mo. Are the default keys awkward? They're fully adjustable. This is the level of quality and detail we always hope for when we load up a Flash application.
In short, Death Vegas is awesome. It's an extraordinary browser game that can deliver such a gut punch, and do it with flair. Prepare to take a violent journey to the dark underbelly of the Strip.
Thanks to Loki for sending this one in!
[Note: The violence and sparse moments of bloodshed aren't the only reason we've rated Death Vegas red. There's enough adult subject matter in Death Vegas to give parents pause for any number of reasons. The super-pumped boxer character, for instance, has syringes sticking out of his back and arms at all times.]