Since the invention of video games it’s been standard practice to excuse poor storytelling or presentation if the gameplay feels good. From Donkey Kong to Destiny, if the jumping, stabbing, and shooting is engaging, the rest of the experience tends to be icing on the cake for most people.
These days, more and more games focus on things aside from arcade action though. Visual novels, walking simulators, and adventure games have shifted the narrative, quite literally, making it common for award winning games to strip away the bullet holes and butt-stomping entirely. And it’s in this world where a game can be almost anything you want, that a little cyberpunk adventure called Foreclosed gave me a gun and lost me entirely.
Foreclosed started with a ton of promise. Its comic book art style had me moving from panel to panel, moving the story along with bits of interactivity. It was clear from the start that this was a game from a small team, but I was impressed with how many bespoke bits of gameplay they managed to squeeze into a few minutes.
When some goons try to get the jump on the main character, a big button prompt pops onto the screen like a QTE moment out of Shenmue or Heavy Rain. But rather than putting you through a series of rote button taps, the action flows right into a free form chase sequence. Eventually you sneak away, allowing for some stealth sneaking from a camera angle that would feel at home in a Metal Gear Solid game. You even swap into first person when you escape into a ventilation shaft.
When Foreclosed funnels you into moments like this, where there’s nowhere to go but forward, it takes the opportunity to split the screen into gameplay and story. As you explore a small ventilation maze on the left side of the screen, a cutscene will show what’s going on elsewhere in the storyline. None of these things are amazing on their own, but the way this game blends them all with a slick presentation is really something special.
It’s a huge shame then, that your first goal is to get your hands on a gun. As soon as you do, the quick cuts of mini-game genre-blending give way to long sequences of stiff third-person shooting. The brevity of the stealth sequences, exploration, or puzzles may mask how simple they are, but the shooting in this game feels absolutely awful from moment one. And there’s a lot of it!
Using a controller, no amount of sensitivity setting tinkering ever made it feel right. The best I could do was use cover to line up my shots in advance and abuse the poor AI that rarely did more than stand in place and shoot at me. Still, exposing myself to enemies long enough to fumble with the controls and line up a headshot would often lead to death. Sometimes, that death meant listening to the same dialogue over and over and replaying prior sequences—one of the cardinal sins of checkpoint design.
By the time Foreclosed started to mix in some of the variety from before, the damage had already been done. All the stylish presentation and gameplay variety had masked some convoluted storytelling and corny dialogue. But once the crummy shooting started I became far more critical of the game as a whole, and the entire weak house of cards came crashing down.
It’s hard to describe just how clunky the third-person shooting feels here. Some powers gained throughout the game help to mitigate the pain, but the upgrade systems limit your choices and ultimately feel more like a band-aid on a broken foundation.
There are still a few cool moments of slick presentation, but the story never really takes off after the intro. I followed along with the broad strokes, but I was often confused about why my character was pursuing a particular character.
For the most part, this is a by-the-numbers quest to clear the hero’s name. It’s trying to be cyberpunk Max Payne, but it doesn’t have even half the charm.
I like to think that there’s an alternate universe with a version of Foreclosed where the shooting never starts, and it rides the early game high with variety and slick presentation all the way to the end. Perhaps in another world, Foreclosed is just as cheesy as it ends up being here, but the shooting feels as good as Doom or Destiny. I’ll take anything but the game we ended up with.