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Foregone

Foregone

Written by Rob Larkin on 12/24/2020 for SWI  
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The 2D action platform has a long and storied history. It's very much a part of the fabric of gaming. I remember playing Pitfall in the early 80s on the Atari 2600. The style went a bit out of vogue as beefier processors and larger memory stores of the systems started introducing the third dimension and polygons to the mix, but there have always been corners where the genre stood tall, not the least of which have been Nintendo's consoles, the folks that brought Mario, Mega Man, and Samus Aran to the lexicon.  

It's 2020, and while the PlayStations and the Xboxes might have an offering here or there (and excellent ones at that), it still feels like Nintendo is the home for 2D action. Foregone isn't just among good company, it sticks its head out near the top of the pack. Let's say the "best" 2D action platformer on the Switch is Dead Cells. We will say that because it gets high near universal high accolades and presents a style and theme very similar to the more realistic, action-orientated vice Foregone is also aspiring to. What I mean is, we find ourselves here as the Arbiter, the first super-soldier and last hope for the kingdom of Calagan, not jumping on turtle shells and shooting fireballs when we eat a red flower.  We're going for grit and desperation in a the story, propelled by the hope that our increasing skills and weapons will be enough to overcome the Harrow that has infected everything our culture holds dear. Y'know, more weighty stuff than "your princess is in another castle". So, if Dead Cells is the apex we strive for, Foregone doesn't miss the mark by a heck of a lot, and in fact left a better first impression. 

The combat in its early stages feels slicker in Foregone than Dead Cells. The graphics, while true to the pixelated 2D roots, are slightly better. It has that slight edge in the margins, and even thought the rogue-like aspects and ability upgrades of Dead Cells eventually see it reclaim its throne, Foregone leaps out of the chamber like a bullet, impressive. The central mechanic difference is rogue-like vs. souls-like. Dead Cells sees a randomly generated map pin each run, but gives you the opportunity to carry forward your skills from the last run into the next. Foregone ports you back to the last checkpoint, keeping your weapons and loadout, but like the Soulsbourne universe, leaving all your hard earned cash and level up materials at the site of your demise. It meets you there at your resurrection with a cruel choice: you can be gifted back half of what you lost for free from a vendor and forfeit the balance... or face the respawn of everything that stands between you and the entire prize knowing that another death will send that cache forever into the ether. 

Unlike a rogue-like - where the devil is in just how good the levels can be stitched together when randomly generated (not an easy trick) - Foregone feels like it maximizes intentional level design. It follows the plot, and drives the story forward with each new area. It's generous with checkpoints but not overly so. It presents wonderful little hidden opportunities to tuck away some of the best loot and upgrades. It teaches the player each new skill along the way: giving the player the new move mechanic after defeating a boss, then forcing the player to utilize it in the platform section immediately after to understand the mechanic before closing the level. Smart stuff. There were a few sections where the platforming did get awkward, but these possibly only stood out because of how smoothly the rest of the game meshed together. 

And speaking of plot, it's light but pretty decent. It's easy to gloss over if you just want to run from one bullet to the next swing of your sword, but you can dive into the lore and read all the backstory in the collectible pages if you wish. Mostly though, you'll be swinging, shooting, and dodging, and occasionally popping special abilities.

There are five melee weapons and four ranged ones to equip. That's really it, and that's where the depth of the game starts getting a little shallow. I'm glad not to be bogged down in paralysis-by-analysis like a looter-shooter might do, and as you progress you will find rarer and stronger variants of those nine weapons with better and better perks, but they will always swing or shoot with the same arc or motion. Each of the weapons do have a distinct feel and flow, a style all their own and there is much to discern between them. For the melee weapons, the two-handed sword moves slowly but crushes enemies. Daggers are quick and must deal out death by a thousand cuts. The spear adds a nice reach. The gunchucks have the best name, but... actually I could never really see where they were valuable. The one-handed sword is your vanilla all around - good at all, excelling at nothing.

Figure out your own playstyle, but for me it felt the spear and daggers were miles better than the rest of the pack, given the fast, flowing nature of most encounters. Because most encounters are played in relatively tight spaces, the slide dodge becomes the most important component of your arenas. Whether to slide out of reach of an attack, or past your opponent to zero in on the weak point to their back, movement becomes king. But with everything playing so close, that range of the spear can be just far enough to finish smaller foes before they can touch you, or the speed of the daggers just quick and fluid enough to the same effect. The ranged weapons do come into play, but here there is basically the shotgun and nothing else of note. There is a handgun, bow and burst rifle, but the level design pits the longer ranged ones at a disadvantage for clear sight lines. And the shotgun is just so good, melting well with the rest of the flow.

The shotgun is boss, but there are limits to your ability to spam it; mainly ammo, which while unlimited, is not ever-present. There is no stopping to reload, you have to land melee blows to return ammo to the mag. It's great to avoid just spamming ranged shots from a distance, but with every piece of the puzzle forcing you in close, the shotgun is the corner piece that ends up the foundation, putting it all together. The rest are just wasted at ranges that are hard to sight, and damage values are hard to justify over the weight punch of that scattershot. Also aiming can be a bit of a bear for the longer range weapons because, well, you don't really aim them at all. The AI auto-aims just about everything you shoot, usually cleverly, but its not uncommon for it to focus in on a weaker enemy when you really need that last arrow in the quiver to chip away at the health of the stronger guy right next to it. This imprecision can be frustrating, especially considering limited ammo that you need to move up close to get more of, and further complicates the usefulness of any ranged weapon not named "shotgun". 

Slide in quick, shotgun blast to nearly decimate an enemy, finish off with quick dagger or spear thrust. Wash, rinse repeat; not in a rote manner, but in a dance to be enjoyed as one of the better examples of fast paced silky gameplay. Each strike does need intention behind it. This is not a game that rewards blind button mashing. You must time your attacks, dodges, and approach based on each enemy archetype you might face. Some really want you to rush in and strike first before they even have a chance to counter, others require you to dodge their own first move before ultimately becoming most vulnerable. There aren't enough strategies to become overwhelming, but are enough to keep things interesting. And if you get swarmed, prepare for the long march back to your gravestone because all your gold and XP now belong to that swarm. 

 

That's the only real difficulty, when you get overwhelmed. At least that's what it was during my playthrough, because I was so terrified of the souls-like penalty of losing all my coin that I heavily invested my character build in healing, and spammed the Restoration ability to heal myself in between encounters. Beyond that, the other abilities aare fairly underwhelming. They mostly focus on damage, but the value given never seemed enough to justify not smashing a shotgun blast into enemy's faces instead. But at least that variety in builds exists. Choices to make. As you unlock abilities, you can only choose two to map at a given time. With the perks and skill tree, each unlock of a new upgrade also forces a binary choice between two paths. I can't say the choice is that significant, because neither seems abundantly different than the other, it's often down to a choice to do damage with this one perk, or this other. But it does lend itself to focusing the build on that one or the other to maximize the damage stacks. Also it offered choices between speed or health, that sort of thing. 

Boss battles are also intense and tough, but offer a get out of jail free card. Well designed and always requiring careful timing, learning to dodge or counter the attacks is a must. These are cerebral battles that take planning and patience. They are not particularly penalizing though, because there is always a checkpoint right before the boss room. It feels a bit like cheating, but in that good way. It takes a lot of the stress out of the encounter, knowing that as soon as I jump in after death, I can reclaim my dropped cache of loot practically before the boss is finished with their grand intro sequence. Others might not agree, but I was happy to just get to trial and error the encounters over and over again, without having to worry about the risk of tripping up on a wall of adds standing in the way of my getting back to the battle. The encounters were creative and exciting enough to stand on their own.

 

In the end, we have an excellent game loop. Foregone offers solid visuals in an interesting world, with a playstyle that forces a fast and furious pace when engaging, and just enough platforming in between to not burn players out with a never ending assault. The bosses can be tough, but the game is forgiving in gifting you with a checkpoint just before each one, and then gifting you again with a nice new ability or movement progression to push the game onward into the next map. There are real penalties to dying, especially when saving up in the endgame for those higher cost skills and upgrades, and enough variety in the builds to make your run feel like your own. All this, and it plays great in handheld mode or pushed to a big screen, a triumph on the Switch. 

Looks good, plays good, a nice use of souls-like mechanics to penalize players for dying but still lets you run freely and enjoy the game at your own pace; there is a lot to like about Foregone. It lands itself squarely near the top of the 2D action platformer pyramid. A little more depth in the skill tree and a little more oomph in the special abilities could take it to that next level, but it stands on solid footing and offers a class leading experience. 

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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 First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.  
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...

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