REPLIKATOR started as one of the most confusing experiences we’d had on an Xbox. 

For whatever reason, REPLIKATOR disliked one of our third-party pads, and refused to acknowledge the shoulder buttons. We couldn’t fire, which is a significant problem for a twin-stick shooter. But we didn’t know that we were meant to fire. We spent the first hour using the pathetic melee attack, thinking that the whole game was meant to be like this. We were tutting and huffing like an old man stuck in traffic. 

replikator review 1
You’ll want to get through the first few stages of REPLIKATOR

We happened to pick up a different pad and lo, REPLIKATOR came into focus. It was a twin-stick roguelike shooter after all. It reminded us of when we accidentally watched Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto with the subtitles off, thinking we were meant to watch it in its native Mayan language. Nope, we were just stupid. 

We’re mentioning it, because that pattern of confusion followed by a eureka-style realisation is a consistent one in REPLIKATOR. It’s a game that may have a tutorial and umpteen logs that you can read to explain the game, but that doesn’t mean they help. REPLIKATOR is just so flipping dense and complicated that it’s possible to bounce off it with speed and several curses.

The tutorial really needed to say that you will be crap at the start. Super-duper, next level crap, as it doesn’t give you any of the basic needs of the game. You won’t have enough ammo to complete a run, for example: unless you spend your time whacking every last barrel and crate you see, you will run out of the basic ammunition to function. It’s a rather special feeling getting to a game boss, exhausting your ammo and then screaming as you strafe around it, whacking it with a stick. It’s less than optimal, shall we say. So, you have to upgrade your max ammo as soon as you get back to the ship. 

It’s clear that there are power ups called Implants to be found, but you won’t find any of them. You need an upgrade, this time for your ship, that lets you buy them between levels. And the Implants only really kick in at the higher levels, once you’ve upgraded your Implant sockets and actually got good enough to find them in the levels. So yeah, the items that ensure variety and power are locked away from you on the first runs.

replikator review 2
Once the shooting starts, this one flows

In those opening moments, it feels like REPLIKATOR would rather you didn’t play it. It’s certainly not a legible game. As default, the Implants are just words, and they don’t explain what they actually do. You have to manually change a setting to see their effects. Similarly, nobody explains why doors are locked with no keys to open them; terminals in the levels offer services for cash, but won’t tell you what they do (oh, I sacrifice all my health for a benefit, do I?); and there are upgrades that are temporary (health increases) and those that are permanent (ammo increases), but the game won’t bloody tell you which is which. It’s like learning a new language by enrolling as a United Nations translator. 

But we can’t underline this enough. In fact, let’s underline it again in a big black marker. REPLIKATOR is sodding worth it. Once you climb up the travelator of its opening two or three hours, the skies clear and the panorama of its brilliance can be blinding. REPLIKATOR has no right to be this good.

What we have here is a brutal shooter set on a space station plagued by rogue AI. You choose one of four characters, select your starting implant and gun, and then you’re beginning a run. That run can be tuned in terms of difficulty and reward, but it won’t make a difference: they’re all going to brain you. 

Levels are procedurally generated and huge, a network of rooms and corridors that are hidden by a fog of war. Open a door and you can see partially inside; you need to step in to get a full view. That sense that you don’t have all the information? Yeah, it spreads into the exploration too. 

replikator review 3
REPLIKATOR is a big old game

Combat is fast, punchy and tight as a drum. This is a twin-stick shooter at heart, so you’re strafing into rooms, circling enemies while you fill them with shotgun blasts and electric beams. The skill ceiling is incredibly high, as the enemies are nippy buggers who have unique movements and bullets. You will need to learn quickly which enemies try to hug you before exploding; which ones fire missiles that split and then home; and which others lob projectiles over walls. Best of all, there’s a generosity in the aiming, as your bullets will merrily fire through most walls and doors, so you don’t have to worry about obstacles. 

Virtually every room has a reward. Implants, access keys, health, upgrades, batteries, cubes, currency: they’re all here. There are so many things of value in a dungeon that you always feel like you’re progressing, and the temptation to stick around – rather than grab the terminal key and exit the level for the next one – is incredibly strong. That progression can be temporary, purely for the run, or it can be permanent, as you will soon hoard cubes, which can be swapped for persistent upgrades to your ship and you. It’s the classic roguelike trade-off of huge temporary benefits versus minuscule permanent ones. 

We can’t recall a roguelike that has as many unlocks and dials to tweak. Hades, maybe. Between levels, you will be choosing to spend your cash on weapons, Implants, upgrades, extra lives, health, ammo restocks and the list goes on and on. Get home after a run, and all the blueprints, journals and Implants that you’ve collected are stashed away, a deck that is ready to be drawn from on the next run. And then you’re making yet another decision, as you can spend your hard-earned cubes on a bazillion more upgrades.

It needs to be as generous as it is, because it demands so much from you. This is an unheavenly hard game, and we’re bewildered at the thought of people playing in on the harder difficulties. We’ve reached the second boss once – once! – and feel proud of the feat (not least because it unlocked the final achievement). There’s an argument that the difficulty is ratcheted too high, particularly as some events feel unfair. Explosive enemies have a habit of spawning on top of you, and spike traps are too well camouflaged. There are precious few immunity frames, so it’s entirely possible for an enemy to hit you for one damage, explode for another, and leave a pile of goo which deals one more. These stacking hazards are more than you will find in another game, but – and here’s the duality of REPLIKATOR –  it feels so, so good to anticipate them and avoid them. 

replikator review 4
REPLIKATOR feels SO good

Up for a challenge? REPLIKATOR is an absolute unit of a twin-stick shooter, beating you within an inch of your life every playthrough. But it’s also one of the most rewarding roguelikes you’re likely to play, jamming rewards and unlocks in your hands. You’ve just got to have the wits and skills to master what it throws at you. 

REPLIKATOR has one of the steepest difficulty curves in memory, mostly because it introduces itself poorly. But if you get a foothold or two, it will make you feel like a twin-stick messiah.