Mortal Shell, by developer Cold Symmetry and publisher Playstack, is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. We couldn’t wait to check out this impressive-looking Soulslike and played the PS4 version for this review.
Definitely not a game that’s shy about what inspired its design, Mortal Shells is an action RPG that, visually, doesn’t waste a lot of time before letting games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne shine through. The game has a few ideas of its own as well, but it can take a while to appreciate them because you so quickly start comparing Mortal Shell to those great titles that came before it.
In the game, you’re an undead protagonist able to take over corpses (your mortal shells) to use in battle. This doesn’t mean you get to walk around and just transfer your soul into whatever and whoever you encounter, as only four Shells are suitable – representing different character classes with their own properties and unlockable skills. This is a nice idea on paper and it’s fun to experiment with, but in reality all four ‘classes’ feel too similar so you’re rarely encouraged to switch or replay the game with a vastly different playstyle.
That lack of diversity also carries over to the antagonist side of things, with enemies that look and play somewhat the same and boss fights that often require similar strategies. Because this is a gameplay-driven experience rather than a story-driven one, this can make the campaign feel repetitive at times – especially because the visual design of the game’s levels also lack diversity. Luckily, the challenging gameplay and excellent combat (and ditto controls) make up for a lot.
Although you can’t technically block incoming attacks, there are plenty of defensive moves to master and execute. You can dodge or, with the right timing, parry – but there’s another interesting mechanic that ties into the “shell” logic of the game. After a cooldown, you can turn your character to stone, essentially morphing yourself into a giant shield for a short while. This makes up for the relative lack of health power-ups, although you can recover health if you perform a successful parry move.
Mortal Shell may not be the most visually diverse game out there, but for a smaller production it sure is gorgeous to look at. It reminded a little of Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption, which was an equally ambitious title from a small development team a few years ago. Mortal Shell’s visuals are a step closer to what you’d expect from a AAA title though, with excellent animations as well as detailed characters and scenery. The dark visuals and effective lighting make for a tense and fitting atmosphere as well, and there were certainly times where it felt like I was playing a major studio production.
If you’re a fan of the games that inspired it, then Mortal Shell has an incredibly solid core you’ll almost certainly enjoy. There’s a lack of polish in terms of narrative delivery and diversity that will make the comparison to other games unfavorable, but as a game that wanted to deliver something different yet fundamentally solid within its genre, the game certainly succeeds.