replaced

Replaced Hands-On Preview – A Promising Cyberpunk Thriller

The night after.

After audiences cooled on The Last Night for reasons, Replaced deftly stepped up to the plate and gave gamers a new noir-cyberpunk adventure to be excited for. In fact, the similarities are so profound I did believe it to be a bit of a rebrand at first. Replaced has showed strongly at Xbox presentations in the past, though what the game is beyond its stunning, gritty coat of pixels was, until now, a bit of a mystery. 

Getting to sit down with Replaced for around half an hour definitely gave a glimpse of what the team is hoping to achieve. And though it’s not entirely what I expected, the way Replaced blends its cinematic influences together to create irresistibly good science-fiction is precisely what I’d hoped for. 

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After a risky operation goes wrong, an artificial intelligence named R.E.A.C.H. unwillingly transfers into a human host. The game is set against the backdrop of Phoenix City in an alternate vision of the eighties. The hands-on I experienced was split up into three curated stages, all designed to showcase exactly what makes up Replaced. The prologue was far and away the most cinematic, action-packed portion. After your transference, you’re chased by a paramilitary unit into the bordering woods of the facility in a tense, gripping chase that reminded me a lot of a Playdead game. 

The second, pulled from a bit later in the game, placed me in a dilapidated refuge for the hopeless as I search for a familiar face who might be able to help in restoring a piece of valuable technology. Although it was a bit of a slower burn, it served to build out the characters and settings within Phoenix City, and how it’s teeming with people who need your help, even if it’s as simple as helping barter with a street vendor to help repair a broken telescope, a last vestige of mankind’s curiosity. It might be cyberpunk, but based on my viewing, the world built for Replaced feels far more disparate, which they remind you of in creative ways. It’s presumed that resources are at a minimum, so seeing that the “hot car” you get into at the chapter’s close is fashioned to ride on rails like a tram, I felt, showcased a class of people, and perhaps a world, truly on its knees.

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Although flashes of combat had been shown in past trailers for Replaced, I didn’t quite expect for combat to as systemic to the game experience as it is. Where I’d envisioned quick-time encounters you instead combine light and heavy attacks—best for cutting through armour—along with a counter and dodge trade-off that can be used to stagger an enemy or, if the attack is impossible to parry, keep you at their heels. And that valuable piece of technology in need of repair I mentioned earlier? It’s a hand cannon that, when operated by users of flesh and bone, overloads and backfires using its bio-scanner. With no vital signs to speak of you’re able to harness its one-bang firepower against most, it’s especially neat in that there’s no real cooldown to speak of for it, rather it’s tied to how efficient you are in combat.

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So I love how one half of the combat system informs the other, it feels well considered and, again, surprisingly thought out for a cinematic, indie cyberpunk adventure. 

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It’s no question that Replaced’s centrepiece, and the main reason I’d managed to conflate it with The Last Night at all, is certainly its art direction. It manages to combine pixel art with the bells and whistles you’d expect from bigger projects, like the dynamic lighting effects that set it on a bar above anyone that’d dare consider themselves a contemporary. Not only that, but the movements are so beautifully animated. Just bounding through the woods evading the ominous red spotlight of fly-by drones, all the while leaping or rolling over downed logs, depending contextually on how late you left the jump, looks spectacular. Plus, for anyone that keeps up with our tastes, the game has an abundance of warm, synthy vibes that aggressively drive home the cyberpunk, retrofit aesthetic.

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So while the game’s combat came as a pleasant surprise, it’s still very much pushed along by its cyberpunk spirit—which riffs very much on foundational works like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Leave it to an independent, 2.5D action-platformer to absolutely capture the film noir quality after taking inspiration from the genre’s prime movers. Replaced comes away from the summer’s showings as one of the year’s more promising indies.

Replaced is coming soon to Xbox and PC, including a day one launch on Xbox Game Pass.