Loopmancer is what would happen if a cyberpunk Sleeping Dogs was made into a Groundhog Day-esque roguelite.
Developed by eBrain Studios, Loopmancer is a stylish platformer set in the not-too-distant future of 2046. You play as Xiang Zixu, a cyber-enhanced detective on the hunt for a missing journalist in Dragon City’s crime riddled underbelly.
When clues to the missing journalist are within Xiang’s grasp, he’s unglamourously killed. Upon dying, Xiang finds himself back in the bedroom of his lavish apartment, the kind that only video game characters can have. It’s here where the Groundhog Day time loop rules come into play. Xiang reassembles the clues you’ve gathered from his previous lives for you to make choices that affect how the rest of the story plays out. While the game is still yet to officially release, its demo is available to play on Steam.
Combat in Loopmancer is fast paced with fluid dodging, and chunky hack and slash brawls in between 3D platforming levels. Some areas change at random, adding a fresh gameplay experience to a new loop.
To keep the game’s roguelite combat fresh, Loopmancer utilizes a layaway-like weapons purchasing system. Tiny robots scattered throughout levels called PUT machines allow you to purchase new weapons using E-coin, the currency that spills out of destructible boxes and enemies. You can dump funds into a multitude of purchasable weapons placed throughout levels, like say a weaponized fish. If you happen to die, those funds will be accounted for in your next loop and are permanent unlocks upon a completed purchase. This not only encourages a full sweep of enemies in levels but also adds diversity in how you approach the game’s combat. Logistics Terminals, the game’s checkpoint stations, allow you to heal Xiang and teleport throughout the map.
Juking and dodging enemies littered about in areas is satisfying, especially because friendly fire causes them to explode like those old Fruit Gushers commercials with the odd ax or grenade throw from either yourself or their comrades. Hacking through enemies also causes them to spout hilarious, albeit repetitive, swear-filled voice lines. I derived a lot of joy hearing Wilhelm screams and SpongeBob-esque outcries about their severed legs.
While the combat of Loopmancers’ time loop roguelite elements is great, the story aspect in the demo is where it gets a little muddled. Although the game has the foresight to anticipate how exhausting retreading dialogue could be and offers a skip button for both cutscenes and character interactions there were moments, I wasn’t sure if I should venture talking to characters or reading codexes in levels. Loops sometimes lead to alternate dialogue with Xiang where characters will provide new information, causing me to click through dialogue I’d already heard with the off chance I’d hear something worth my time. However, most ended up coming from two characters and were flavor text more than details on the case.
Though there are funny moments where Xiang will mock his co-workers by betting that he already knows about the details of his mission, having gained knowledge from his countless deaths chasing leads, before they debrief him on the parameters of his mission. The dialogue in these moments are sparse depending on how justly (or unjustly) your untimely death was in previous loops. However, you can’t skip Xiang’s slow Ghost in the Shell-esque wakeup scene and meandering stride towards his car before starting the next loop. Though you can skip the cutscene of him driving to work, doing this every loop became grating after a while.
To its credit, Loopmancer is lore-heavy, a quality most cyberpunk indie titles lack. While in most cases this would be a plus, the lore-dumping in Loopmancer via codexes and diary entries works against the high-speed gameplay the demo demands–though it could play out better in the full game. You’ll find codexes and diary entries from either new-blood gang members or the unfortunate denizens of its cities throughout the levels. While these texts offer a glimpse of Loopmancer’s intriguing world-building, they’re also speed traps of long scrawls of text that bring a hard stop to the flow of platforming and combat. Going out of your way to read codexes becomes a gamble of finding a message you already read or a new entry entirely thanks to the game’s randomly altered areas.
Loopmancer is an impressive demo, especially since it serves as the first game from the 21-person Beijing-based team. Hopefully eBrain Studios works out the kinks upon the game’s planned release later this year because I could see speedrunners eating Loopmancer up.