David Pittman knows how to make a good hub. The arcane library at the heart of his game Eldritch is one of my favourite examples ever: a wonderful ramble of books and wood panelling and off-kilter geometry that continues to reward exploration. Now Slayer Shock is here and, although the hub it comes with is small and fairly basic, there’s still something delightfully evocative about it. It’s a campus coffee shop, lit up bright despite the late hour, doors locked against the horde. Here is a place to lounge around and plot the next sneak attack in a guerilla war waged between slacker heroes and a gaggle of dandy vampires who seem intent on taking over the town. There’s nothing to discover really, but it doesn’t matter. I have always struggled to leave a coffee shop without dawdling a little.
Slayer Shock is a chummy spin on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the coffee shop is the place where you buy new abilities, choose which research strand to kick off, and equip the weapons and other bits of loot you’ve uncovered. As with the rest of the game, it has a programmer-art feel to it – in both Eldritch and NeonStruct, Pittman managed to make his blocky graphics feel like a genuine aesthetic, and that doesn’t quite hold true here – but the choices you’re faced with are interesting nonetheless. Head out with a stake or a holy water water pistol (or both)? Carry extra healing bandages or splurge on the ability to move silently? Learn a boss vampire’s weakness, or just find out where it’s hiding and take your chances in combat regardless? It all benefits from a very tight loop: everything you buy is paid for with dust earned by completing missions and killing elite vampires. Kill vampires to get better at killing vampires. Onwards and upwards. I like that.
The core of the game takes place outside the coffee shop, mind. Each evening you choose between a selection of locations in which vampires have been up to their vampiric tricks. (There is strategy involved in the choice, as each location has a sort of vampire heat level that will go up if left unattended for too long, and will eventually see you losing the area entirely.) Boots on the ground, the places themselves range from farms with fields full of pixelated corn to college grounds, train stations, and rundown neighborhoods, all built from simple blocky objects that are procedurally scrambled. Also scrambled are a simple range of mission types: rescue a set number of townsfolk, knock off a set number of elites, steal stuff from crates – there’s a lock-picking mini-game – or just patrol the environment, which means racing across the map to activate a distant marker and then racing back to the start.