STAFF REVIEW of SEUM: Speedrunners From Hell (Xbox One)

Thursday, October 5, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

SEUM: Speedrunners From Hell Box art Speedrunning has become its own sector of gaming, even with games never intended to do so. There’s actually yearly charity events where gamers get together and speedrun through their favorite games as fast as they can for bragging rights (and charity). Look up nearly any game you can think of and there’s probably a speedrun for it on YouTube somewhere. There’s very few games that are actually based on speedrunning through it natively, but here we are with SEUM: Speedrunners from Hell, looking to change that.

It’s interesting to see a game that has speedrunning at its core, as usually it’s a byproduct of gamers eager to challenge themselves, so a game with a dedicated purpose of going through it as quick as possible should excel at it and have many features to showcase it above others then right? Well, mostly, in the case of SEUM. SEUM does as advertised, challenging you with completing levels back to back as fast as possible, constantly forcing you to be quicker and reacting with lightning fast reflexes. No matter how hard I try not to compare, SEUM constantly reminds me of Quake if it had a heavy metal backdrop and forced you to play as fast as possible, of course.

SEUM never takes itself too seriously, as its narrative is as silly as it comes. You’re Marty, a redneck, complete with trucker hat, relaxing at home with beers in hand. Suddenly his front door is smashed open and there before him stands the devil. Satan isn’t here for Marty though, he’s actually come to steal his beer. When Marty fights back his arm is ripped off, but before Satan can retreat with 6-pack in tow, Marty manages to cut off Satan’s arm in retaliation.

What would any respectable redneck do at this point? Obviously attach Satan’s arm to where yours previously was and follow him through hell to get your beer back! With demon arm now attached, Marty will run through hell to get his beer back, but you’re going to have to be incredibly quick and nimble with some crazy reflexes if you want that 6-pack back. As I said, it’s a crazy premise, but oddly enough it’s all that’s needed to make the gameplay meaning make some sense as to why you’re running through dozens of levels in hell.

Single Player mode is where you’ll likely start out, tasked with slogging through the dozens of levels, one by one, as they become increasingly difficult as quick as possible. To get through hell you’ll need to complete 10 levels before being able to use an elevator to go deeper into hell. Early levels will be very simple, only requiring minimal thought and skill, but eventually you’ll be retrying levels numerous times in effort to make the time limit.

Controls are very simple, as you can move with the sticks, jump with A, and Right Bumper for shooting fireballs from your demonic arm. Some levels will give you access to other abilities for said levels, such as anti-gravity, activated with the Right Trigger. Every level will have hazards all over, be it pits, spikes, blades and other dangers that you need to avoid. If you die, well, WHEN you die, you’ll need to restart from the beginning of that level and try again.

Your goal is to reach the blue portal at the end of each stage, though the real challenge comes in with the very strict time limits per stage that it has to be completed under. SEUM has speedrunning right in its title, so you better get used to going as fast as possible, as any mistake will be cause for a restart or quick death. Most levels will have you platforming from ledges to ledge, avoiding traps and pits, though some levels, especially the ‘boss’ stages that are more intricate and involved, requiring you to shoot fireballs at specific objects to unlock walkways or gates.

SEUM simply wouldn’t work if the controls weren’t on point, given that you have to be incredibly fast and accurate, thankfully this isn’t an issue for the most part, and any mis-shots or jumps are usually user error from overthinking or panic, not poor controls. You’re going to die, a lot, and retrying levels is simply part of the experience. I got into the habit of playing new levels a few times as slow as I could, just to memorize the exact pathways with what’s needed to be done before trying it at full speed. Luckily new powers are introduced at a decent rate, allowing you to learn them in progressively challenging levels to become accustomed with them, as you’ll need to link multiple abilities and movements together flawlessly to progress in the later stages.

Given that you’re playing in first person, there’s a sense of speed that, at times, can feel a little overwhelming at times. You’re constantly under pressure from the clock, and while you may simply be aiming for the par times to pass the stages, there are Uber times to beat if you’re truly a skilled speedrunner along with leaderboards.

The difficulty curve is pretty smooth overall, though there are a few levels that seemed to spike the challenge quite drastically out of nowhere. Sure, you’re going to become frustrated by replaying the same level a few dozen times, especially when many levels are well under 30 seconds long, even more so when you miss the par time by milliseconds, but the gratification comes from finally besting these levels and progressing.

Level design is quite clever, with stages becoming more intricate as you progress, offering new challenges, forcing you to think of how to make the smallest shortcuts to shave off precious time from your run. Leaderboards give you a great sense of how you compare to the best players in the community, though you’re going to need some serious skill and dedication if you hope to compete in any serious way. As much as you’d like to blame controls or poor design for failing for the hundredth time, it’s honestly just you, as I’ve not run into any unfairness, poor framerate or bugs to blame it on.

What would a game like this be without a matching heavy metal soundtrack to complete its setting? Audio is great, complete with metal riffs, though it would have been great to have some licensed classic metal music to go alongside. Visually nothing is going to impress, but given that levels only last from 10 to 30 seconds, and you’re moving as fast as possible, it’s not like you’ll have time to soak in the backdrops.

Should you manage to complete Single Player by some miracle, or simply need to take a break from a stage you’re stuck on forever, there are a few other modes included for you to become equally frustrated with, if not more so. Extended Play sounds as if these levels were originally a DLC pack of sorts, and these seem to have a slightly different feel to them when compared to Single Player. These levels are truly challenging and offer some slightly different gameplay.

Speedrun Mode is truly for the most dedicated, as you can retry sections and levels once mastered, aiming for the top speedrun spots on the leaderboard. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can even attempt to complete the entire game as fast as possible which will unlock an even more challenging mode. I don’t see many people being able to do so, but the challenge is there for those that dare.

Endless Mode is quite self-explanatory, as it’ll throw you into a randomized level that apparently never ends. I’d like to confirm this, but I’m lucky if I last 30 seconds in this mode. You see, there’s a grinder that chases behind you, constantly forcing you to move forwards as fast as possible, so there’s no time to sit and think of what to do next. This mode is great, but only after SEUM's gameplay becomes reactionary for you, as you won’t have any time to think; you simply need to instinctively react instead. This mode also has a leaderboard, so there’s more encouragement to stick with it, even after a few hundred attempts.

I really thought that SEUM was going to be a one-and-done for myself, but I find myself going back to it now and then to see if I can beat that level I was previously stuck on. Once you do conquer that level you thought was impossible, the gratification is satisfying. Given the first person view, at times it will be frustrating to not completely understand why you died, or thinking you jumped over a spike when you actually didn’t. It does have a learning curve to become proficient at its hectic gameplay, but you’ll eventually start to bypass obstacles without much thinking. When you chain together the perfect moves and barely scrape by the par time it feels very rewarding, more so if you manage to earn an Uber time.

I’m not usually one for very difficult or quick paced games, but SEUM is a solid representation of what speedrunners should be at its core. Gameplay is fast, challenging, fun, but more importantly, rewarding when you finally conquer that seemingly impossible level. Even though I’m not a competitive gamer by any means, SEUM’s leaderboards had me retrying levels many times to simply move up those rankings numerous times. If I had to search for complaints, I do wish there was a multiplayer mode, as going head to head with a friend online would have been a lot of fun. More so, I wish that I could download people’s ghosts from the leaderboards so I could watch how they somehow achieved their seemingly impossible times per level.

It’s going to take a lot of dedication and skill to get the most out of SEUM, but there’s a lot of content within for those willing to sink the time into speedrunning with the best of them. Sure at times it will become infuriating, and the narrative is silly at best, but as an overall package, SEUM more than delivers a true speedrunning experience. It’s not a matter of if you can complete the levels, it’s more if you can simply do it fast enough with its challenging-but-fair par times, constantly keeping you under pressure and forcing you to become a better player.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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