icon Author: Alexkayl
Empty Shell Review

Empty Shell is a survival horror roguelike with a strong emphasis on a full black and white art style, as if the player was watching the action unfold through a satellite view from a bygone age. This unusual approach is both its greatest strength and its biggest shortcoming as it deeply sets the mood, but also makes it harder to distinguish enemy types, ultimately affecting gameplay as a whole.

The Expendables

The story is an interesting one, with a hint of Squid Game if we want to look at it from a certain “disposable people” perspective. There’s an abandoned facility on a Japanese island, and countless volunteers who sign a contract for a low-profile recovery operation without many details on the table. The issue here is that some hidden conditions make all the difference – volunteers are entirely expendable, completely on their own in this dank and disturbingly grim industrial facility, true empty shells living up to the name of the game.

Volunteers are not specialized in this type of operation, and are pretty much abandoned at their fate with some randomized starting gear, including a melee and a ranged weapon. This is the first element of surprise and variety for every run – and that’s the perfect term since this game is firmly rooted upon the roguelike genre – with the other one being the different layout of the facility.

Each time a volunteer sets their feet inside the facility, the layout is different, adding this flavor of the unknown and the oppressive. You have a map to check, but it is only progressively revealed as you discover the rooms and important places. Door codes also change, so pay close attention to those notes that you find during your exploration, as they lift the lid on the strange events that led to the demise of the facility, but also reveal crucial information to proceed.

When a volunteer dies, and they will die often, a new one steps in. They come with basic info on name, age, gender, and height, a nice touch to make them feel real and relatable, and I couldn’t help but wonder if these details would affect gameplay in any kind – for example, a young and seemingly athletic person could be faster, while an older one would have another type of expertise, such as lower shop prices or easier puzzles, but this was just wishful thinking. Dying on another floor doesn’t force you to restart from the very beginning; the following “lucky” chosen picks up on the floor where you expired.

Combat is fairly simple and yet effective, with a melee weapon that sadly differs only in name, as the attack move for a crowbar, a shovel, or a hammer, among others, is disappointingly one-note and similar throughout. Ranged weapons are more interesting, including a laser one, but ammo is scarce and running away is a recommended tactic. Deploying a turret, throwing some grenades, or using a drone until ammo is depleted are tactics that you should explore to their fullest, but there’s no such thing as getting comfortable due to the dangers ahead.

Save your bullets for the harder times, avoid the exploding critters, and gasp at the gigantic hand that is but one of the monstrosities that this facility has in store. Jump over lasers, and skip confrontation unless you are really forced into it. It's survival horror embodied, a succession of rooms where evil creatures may lurk around the corner, and there’s a palpable feeling of dread when you decide to play with the lights out and a deafening silence.

Pixelated Horrors

If the retro art style boosts the mood, aided by the muffled weaponry sounds, it also hurts gameplay to a point. The top-down camera has the habit of zooming in and out, most of the time doing a good job to give you a nice outlook on the enemies in the vicinity, but sometimes makes it hard to discern what is a furniture item, an interactable object, or even an enemy. Worse still, is trying to distinguish enemies from each other and their rigid patterns, as it takes very distinct approaches to an exploding monster, someone with a rifle, or those fast moving creatures. Most of the times, when you finally discover who is who, a series of bullets may already by zipping along towards you, or the self-detonating beast may be just a inch away.

Empty Shell has a capable concept bolstered by an atmospheric delivery, telling its somewhat predictable but nonetheless engaging story in a competent way. It falls under the weight of repetitiveness, as successive plays will only show that it doesn’t have the depth that it could, yet remains interesting and challenging in short bursts. Fans of roguelike games will find something to enjoy here, but like its expendable volunteers, it may be forgotten as soon as you find a replacement game of the same genre.


  • Original and moody art style
  • Randomized maps and elements support repeat runs
  • Story is predictable but enjoyable


  • Hard to distinguish between enemies, and even some items
  • Becomes repetitive after a while

Rating: 7/10

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