The last time I played Teleglitch, I made the mistake of looking at my total time played. It told me I had only played three total hours of the game. Admitting this fact might be a mistake, given that this is a review and generally reviews are written by someone who has spent a good amount of time with a game. But, while it may not seem like it, 3 hours is quite a lot of time in Teleglitch. I’m not sure how many individual games I’ve played in that 3 hours, how many times I’ve died, but I imagine it hovers somewhere in the 40-50 area. This is because Teleglitch is a hard, unforgiving game.
Teleglitch is a top-down arcade shooter in the fashion of a roguelike. The narrative, hidden in lengthy paragraphs, is simple enough: you are on the deep edge of space, a worker in an experimental facility of unscrupulous morals. Something goes wrong and the facility’s AI — which controls everyone but you — suddenly wants you dead. And that “everyone” includes zombies, mutants, and regular-old humans with guns. You begin each game with only a pistol and some explosives. Your goal is to reach the teleporter, which will take you to the next randomly-generated stage, which will eventually get you out of this hellhole. Your starting weapons will last you through some of the smaller, easier enemies at the beginning, but if you don’t scrounge for resources quickly, you’ll find yourself with little means of survival.
Really though, even if you do scrounge up and down for resources, your chances of survival are never very high. The game is mercilessly difficult and it’s difficult in a way that is absolutely exhausting. Enemies never really do that much damage to you, but they whittle you down over time. Miss a couple of shots and suddenly you’re out of ammo. Let a mutant hit you a couple of times and you’ve used up your last medkit. Eventually you will be down to your last bullet, desperately searching for that one little weapon cache that could save your life. Chances are you won’t find it. Chances are you’re going to die.
And that knowledge, that the cards are truly stacked against you, makes Teleglitch a harrowing experience. In my games, I’ve become obsessive about my medkits. I lament everytime I miss a shot. If I do get to the end of a stage I breath a sigh of relief and inevitably have to quit. This is in part because the precious time between stages is the only time you can quit, the only time you can save your progress and take a break. Quitting in the middle of stage in Teleglitch is the same as dying: you’re going to have to start all over again. And there are no save slots. There is only your game. Whatever game you’re playing right now, it goes until you die or until you decide to start from the beginning again (essentially a suicide). In fact, a have a game on my computer right now that I’m afraid to continue. I’m afraid of dying.
As if this wasn’t enough, there is the added mechanic of resource-combining. Kind of like an in-game crafting system, you can make certain items if you have the right resources. But it also means that you lose those resources. For example, at the beginning of the game you are given two explosives that you can combine it one larger explosive. This larger explosive can in turn be combined with various other items to make a one-shot rocket launcher, a single-shot explosive shotgun, or a trap that attracts mutants before exploding. But having two explosives is sometimes better than having one; you might encounter a secret wall that you can blow up, which might contain another breakable wall hiding valuable resources behind it — and you can never be sure when you’re going to get explosives again. You might find a microchip, which you can use to make your pistol automatic. This is great for swarms of enemies, but it also means that you’re going to use a lot more of that precious ammo. Everything in Teleglitch is a sacrifice.
All of this combines to make a very difficult game. I’ve never gotten past the fourth stage. I haven’t unlocked many of the possible weapons I could. I’ve spent just 3 hours playing the game, but I’m sure it’s given me a gray hair or two. The next time I see my doctor, I may tell him that I’ve been feeling stress lately. But these aren’t bad things. I’ve rarely felt more accomplished than when I’ve survived to the end of a stage with just a few bullets left in my gun. And if there is value to the supreme difficulty of Teleglitch, it’s that when you win you feel like a goddamn winner. And when you survive, you feel like a goddamn survivor.