Game review: Rot Gut looks fantastic – pity about the gameplay

With its Prohibition-era setting and clever, simplistic graphics and soundtrack, Rot Gut could have been something special. Alas, it’s just a bog-standard platformer underneath the film noir veneer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 12:03pm

Rot Gut

Shotgun Surgeon

2½/5 stars

There’s an inherent risk with the current retro revival that’s sweeping games, one that most indie developers often forget about when crafting their nostalgic supposed masterpieces. The graphics might be super cool old-school, sure, and the soundtracks hipster sleek, but gameplay has come a long way since the late ’80s, and unless you can somehow meld together the right classic aspects with expected contemporary techniques, you end up with something like, well, Rot Gut.

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The game certainly looks appealing, a Prohibition-era world obviously crafted by a lover of classic film noir and gangster pictures. Minimalist eight-bit graphics obviously make it incredibly hard to accurately convey places and period, but here, the developers have put together an almost beautiful black-and-white world, one where a dark and dirty gin-joint atmosphere truly pervades through all levels.

The simplistic chip-tune soundtrack is almost brilliant in its use of austere sounds, channelling Henry Mancini, Max Steiner and other cult favourites, with a jazzy back-room bar vibe that’s all but lost in our modern era. And once you’re thrown into this love letter of an audiovisual setting, it’s a bit of a punch in the guts when you realise the gameplay lacks something as obvious as a contemporary touch.

Rot Gut had the opportunity to be something great here – a challenging adventurer in the spirit of Grim Fandango, a massive mafia-based sandbox like the original GTA games, maybe even a slick arcade-style beat-’em-up – but instead, it safely and sadly goes down the tried-and-tested platformer path. Run, jump and shoot things, that’s the possibilities, and while it does play up the classic Nintendo feel perfectly well, there’s nothing to make you forget they’ve just traded in an Italian plumber for a fedora-toting gumshoe.

Rot Gut is dirt cheap, as cheap as a glass of bathtub gin in the old-old days, just HK$15 or so on Steam for the PC. Really, that’s peanuts to pay for such a marvellously manufactured ode to noir, and if you’re a fan of the genre, by all means buy it. But for the rest of us looking for a bit of gaming originality alongside double-retro thrills, you’d be better off with a glass of said gin.