Flickering neon lights. Skyscrapers wherever you look. This city is sinking into a swamp of crime and violence. Right in the middle stands a young woman with colored hair. Pumping electro beat. Slash! Before you know it, a room full of corpses. Welcome to Lithium City.
This game feels like a fever dream: confusing, sweat inducing, overwhelming with stimuli and yet somehow gripping. Lithium City manages to combine fun and frustration like no other game without forcing you to put that gamepad down for good if you take the challenge.
The action is happening from an isometric perspective as we steer the nameless woman through the corridors of the omnipresent high-rise buildings, with opponents standing in our way again and again and whom we can fight with the help of our fists or pick-up weapons. The controls are very simple and brisk, only the slightly oblique perspective is the reason for some inaccuracies in handling. Don’t fool yourself: Lithium City is tough: we usually only endure 1-2 hits before we bite the dust. The same applies to our opponents though. Therefore, the most common rule is that whoever strikes, punches or shoots first wins.
The door to the next section only opens when we have defeated all opponents and that’s why Lithium City often plays like a puzzle game: Which way do we take? Which opponent do we kill first and with which weapon? The game never leaves us a lot of time to think, because everything happens incredibly quickly. Luckily, we have a practical dash ability that we can use to dodge opponents or take cover in the nick of time. If successful, most sections will only take a few minutes. However, frustratingly many attempts are sometimes required for the later levels – but once you have made it, the relief is all the greater. The similarities to the indie hit Hotline Miami cannot be dismissed easily, but Lithium City “feels” a lot brisker than its dark and kinda sluggish role model.
Lithium City is not a game of big words, because the story is told exclusively and almost cryptically from within the game. Here, the game mechanics are definitely in the foreground and – with a few exceptions – have been implemented very satisfactorily. It just feels good once you have cleaned a room from incredibly sheer masses of opponents.
The pulsating soundtrack, the optics strongly focused on neon colors and the exploding particle effects support the overall picture in an almost perfect way. Zack – Boom – Swish! We’re just sweeping through Lithium City at high speed. After almost 3 hours (pros will surely make it faster) the trip is already over, but the way to get there is super varied and full of creative ideas, some of which turn the known concept completely upside down. Let’s just say “no sports”!
Sometimes, the inaccurate controls, which make us accidentally fail, can spoil the fun. The AI occasionally has dropouts or blocks each other due to poor pathfinding. The graphics don’t always run smoothly either, mostly because opponents and corpses keep clipping through the walls. Nevertheless, the visual design is a highlight of the game and a real eye-catcher. Despite the colorful look, Lithium City is not a game for children though, because the explicit depiction of violence is a fixed factor in the game design.
Filipino developer Nico Tuason worked on this game for six years, supported only by two other team members, and it had been quiet around the project for a long time. All the more surprising was the news that Lithium City should now appear out of nowhere very soon. But the result is impressive: with the exception of a few blemishes, Lithium City has become the gripping and lightning-fast action game it wants to be. A violent sci-fi nightmare with a futuristic neon look for players who are looking for a challenge and have a certain tolerance for frustration.
Lithium City is available for PC on Steam. This review is based on a free review copy kindly provided by the developers.