Butcher Review

Steve Gill

I think you know what you’re getting yourself into with a game that proudly declares, “The easiest mode is HARD.” Of course, the question is, is it fun hard or punch-the-desk-then-rage-quit hard? Luckily for my sanity and the furniture in my man cave, Transhuman Designs’ Butcher largely falls into the former category. Logically then, the next thing we need to know is, do I play an evil cyborg sent to Earth to eradicate the last remnants of the human race, and do I get a chainsaw? The answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes”!

Describing itself as “a blood-soaked love letter to the early 90s”, Butcher is a side-on run ‘n’ gunner that draws inspiration from a wide range of classic 16-bit shooters and with more than a hefty nod to the ultra-violence of Doom and Quake. The premise is simple: run, jump and massacre your way through its five zones and 21 levels before overriding the core reactor and putting mankind out of its pathetic misery.

Simple, but not so easy. Standing in your way is an army of angry sprites who are not going to let the planet go down without a fight. Everything from fleshy grunts and lightning-quick ninjas to armoured jet-pack troopers, police helicopters, and big dudes who look like RoboCop. Between them they’re packing everything you’ve got and then some.


And while doing the dance of death with these guys you’ll be desperately trying to avoid all the long drops, vats of molten steel, mechanised saws, and other quintessential platforming pitfalls. There are also elevators to be ridden and buttons to be pressed. Crucially, you don’t have to kill everyone, you just need to get to the level’s exit.

The action is fast and fluid and has a tactical aspect to it. Movement through the network of platforms, traps, tunnels, rooms, and outside spaces is both horizontal and vertical. And there are two types of surfaces to be aware of: thin platforms which you, foes, and projectiles can pass through in any direction, and those which are impenetrable to most weapons and can only be surmounted from a side angle. Enemies can’t jump as high as you, but some of the buggers can fly.

You start off with just a chainsaw and a trusty up-close-and-personal shotgun, but as you progress you’ll acquire a small arsenal of meaty weapons. Each fills a particular niche, and you’ll need to use them appropriately. For instance, the powerful railgun shoots through solid walls and multiple foes, the flamethrower sets surfaces ablaze and does damage over time, and the grenade launcher is great for dealing with the big boys. And they all look, feel, and sound badass.


Don’t be fooled by the absence of a reload button though, ammo isn’t overly abundant, so you can’t just run around spraying and praying. You need to land your shots while also dodging incoming fire and utilising available cover intelligently. And if you get the chance, pickup anything your vanquished foes drop before it despawns.

Just as well then that control of your misanthropic robot, via a fully customisable keyboard and mouse combo (I’m definitely space bar for jump kind of guy), is smooth and responsive and allows for precision aiming. There’s also “experimental” support for a gamepad if you’d prefer that.

Obviously, this is meant to be a tough game. The meat sacks come thick and fast, reacting promptly to your presence, spreading out and taking advantage of cover. They don’t miss too many shots, and the different enemy types combine well to always keep you on your toes. Quick reactions and an adaptive and mobile playstyle are the order of the day. Fortunately, most of the humans die with just one or two hits, but then again it doesn’t take that much to put you out of commission either. There’s not much room for error.

However, it’s the “extermination” segments that really test your mettle (endoskeleton). Activated when you’re ready (by pressing a button on the wall), you become temporarily locked in a confined area and must survive sequential and increasingly difficult waves before being allowed to proceed.


You will die a lot in Butcher, yet it rarely feels unfair. There are no mid-map checkpoints, but the levels are relatively short and their designs are carefully considered so that there’s always enough cover and ammo to get the job done. And with each death you refine and revise your strategy. Believe me, you won’t get far without a plan, and it’s incredibly rewarding when you finally pull it off.

The only time I got seriously stuck and was starting to get very frustrated was on level 20. It features two of those extermination segments, one immediately at the start and another right at the end. Both are extremely onerous, but the second one features a particularly sadistic combination of jet-packing blade swingers, flamethrower and railgun troops, helicopters, and the RoboCop guys with their effing homing missiles. It must have taken me about 50 attempts. Ironically, I did the big boss fight that follows it in just a few goes.

If you’re feeling exceptionally masochistic or just finding it too easy, you can try out the tougher difficulties or use the built-in timers to have a go at doing a speed run. Harder reduces your health to 66%, and in addition to that Hardest also removes medkit and armour pick-ups. I have no idea what Impossible entails as I’m not sure how you unlock it. Along with the 35 collectible skulls to find, these challenges help up the replayability factor.


But what makes Butcher such a joy to play is the pure, unadulterated carnage and the twisted humour. This is a game that revels in its gratuitous violence. Mangled bodies fly across the screen, the persistent blood paints the walls (up to four million pixels per level!), stringy entrails cling to the surfaces, burning soldiers run around screeching, jet pack troopers explode in massive balls of fire, and the dying writhe and squeal in agony for ages while spewing out gore.

One can’t help but chuckle when unarmed civilians beg for their lives or flee in terror when they see you coming. Unfortunately for them, you get a small amount of health for murdering them, and it’s a good excuse to use that chainsaw. Butcher also allows you to get creative with your slaughter. You can kick and shoot people into lava and piranha-infested water, impale them on hooks, lure them into the blades of giant saws and under stompers, and even set vultures and tigers on them.

Bringing all this butchery to life is the superb pixel art. The gloriously gloomy technoir environments illuminated by seedy neon and glowing lava, and overlaid with atmospheric fog, smoke and rain effects and nostalgic monitor scanlines. The palette of muddy reds, browns, and greys, highly reminiscent of id Software’s hell-themed FPS games, lends the whole thing an appropriately nightmarish air. And the parallax scrolling backdrops look fabulous, especially the post-apocalyptic cityscapes, jungle, and space station; I only wish you got to see a bit more of them.


Moreover, given how tiny and blocky all the sprites are, the amount of detail and character in the animations is nothing short of impressive. The shottie spits out a huge swarm of pellets, brass flies everywhere, shells bounce along the floor, sparks drip from flamethrowers, tables get knocked over, lights get shot out, windows shatter, and crates break open. It all adds to the exhilarating chaos of the combat, and it’s backed up by some lovely sound work and a pumping industrial soundtrack. Oh yeah, and it features an amazing intro and ending.

In short, Butcher is bloody good old-school fun. It looks great, it’s pleasingly nostalgic, and the gunplay is satisfying. Yes, it’s not the longest game, but it’s damn challenging, and there’s a decent amount of replayability to be had with speed runs and the different difficulty settings. Humanity’s fate is in your cybernetic, chainsaw-wielding hand.

Developer: Transhuman Design

Publisher: Transhuman Design

Platforms: PC, Mac

Release Date: 5th October 2016

Score: 85%