I hadn’t heard about Black Future 88 until I was given a preview code. Without any preconceived ideas or expectations, I went in and when I came out the other side, I’d played one of the most exciting games of 2019.
Black Future 88 is set in a dystopian, synth-punk future after the fall of civilisation due to nuclear warfare. The bombs fell in 1988 and when they did, time stood still. Soon, the nuclear winter blackened the sky and the people of the world stopped keeping time. So, it’s always 1988.
Hence, Black Future 1988.
Black Future 88 Preview
The most immediately impressive and engaging part of Black Future 88 is by far its soundtrack. According to the developer, SuperScarySnakes, the original analog-synth soundtrack is performed by Tremor Low.
It is incredible.
The OST instantly makes you feel as though you’re part of this decaying, “retro cyberpunk dystopia.” Think Blade Runner, Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Robocop. You can feel the never-ending rain, the pulsing neon lights and the desperation and desolation of this world.
Endless Night, Endless Rain
The music also serves to create an oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere that gives you the impression your enemies are closing in on every side. It really is an incredible achievement in audio design and I can’t sing its praises highly enough. Especially as it accompanies the gorgeous pixel art and gives the visuals an extra dose of potency.
Speaking of the visuals, the pixel art is simply stunning. The colours of the backgrounds are washed-out and almost watercolour but are paired with a lighting system that brings the visuals to life. Lights glow, pulse and throb with the music and exist in a 3D plane. Some lights rotate and shine towards the player and give the appearance of depth.
The lighting is another incredible element of Black Future 88 that helps to elevate it beyond its basic gameplay premise. Which by the way is also great. However, the lighting is truly impressive. Weaponry fires various types of beams and lasers that shine with neon light and make the screen radiate with an eerie, cyberpunk glow.
Together with the pounding synth soundtrack, the detailed and gorgeous pixel art and the cyber/synthpunk theme, the lighting is an integral part of Black Future 88’s overall package.
Death From All Angles
The player character is constantly lit up by a spotlight which casts an everpresent shadow and draws the player’s eye. Your character is the centre of attention. As they should be given the nature of the game’s narrative.
As one of the world’s few remaining survivors, you’re climbing Duncan’s Tower in order to reach the top and kill Duncan all before your heart explodes. Duncan is the man responsible for dropping the bombs on the world and his constantly evolving, procedurally generated tower is what stands between the world and the end of the nuclear rain.
You move your chosen character (one of five) around the screen the same way you do in any number of platformers. You can jump and double jump and dash to get out of harm’s way. You can also fire by pressing a button or by tilting the second analogue stick in the direction you want to shoot. I prefer pressing the button and allowing the auto-aim to do the work, but the option is there if you want it.
Stay On the Move
Moving in Black Future 88 is silky smooth. Especially on PC where it runs at a constant 60fps. The controls are tight and responsive and moving around the map feels great. It’s also tense as you work to defeat every enemy on screen before moving to the next room.
The objective of Black Future 88 is to reach the top of the tower and defeat Duncan, but to get there you’re going to need to get through an army of enemies and bosses. You’re also going to have to go as fast as you can because you only have 18-minutes before your heart explodes.
This timer, called deadlock time is always ticking down. You can also spend some time — at various vendors — to unlock buffs and curses. These buffs and curses are essential to your success and give you all manner of bonuses. Some improve your speed or health, while others decrease your overall health to make you deal more damage.
You can combine any number of curses and buffs to create your own unique outcomes, but use too many and you’ll poison your blood. Take too much damage and you’ll catch on fire dealing far more damage to yourself and potentially ending your run prematurely. It doesn’t matter though because the more you die, the more you level up and the stronger you become.
Fight The Future
As you make your way to the top of the tower, known as Skymelt, you go room to room, defeating enemies, collecting ammo and weapons and also picking up dropped cash. Skymelt, a sentient AI, will pick up any cash, ammo and blood packs you don’t grab in order to upgrade itself.
The more Skymelt collects, the harder the game gets. Rooms will have more enemies who deal more damage. Additional traps will be activated and deal more damage and deadly assassination will be unleashed to track you down. Thankfully, you have access to an ever-expanding and ridiculous arsenal of weapons to use. Some of my favourites include a rail-gun that makes you and the enemy switch places and a nail gun that rapidly fires and tears enemies to pieces.
Each character can hold two weapons at a time and each of them begins with two different guns. The characters also have a variety of perks that determine how much damage they do and how quickly they fire. Who you choose is going to be up to your personal preference and your playstyle. Given that some have more or less health and armour, it’s going to be up to you to experiment and find out who suits you best.
Survival of the Fittest
As you make your way up Skymelt, you’ll eventually get to the boss of the zone you’re in. These bosses are all unique and provide a different challenge each time. Some wield melee weapons and zip around the screen dealing damage. Others are giant robots that fill the screen with projectiles and others have drones that harass you while you try to avoid dying at the boss’s hands.
When you beat the boss, the next zone opens up and you need to climb to the next one. Even though you’re always improving, getting stronger and finding new and improved weapons, so is Skymelt. So, the game continues to increase in difficulty all the way up.
Black Future 88 never drops in difficulty as you increase and skill and power. You’re always just on the edge of being defeated and it’s a thrilling feeling.
The preview I played only lasted until I reached the third boss. Even that took me a couple of hours to reach. I died over and over more times than I can count, but I wasn’t ever discouraged. Black Future 88 is the kind of game you’ll play and play and won’t realise that eight hours have passed.
And while I played on PC, I’m definitely excited to see how it runs on Switch. Black Future 88 seems like a perfect fit for Nintendo’s console.
After my hands-on, Black Future 88 has skyrocketed to the top of my most anticipated list and I can’t wait to see if it lives up to its enormous potential.
Black Future 88 will be available for PC and Switch, as a console exclusive, later this year.