Image via Altered Orbit Studios.

Despite its best-in-class action, Selaco’s pacing is where it truly shines

Wake up and smell the ozone.

You’d be forgiven for playing through the entirety of Selaco’s 10-to-12 hour campaign and being surprised to learn that the game was not only incomplete, but only a portion of its intended length. The first episode of Selaco launched recently into Steam early access, but there’s more than one reason to avoid judging this shooter by its box art.

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Bringing mindfulness to mayhem

Lately, I’ve been sort of half-assedly practicing that “dopamine detox” thing you see young adults try: setting screen time limits on your phone, disabling certain apps, or even just reading a book before bed instead of scrolling on my phone. It actually works, by the way; I find my time with screens a lot more engaging than I did before. Well, Selaco is sort of like dopamine detox in shooter form.

I adore breakneck shooters like ULTRAKILL, Turbo Overkill, DOOM Eternal, and Mullet Madjack. I also find them.. kind of exhausting, after a while. Each encounter in these games demands more than just shooting or even proper positioning: they demand a dance with a death that’s double time, every time. Selaco is more evenly paced, punishing poor play swiftly but giving you plenty of time between shootouts to recoup.

Playing on the second-hardest available option, I was regularly having to restart fights, but it wasn’t ever because I missed a super-bounce or neglected to quick-swap to the correct weapon. It was because I played carelessly. Careless play can get you pretty far in “movement shooters” like those listed above, as long as you’re carelessly moving around at Mach 9. In Selaco, you’re going to want to slow down, reposition, and outwit the worryingly intelligent AI before can deposit lead in your flank.

Spacing the pacing

A typical fight in Selaco usually applies pressure (in the form of dudes with guns) from one direction, then expands to fill the gaps. Enemies flow in from set points, but will swiftly move through the available space to get the jump on you, obscured by flying debris, smoke, and dust. Your foes are deadly, tanky, and smart. Your best bet is to lay traps, think ahead, and use your tactical power slide to out-position them.

Image via Altered Orbit Studios.

Of course, if a fight goes sideways you’re almost guaranteed a long moment to gather yourself, and some resources, before the next. Rather than smashing from room to room populated with baddies, Selaco’s explorable space is punctuated somewhat sparsely with fights. Some people might call these moments of quiet exploration and light puzzling boring. I call them an exercise in mindfulness.

There’s a wide range of enemy types to fight, and they evolve in both weaponry and tactics as you progress. Later on, “Squad Leaders” will intelligently command their soldiers while buffing them. If you manage to kill a Squad Leader, their underlings will helplessly scatter, ripe for the gibbing. Shotgun goons will flank so aggressively and so mischievously you’d swear they spawn in right behind you. The only way to stay alive is to peek, kill, and reposition. A dance with death, but more of a waltz than a shuffle.

A world worth getting lost in.. most of the time

The world of Selaco is astoundingly rich in detail (made even more impressive when you remember it’s made in GZDoom), interactive options, cleverly-hidden secrets, and worldbuilding. While there’s no through-line of a story (yet), the environs themselves paint a clear picture of the lives of the crew and citizenry aboard this artificial ecosystem. Birthday parties held in office spaces, arcades with playable machines, and shopping malls complete with interior burger joints are just a few of the spaces you’ll be combing through between engagements. They’re liminal spaces bereft of nostalgia, replaced with an eerie, futuristic loneliness.

Image via Altered Orbit Studios.

Getting lost in such spaces is fun, for a time. There were a handful of occasions I was stuck hugging the left wall – a tried-and-true technique I use in corn mazes and the like – just to find where to go next. Green lights help most of the time, but there are a few times when a critical switch or path are just a little too hard to locate. I don’t think there should be a waypoint system or anything, but I think a bit more diegetic highlighting of key details would go a long way.

If I’m making Selaco sound like a game about wandering liminal spaces punctuated with brief shooter action, it’s because that’s sort of what it is. There’s plenty of shooting to be had and it’s best-in-genre stuff, with satisfying weapons that feel and sound powerful as they shred enemies to bits. The level of viscera and flying debris is enough to make Brutal DOOM blush. But blasting guys is only a piece of the formula, and despite getting turned around a few times I found the interspersed methodical secret hunting and resource gathering just as essential to the experience.

In its current state, Selaco is a no-brainer for anyone who’s in the mood for something a little more Half Life than DOOM. There’s still some headway to be made in terms of storytelling, and I’d love to see some additional bosses and set pieces, but the meditative pace, tight action and incredible attention to detail across its generous runtime were more than enough to win me over.

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