Publisher: Going Loud Studios / Developer: Going Loud Studios / Platform: XBLIG

Lair of the Evildoer, an Xbox Live Indie Game by Going Loud Studios, may not seem like anything special just by looking at the screenshots.  To me it seemed like yet anther top-down shooter, this time with a few RPG elements taped on to make it seem unique.  Upon trying the demo, however, I found myself quickly persuaded to buy an interesting and surprisingly well-made shooter/RPG with enough charm to truly separate itself from much of what can be found in the Indie Games section.

The humor that makes Lair of the Evildoer unique becomes evident straight from the beginning.  After being introduced to the fact that you are Dr. Odious’ newest creation, you are asked to name yourself.  Once you enter your character’s name, Dr. Odious expresses his disgust with your choice by instead renaming you something like “Daisy” or “Lilly,” and you are immediately thrown into a tutorial that mocks your every move in a way that (surprisingly) doesn’t seem like a ripoff of the cynical mental beatings of GLaDOS, and instead injects some well-needed character into the game.

While this introductory sequence is probably the most amount of story you’ll uncover in the game, Lair of the Evildoer‘s humor is found in much more than the tutorial.  The game is set up like a loot-based RPG, much like Torchlight, Borderlands, or more obviously Diablo. Combat, however, is handled more like a twin-stick shooter along the lines of Smash TV or Geometry Wars.  The random loot mechanic helps keep things fresh, as each weapon comes with a long list of statistics like spread, damage, reload speed or fire rate.  Different weapons will fall into different categories, for instance shotguns fire many pellets at once but fire slower and must be reloaded one shell at a time, whereas SMGs fire faster but inflict less damage per bullet.  While there are never really any unique weapon variants like heat-seeking bullets or explosive shotgun shells, there is enough variance between weapons to make you want to ditch your “Strong SMG of MOAR DAKKA” for a “Superior Bolt-Action Rifle” just to see how different combat becomes.

Aiside from the sheer amount of weapons to find, the way the weapons themselves are handled is refreshingly unique.  You can hold one primary weapon, one secondary weapon and one melee weapon.  Primary weapons are the most frequently-found, and can be anything from shotguns to rifles to rocket launchers.  These weapons are strong, but all take from your overall ammo pool.  Secondary weapons are pistol-type weapons with quick reload speeds and infinite ammo, but inflict little damage.  Melee weapons are exactly what they sound like; however, rather than requiring the player to swap out his or her primary weapon, melee weapons can be swung by a single button press.  This melee attack can be done at any time – even while reloading – and knocks enemies back a far distance, which really helps when you’re being overwhelmed.

The gameplay in Lair of the Evildoer is surprisingly tight.  You really feel like the game was created by someone who actually plays and enjoys videogames.  The combat isn’t very complex but it handles without an issue, and the ability to swing your melee weapon with a single button press rather than having to switch out is incredibly intuitive.  Finding new weapons is fun, and stat junkies (like myself) will enjoy comparing all the different statistics that come with each new drop.

It is unfortunate, then, how quickly it is all over.  There are 20 levels in Lair of the Evildoer, each of which can take around 5-15 minutes to finish.  The final level holds a boss fight that starts off as a rather funny joke but quickly leaves you thinking “Wait… that’s it??” Once the game is over, that’s about it.  There isn’t a New Game + or a Playthrough 2 feature a la Borderlands.  You can start again as a new character (levels, enemies and weapon drops are all randomly-generated), but there isn’t any way to continue playing with the character you’ve built up already.

Despite the rushed feeling of the ending, Lair of the Evildoer is still a great indie title.  RPG fans will feel right at home with the loot and experience system and fans of shooting games will enjoy the shooting mechanics and loads of weapons to play with.  While the game doesn’t last very long, there is enough to keep players having fun in their escape from Dr. Odious’ lair.