Version tested: PC
It starts with desperation. Alone in some lost room in a research complex, empty cans littering the cluttered floor, each one another ration you've devoured, pushing you closer to starvation. Pick them up; they'll come in handy. Then leave, because there's nothing left here, especially not safety. You push aside the debris that was so hastily used to create a barricade. You clutch your 9mm pistol in your hand, and you venture out into the corridors.
Teleglitch achieves horror at a low resolution, with just a few pixels for the player character and often only a few more for your enemies. It's a roguelike wearing the skin of a twin-stick shooter. Your task is always the same, no matter what level you're on: get to the next teleporter. Escape. Survive.
This is no jolly Spelunky, where you're bounding through cheerful tombs and caves in an effort to fill your own coffers. Bad things have happened here, and you're the only being whose brain isn't a microchipped, reanimated chunk of meat with a violent temperament.
Teleglitch bears all the hallmarks of the best horror games. Ammo is scarce and easily spent - even more easily if you panic and empty magazines with reckless abandon. Enemies skitter, moving unnaturally and quickly to charge at you in drunken parabolas. The entire world feels like it's viewed through a cardboard tube to emphasise your perspective; every wall is extrapolated upwards with a jeering, undulating line, selling the claustrophobia of corridors and reinforcing the agoraphobia of wide open spaces. Most importantly, it has the fear of the unknown.
The first time I played Teleglitch, I didn't make it past the first level of its 10. I walked into a particularly cluttered room, filled with the detritus of panic where some poor soul had tried to keep the horrors out by barricading the door. But they hadn't come through the door. They'd come out of the pipes, a sea of reanimated corpses hell-bent on consumption, as I found out when I got close enough to make them realise I was there. I drowned in that tide and tried again.
This time I made a detector, ramming a microchip into a tube to give me something approaching an early warning system. This superimposes a dotted white line around dangerous pipes, and suddenly the world is a slightly less scary place. It's still full of mutated zombies and failed science experiments - not to mention the giant robots and my own proclivity for chucking explosives not quite far enough from my feet not to get caught in the blast - so 'safe' still isn't how I'd describe it.
But Teleglitch's complex is a place littered with useful junk to improve your chances. Boxes of nails poke out of piles of rubbish and, in the early levels, empty cans suddenly become your best friend, due to you being able to cobble them together into metal plates and then body armour. (I told you they'd come in handy.)
Teleglitch features a robust crafting system that's as elegant as it is versatile. Simply hold down the C button and it'll tell you everything you're currently capable of creating. Grab some unspecific hardware and strap it to your 9mm pistol and you can turn it into a nailgun: considerably less powerful, with less range and accuracy, but with the blessed ability to shoot nails, which are slightly more abundant than bullets. Desperate times and all that.
There are considerably more complicated recipes, like taking a can of processed meat, strapping some explosives to it along with a microchip, and creating a meat-trap, a distracting explosive that will have hordes of zombies gather around it before the inevitable meaty explosion. Good for getting out of a tight spot, that - but canned meat gives you 10 health and an empty can, both of which could be significantly more useful for saving your life.
It's here that Teleglitch starts to glimmer in the darkness. Everything you can build is very specifically useful. Some are last-ditch measures suited for the one eventuality you never want to face, while some just compromise your equipment to make your life that much easier. The Teleporter, a Hail Mary pass that saves your life a single time by zapping you back to the beginning of the level, has requirements so steep you'll probably not build it until it's too late.
It also makes you a hoarder. You find yourself collecting pistols because you don't know what you can build until all the components are in your inventory, and there's this half-thought in the back of your mind that maybe you could strap four of them together and make something beautiful. You pick up tubes, motors, microchips and other junk that's useless on its own but might combine into a minigun or an exosuit or something. Teleglitch does what all roguelikes do best; you're constantly discovering the rules of the world and how everything works.
This applies to the enemies, too. For the first few levels you're faced with the skittering mutants that rush at you and keep you on your toes, but there's always distance and your gun trumps their many legs when it comes to closing that gap. But the further you progress, the more the monsters you face start to evolve and adapt, throwing up new variations. Zombies climb out of the ground to charge at you and some even come packing. The first time you find yourself in a room with a shotgun-wielding zombie, things quickly get messy.
There's a tendency for them to become a little too tough, but what amount to boss and mini-boss fights are few and far between, introduced with the sort of directed randomness that separates the great procedurally generated games from the good ones. Even then, it's often more a case of having the right equipment to handle Teleglitch's tougher enemies, such as heavy duty guns and even bigger explosives.
Above all else, it's about learning the world and how to deal with it. The first time you face one of the larger zombies you'll come away barely standing, empty shells a puddle at your feet. The 20th? You'll barely break a sweat.
Everything about Teleglitch feels so wonderfully considered, from the aliased lines to the heft of every weapon in the game - a heft which changes depending on calibre and projectile. Even the lore that underpins the terrible events of the complex you explore is incredibly well thought-out, offering a history of corporations harnessing corpses as a workforce and all the implications of such technology. It's cynically believable, as all the best sci-fi is.
Teleglitch has only 10 levels, but that's always a misnomer when you're talking about a randomised game. While there's perhaps not the verve and variety of peers like Spelunky or The Binding of Isaac, what Teleglitch does do is sell you on the atmosphere and the minutiae of combat. Every room is a potential death trap - and it's up to you to navigate through them, sweat beading on your brow.
9 / 10