Fate will find a way.
The fifth entry in developer Gaijin Games’ seven-part bit.Trip series, Fate places rectangular protagonist Commander Video on-rails (quite literally) and swarms him with hordes of pixel-shooting enemy robots, whom he must defeat by shooting at them. However, Fate distances itself from other schmups by introducing Rez-esque rhythmic combat, allowing players to contribute to the game’s haunting dubstep/chiptune soundtrack by blasting their way through enemies. However, your contributions aren’t as prominent as they were in Rez, where destroying a bad guy would elicit a notable audible response, though this is due to Fate’s more ominous selection of music.
Aesthetically, Fate has more in common with bit.Trip Core and bit.Trip Beat than it does the graphically vibrant Runner series. Backgrounds are sparse and the dim colour palette used for the robotic enemies often sees them blend into the background during particularly chaotic shootouts, further adding to the game’s unforgiving difficulty. Oh, did I not mention that bit.Trip Fate is hard? While its predecessors had a gradual learning curve, Fate drops you in the deep end and offers very few moments of respite among the mayhem. From the get-go you'll face a constant barrage of deadly pixel bullets, and that’s even before you’ve gotten to the level bosses, who each up the ante by a considerable amount.
As previously mentioned, bit.Trip Fate is an on-rails shooter in a very literal way. Commander Video is stuck on one path for the duration of the game, though the path zigzags through each level. Ensuring that Commander Video successfully evades oncoming bullets with such a limited amount of space to work with is increasingly challenging, but you can increase the damage you inflict by collecting Cores dropped by destroyed enemies. These Cores allow Commander Video to enter different Modes, from the lowly Nether through to the almighty Giga, which each increase your weapon’s multiplier. Being hit by an enemy will drop you down one Mode, with the Nether being the penultimate Mode before death, so collecting these Cores is integral to your survival. But while the Modes are important, collecting power-ups offers you the best shot of making it out of each level alive.
These power-ups come in the form of Commander Video’s friends—Commandgirl Video, Mr. Robotube, Junior Melchkin, and Meat Boy of Super Meat Boy fame—who each upgrade your weapon into something much more powerful. While some of these upgrades are more useful than others, as new and more formidable enemy types are introduced in each level, you’ll be thankful for whatever help you can get.
The levels, with apt names such as ‘Frustration’ and ‘Anger’, are surprisingly lengthy and contain no checkpoints, so tirelessly blasting your way through waves of mechanised bad guys, only to be transported right back to the beginning after being trounced in a boss battle, makes bit.Trip Fate an old-school lesson in endurance. However, with only six levels available, the more patient among you may find yourselves conquering Fate sooner than you had anticipated.
Those in the market for a challenging retro shooter with a plethora of modern flourishes will find plenty to enjoy in bit.Trip Fate. While I prefer the colorful accessibility of the Runner series, Fate is the darkest and most gruelling chapter in Commander Video’s illustrious adventure, and at its low asking price, PC gamers should consider it a worthy addition to their Steam library.