Paint the Town Red Review – I’m Sorry Rolling Stones
Developed and published by South East Games
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch
Early Access can really bring a lot out in your game. It can also be where games spend eternity trapped in forever development. Paint the Town Red spent nearly six years in Early Access, but now the super bloody first-person brawler is finally here. So was it worth the long wait? Or should you find other colors to paint the town?
When you first start Paint the Town Red it’s a bit tough to tell where you’re supposed to go. There are three options on the title screen: “Scenario” “Beneath” and “Arena.” Each of them is pretty different, with Scenario being the original experience. Here you pick one of five arenas (technically six, but two are the same arenas at different times of day) and fight between 70 and 90 enemies. That’s really all there is to it. Each of the stages has fun little quirks that you can exploit, different weapons to find, and little hidden areas, but for the most part, these are just maps where you punch people until everyone falls over. There are some modifiers for silly bonus modes, like Gun Show where you can find a carpet of guns hidden somewhere in the map, but once you win one scenario you’ve basically seen them all.
Arena is a little more structured. You’ll pick one of five challenges, and then participate in anywhere between seven to ten back-to-back fights. Generally, there’s a theme for each challenge. One, for example, has a focus on Roman gladiators, with most enemies having big shields and spears. Another is just a boss rush of all the bosses from Beneath (which I’ll get to in a minute.) You need to win all fights in a row, lose in one and you have to start over from the beginning. Outside of getting a little health back between rounds, you’re on your own here.
In both modes, you’ll have the same loadout. You have one ability on a cooldown, a kick that can send people flying, and a skill bar that fills up as you deal damage. Get it to certain points and you can use one of three special abilities: send out a shockwave that knocks everyone down, go berserk so the game goes into slow-mo so you literally explode people’s heads with your fists, or call down lightning from God to smite people. Outside of that, you can pick up almost any item in the environment which you can then use to slash and stab at enemies.
The combat system is fun, and feels brutal. There’s only a single attack button and if you stab or slash is dependent on if you press or hold it. Pick up a pool cue and things get bloody. Jab it into someone’s head and an entire chunk of their head gets a massive hole in it, spurting blood violently. Hit them at the right angle and their entire head may explode. You can even throw the pool stick like a javelin, hurling it across the map and into someone’s chest. Since every enemy in the game is made up of voxels, entire parts of their bodies will explode, cave in, be torn off, and more when you hit them. It’s always super messy, leaving a disaster of guts and a river of blood.
Perhaps the only downside to all this is the complete lack of any way to heal yourself in Scenario, and only being healed a small amount between fights in Arena. Instead of being able to stay in the fight and cause chaos, often you’re reduced to strategies like running back and forth, chipping away at your opponent’s health (and bodies) between hits. Paint the Town Red would benefit greatly from a healing feature, especially since most of the times when I got hurt it was from one of the many enemies on the stage attacking me from behind. It kind of sucks when you die because an enemy you couldn’t possibly know existed whittles your health down.
While both Scenario and Arena are fun, the real meat and potatoes of Paint the Town Red will be found in Beneath. Unlike the other modes, which are one-off battles, Beneath is a fully fleshed-out roguelike mode. You’ll start off by picking a class, each of which has different abilities and powers, and taking an elevator down into a dungeon. From there you’re on your own, only able to wander the dungeon and fight enemies, going deeper and deeper below to try and figure out what’s causing a rather insane series of zombies, energy, and other bad events. Along the way, you’ll have to kill lots of things.
Unlike the other modes, there are multiple classes here, each of which has their own special abilities. One can toss fireballs and raise the dead. Another can shoot holy shockwaves and create a healing circle. No matter your style, there should be something that you’ll enjoy. Once you’ve picked a class, you’ll descend into the cave system below. At first, all you’ll see are zombies, and you’ll be running around collecting weapons and fighting them the same way you would any other monster. Before long, new monsters will join the mix. You’ll take on fireball-spewing floating skulls, invisible roman gladiators, illusion-creating tricksters, laser shooting crabs, and more.
The variety of enemy types is nice, and the brutal combat system from before really helps set it apart. It’s not just that I’m smacking a crab with a stick. It’s that I’m tearing its legs off with a massive sword that feels good. The combat system even seems to translate better to Beneath, thanks to there simply being way fewer enemies on screen. I felt like I wasn’t spending an obscene amount of time trying to watch my back because I was going to get ambushed from some open arena I wasn’t aware of. Furthermore, as I killed monsters and plundered treasures, I would find coins and gems that I could spend on temporary and permanent upgrades for future runs, in true roguelite fashion. I was finding plenty of stuff worth finding, and it led to some really fun games.
However, as much as I enjoyed Paint the Town Red this all comes with one major warning: unless there’s literally no choice, get the PC version. The console versions of the game cut user-created content, which isn’t a huge surprise because of the lack of modding support most console games usually have, but stings since user creations are some of the best parts of the game. The big killer is how the console version of Paint the Town Red drops co-op support completely. It’s something I don’t understand at all, and seriously hurts the game’s flow. It’s clear that Beneath is almost always made with co-op support in mind, leading to it being far more challenging on consoles than it should be otherwise.
This big warning aside, I was having quite a bit of fun with Paint the Town Red. If all you want is a simple bar fight simulator, then this should be exactly what you need. If you’re looking for a roguelite, especially one you can play with your friend, that’s also here. No matter what, there’s quite a bit of content here, and you should be having bloody brawls for days to come.