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  • Writer's pictureSofi

Laika: Aged Through Blood (2023)

Developer: Brainwash Gang

Taking a step back from reviewing on a strict timeline allowed me to relax a little more during the last month, including the holidays. However, this whole time I've actually been looking forward to getting to talk about this very memorable game. It was an unexpected favorite for me this year as it’s definitely not the type of game I usually play. Laika: Aged Through Blood is a twin-stick shooter metroidvania on a motorcycle, where you play as a coyote warrior on a path of vengeance and freedom for her people. Laika: Aged Through Blood is challenging but rewarding; despite its incredibly grim, bloody, and bleak world, it remains a hopeful story about the ability to love.

You play as Laika, a gun-slinging coyote on a motorcycle who carries a unique curse in her bloodline. This curse allows her to be immortal - when she is killed, she is immediately brought back. She is the single weapon that her village has against the oppressive enemy force that is the Birds. The Birds, declaring themselves biologically superior, have all but obliterated the other peoples by draining the resources from the land, leaving the world as an empty, dangerous wasteland. Laika’s story begins when she hears that Poochie, a young pup from her village, has been crucified by the Birds. In a fit of rage, Poochie’s father, Jakob, took Laika’s gun and traveled deep into Bird territory to seek vengeance. Laika rushes to stop him, but it’s too late once she finds him. Poochie’s death weighs heavily on Puppy, Laika’s daughter, and she asks her mother to get revenge. Laika is the only one who is allowed outside their village to look for resources, so she must complete missions in order to sabotage the Birds forces and infiltrate their strongholds. 

Jakob didn’t die in vain – he was able to tell Laika about the genetic monstrosities that the birds are developing.

Laika: Aged Through Blood is one of those games that immediately drew me in with its art style alone. Yes, the game is full of gore, death, and monsters, and yet the animation, characters, and environments are incredibly gorgeous. I loved the cutscenes, which had a cartoon-style look but felt incredibly cinematic. This is what made me overlook the fact that this game would be difficult and bloody when I decided to buy it. I have no complaints, but I would’ve been very happy to see more of the beautiful cutscenes. I didn’t really have expectations for the game’s soundtrack, though, and I was really pleasantly surprised. The music in Laika isn’t something I’d normally listen to, but its melancholy lyrics and its folksy, acoustic sounds fit really well within the desolate wasteland that Laika drives through. The soundtrack is integrated into gameplay as you collect tapes of songs along your journey and choose which ones to listen to from your menu. Early on, your small collection of songs can feel repetitive, but as you collect more and more tapes you end up with a really banger playlist. This soundtrack felt like a special treat for me to discover as it has so many vocal songs sung by the talented Beícoli, an artist who appears by the same name in the game.

The clouds in this game are one of my favorite things. The bold cell-shaded colors gives them so much flair and impact.

As I mentioned, I was indecisive for several days about whether I should actually pick up Laika: Aged Through Blood. I saw reviews about how difficult the game could be and I was concerned I would end up giving up on it. I’m generally not one to play games that involve constantly dying, especially those with souls-like deaths, where dying means losing progress or currency. However, after trying the demo, I was sold on the gameplay and decided it was worth the try for a cool-ass game. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did I spend literally 3+ hours on one specific boss, dying over 200 times? Also, yes. All in all, though, I found that it wasn’t unnecessarily punishing. Yes, you lose currency if you die out in the world, but that doesn’t apply to boss fights, which allow you try as many times as you want with much less frustration. You also have a few chances to recover your lost stuff before it disappears, as long as you don’t die again and again on your way back to it. The most grueling part of this game was definitely the first 2 hours. Learning the mechanics and fighting involves a lot of dying. You must be able to manage at least three different things at the same time: the bike, your gun, and shielding. The bike’s mechanics involves not only reloading, which is done by doing a 180 spin, but also actually landing correctly back on the ground. The number of times I died not by being shot, but by landing on my head is… embarrassing. I do wish that the sprite for Laika made it a little bit clearer where your head is vs. where the wheels are, especially in boss levels where you’re very zoomed out within the large map. I have a few complaints like this, but all in all, playing this game just feels absolutely sick to master. The slow motion when you’re shooting multiple birds at once, the perfect timing when you reflect a bullet, the ability to reload as you’re still in the air - if you can do all that and nail the landing, it makes you feel like a badass. I haven’t played a lot of motorcycle games at all, except maybe the Bike Race mobile game that was really popular in the 2010s, but I realized I really enjoy the 2D driving mechanics.

It becomes a little difficult to see yourself in a huge, zoomed-out map like this, especially if you’re playing on the TV.

Laika’s immortality is called a “curse” intentionally. Laika has lived an incredibly rough life, one that she has no escape from. She watches people die every day, and because of the curse, she sees their ghosts, too. Her mother, Maya, raised her not as a child to nurture, but as a weapon of war to prepare. The immortality curse is passed on through her bloodline, and it only affects women - passing on from one to the next when they first “bleed” (menstruate). Laika is forced to bear a child in order to continue to the bloodline, but as much as she tries, she can’t close herself off emotionally like her mother did. Despite countless pain and tragedy, Puppy is her whole world, and will do anything to protect her. Maya tries to push Laika into training Puppy to be a fighter, as she will be the one to inherit the responsibility, but Laika refuses and pushes it off. She wants Puppy to live a safe, normal life, instead of being surrounded by death. She doesn’t want Puppy to experience having the weight of her entire village on her back. Throughout all this, Laika goes on missions across the land, slaying countless birds and even defeating the terrifying, mutated monsters that the Birds have created as weapons. She also takes quests, big and small, from those in her village and people that she meets on her quest. You meet some interesting characters, some grateful for Laika’s help, some not. I completed most of the sidequests in the game and a lot of them provide you with a lot more context and history about how the world came to be this way. Despite enemies always respawning, I enjoyed traveling the world and trying to find more secrets, more characters, and more quests to complete.

Although Laika always comes back once she dies, she still experiences what it feels like to die, every single time.

Laika: Aged Through Blood took me through an emotional, raw, and beautiful journey. Despite its shoot ‘em up, apocalyptic exterior, the true story at the center of it all is about motherhood and womanhood. There are so many “vengeful dad” games out there already, this was the mom and daughter game we deserved. I still get teary thinking about the story, and I am also quite proud of myself for having beat it to the end. This is definitely not a cozy or wholesome game, but if you’re into twin-stick shooters with really rad, badass gameplay, this one’s for you. It’s an such a thought-out exploration on what it means to live and what gives life meaning.

Laika: Aged Through Blood is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S

Played on: PC (Steam Deck)

Last Played: 12/8/2023

Playtime: 34 hrs

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