Survivor Mercs is a single-player rogue-lite, bullethell extraction shooter developed by Wolpertinger Games and published by Wandering Wizard. The game is centered around an evil megacorporation’s robot army which threatens to destroy the world. Until a bunch of brave mercenaries stepped up to battle the opposing threat which has led to all-out havoc. Despite the lack of a fully fleshed-out story, the game delivers when it comes to the fun factor.
Developer & Publisher // Wolpertinger Games, Wandering Wizard
Platforms // Switch, PlayStation 4|5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date //$7.99, Mar 10, 2023
Reviewed On // PC
Welcome To Survivor Mercs
Survival Mercs centers around a fictional battle between armed mercenaries and an endless robot army that wants to rule mankind. The objective of the player is to destroy the enemy while looting the area of resources before extracting to safety.
The player then will use those resources to upgrade their bunkers for better stats for the commander and his reinforcements. These stats are crucial for the player. Unsurprisingly, the game becomes difficult rather quickly when it comes to the enemy spawn system.
In terms of the overall game loop, it’s pretty normal but as you reach higher levels the game gets chaotic rather quickly. This leads to the gameplay becoming more intense and adds to the overall tension of the game as you play against the increasing horde.
Power-Ups Help Make You A Survivor in Survivor Mercs
Aside from using resources on bunkers, these same resources are used for the armory which provides the player with power-ups. These power-ups are quite useful and each offers the player a different alternative to battle the non-stop hoard. For example, the Energy Drink power-up gives the player’s squad faster attacks at the cost of critical damage.
Other useful power-ups include:
- Steroids – increase the commander’s HP
- Nerd Glasses – grants more XP
- Precision Scopes – increases your chances for critical hits
- Powergloves – increases melee attack range
There are so many power-up options for the player that they will find themselves quite busy for some time. I found myself utilizing the steroid power-up the most due to the fact that the commander can easily become overwhelmed. To my surprise there wasn’t a power-up that felt underwhelming, each was well thought out and had its use.
Constant Enemies, Non-Stop Havoc & Mini-Bosses
Enemies typically come at you in non-stop droves. Naturally, this puts pressure on the player. Especially when enemies are firing projectiles all at once, which makes it rather easy to get hit. In addition to endless hordes, Survivor Mercs also features mini-bosses which can be difficult at times. But compared to the endless enemies, they aren’t as big of a threat. Especially when you have enemies literally taking over the entire screen.
I can’t really say that the mini-bosses offered much of a challenge. This is mostly due to the hoard of enemies taking up most of your attention. Don’t get me wrong, the mini-bosses are no slouch themselves. They are very tanky and have a good amount of HP. Not to mention they can cause a massive amount of damage to you.
When you first start playing the game, you will feel like the nonstop horde is unfair. In fact, it’s to the extent that will leave you feeling smothered and overwhelmed. But after a few rounds, you will find your bearings. However, keep in mind it might take a few games for you to adjust and learn how to survive longer.
Mini-bosses do add to the chaos when the horde is all over the place. Honestly, I didn’t feel like they were unfair mostly because you usually will have more than one leveled-up mercenary backing you up. Ironically, the only time I felt a little frustrated was when I would die because I would get hit by enemies coming toward me while simultaneously dodging mini-boss projectiles. Overall everything was balanced it just takes a little getting used to.
Expect Survivor Mercs to Rack Up the Pressure
The challenge that this game really offers the player is summed up by the constant pressure of enemies. They are relentless and there’s no room for error. There isn’t really a right or wrong way of approaching the battlefield. You’ll quickly find out that enemies will indeed overwhelm you. Players will have to play smart and utilize their squad to their strength and evacuate. Overall, I like this approach as it offers the player a nice welcome challenge.
I found it easy to think about some good strategies that ended up getting me to the final boss. To my surprise, once I unlocked the mercenary Priest and teamed her up with Spark, Curveball, Shredder, and Reaper I ended up fighting the final boss very consistently with no issues. No doubt a big part of Survivor Mercs’ challenge comes in the form of the final boss of the level. Naturally, he has a ton of health and does a lot of damage with each hit. However, it’s the constant desire to beat him that makes the experience worth the grind.
Choose Your Commander
Before you can jump into combat you must create your commander. The game utilizes a random character generator with an array of stats for that particular character. The player is then given the option to clone that character in which the game will randomly generate an alternate version of it. This can lead to the character having boosted stats such as stronger damage output, more storage slots for power-ups, or even more HP for your character. However, there are downsides to this as well.
Survival Mercs will give that character a random disadvantage. This includes disadvantages such as decreased damage output, slower movement speed, etc… Players will find themselves in a way playing a mini-game of sorts. Think of it as a genetic lottery where the risk can lead to a much more capable commander or a very underwhelming one.
There’s an old saying it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. Don’t be discouraged to try out the clones of a commander. As I stated before there are power-ups in the game along with the game’s rouge-lite level-up system (more on that below). It can be beneficial to you to start with a clone that has more HP, or higher damage output. Undoubtedly, this can help you survive longer on the battlefield. I found myself constantly experimenting and bouncing back and forth between clones. In all honesty, I preferred the increased HP more than anything else.
Similarities To Vampire Survivor
Survival Mercs combat has a lot in common with Vamprire Survivor only with a few twists. The first thing the player will notice as they hit the battlefield is the level-up system works the same. As you defeat robots, they drop dog tags similarly to how Vampire Survivors does with experience gems.
Dog tags act the same way the more you grab, the higher your character levels up. This grants you the ability to upgrade the abilities of your squadron from a variety of options that differ between the mercenary you choose to use for battle. For example, Silverback is a strong brute that can be used to take out a cluster of enemies and serve as a bodyguard for the commander. However, he has drawbacks such as his range area. As you level him up, you can increase his range as well as his power and his pushback. The pushback skill serves as a stun against enemies that allows you to get by them when cornered.
Other characters, such as Critter and Reaper, have weapons that range from shotguns to railguns, and pistols. The game gives you a vast selection of mercenaries to fit your playstyle. However, there is one apparent gripe I have with the mercenary system. Players cannot control the mercenary attacks. In other words, you are basically bobbing and weaving with the commander while the AI takes care of everything else.
Each mercenary can be leveled up to battle the ongoing robot assault. Survival Mercs offers its own unique upgrades that offer the player a slew of playstyles. I found the level system quite rewarding. Mostly because you have so many upgrade options to help make the experience even smoother. At the end of the day, I settled for high-damage output and bullet penetration. These upgrade options were great for dealing with enemy hordes. Best of all, everything felt balanced which added to the fun factor.
Objective & Basic Combat
As you play Survivor Mercs, you will notice blue and green circles that are marked on the map. These serve as drop zones for squad members and loot. In the game, squad members are tied to green drop zones. Players will need to keep a sharp eye out for them as enemies will fill the screen in record time. When the player reaches the drop zone they are then given the opportunity to choose from three squadmates. After they make the selection, the game will then spawn the selected member. I found myself always choosing Silverback first (mostly for his damage and the fact that he acts like a shield).
The second drop zone players will have to consider is the loot drop zone. These are split into two separate versions. One drops useful items to be utilized on the battlefield such as power-ups and weapons that the commander can use for short periods of time such as mines, grenades, and lasers. While the other loot drop zone will provide you with resources for your bunker (more on that below).
These weapons really do change the tide of battle. Especially when you are overrun by enemies. Each one of these special weapons completely wipes the field of enemies. Fortunately, these weapons grant you ample opportunity to grab the fallen dog tags to level up your squadron. Also, keep in mind these power-ups are very effective against mini-bosses. My favorite was the grenades. Grenades were perfect for when you are outnumbered and when mini-bosses are nearby allowing you to deliver tons of damage. I can’t say there were any useless weapons as they are all great for clearing the field of enemies.
Fun fact, the laser beam had the coolest effect in the game as it was the most visually impressive. Now you are probably thinking do you have the ability to choose these weapons once you reach the dropzone? The answer is no the game will drop a weapon at random so make sure you know your weapons.
The game utilizes bunkers that serve as stat boosters for your commander and mercenaries. These boosts can range from increased damage, pick-up range, increased HP, and even increased XP gained in the game. The player has complete freedom in terms of how they set up their bunkers to match their playstyle and make them more effective in combat. Whether the player decides to focus on a high-damage build or a more tanky HP build is completely up to them.
Naturally, this will lead to different outcomes on the battlefield. You’ll find yourself spending your resources here upgrading your character to fix weaknesses in your commander. For example, if your commander has awesome damage output but terrible HP you can easily upgrade this stat to increase the chances of survival in battle. At the end of the day, you have complete freedom to tailor a commander to your play style. Truly, it offers respite to correct deficiencies in your commander and mercenaries.
There isn’t anything rather special about the controls as it’s pretty straightforward. Players will be utilizing both the left and right sticks for their actions. The left stick is used for movement while the right stick is reserved for aiming/shooting (when you have a weapon). Thankfully, the game controls were responsive and there wasn’t any noticeable input lag.
The AI controls your squadron movements and attacks so you don’t necessarily have complete control over them. However, the AI will make your squad attack any enemies that are in the direction in which the commander is facing or heading. So weirdly, the left stick controls your entire squad. But in reality, it doesn’t since the AI will target target random enemies on the field. More on this below.
Art Style of Survival Mercs
I digged the art style behind Survival Mercs. It combines 3D with a cool pixel-like look behind it. The desert-like map that’s used for the battlefield looks fine. The map offers some basic cover and barricades to help with enemies that would otherwise overwhelm the player.
The only other map in the game is the Arctic Storm Map which is set in a snowy region based around a military compound. This map is pretty cool as well and it’s filled with similar cover from the Desert Map to help you avoid pursuing enemies. I found both of the map’s art styles cool mostly because of their settings each map looks great with its vibrant use of orange (Desert) and blue (Artic). Sadly, the cover on the map does nothing against projectiles from enemies and mini-bosses. The game’s use of vibrant colors also makes the use of power-ups look spectacular. Especially when you take into account the 3D-like models. Overall I found that Survivor Mercs is a very good-looking game.
Very Nice Soundtrack
Aside from the game offering a good challenge, I must say I love the soundtrack that plays while you are on the battlefield. The game uses a badass mix of guitar riffs and drums the song is addicting to listen to. In addition, it adds to the experience as you are outnumbered the song gets more and more intense. Naturally, this adds to Survivor Mercs‘ overall charm. To put it short I would happily buy this soundtrack if it were available right now at a store.
Bad AI Decision & Major Missed Opportunities in Survivor Mercs
Lack of Local Splitscreen or Online Multiplayer Matchmaking is a Missed Opportunity
Before we get to the final verdict, let’s talk about some of my gripes with the overall game. The first problem I have with Survivor Mercs is that it doesn’t have a multiplayer component. Now you might be asking yourself why is this a bad thing, well it’s pretty simple. The AI is not reliable.
The fact that I have to rely on the AI to clear out enemies instead of having the option to do so is one thing. It’s another when I can’t play this with a friend and have a smoother game session. Enemies will take over the screen in record time before you know it. Having an extra set of hands helping you out would lead more to the fun factor instead of relying on AI. It is good to note that Vampire Survivors just recently introduced a local co-op option.
Survival Mercs doesn’t have any online matchmaking. So if you are someone who likes to party up with a friend for a fun game night you are going to be left disappointed sadly. It’s a shame really that the game doesn’t offer this because without it kind of leaves the game a little soulless if I’m being honest. Don’t get me wrong there is fun to be had here but without these features. I can see the game being left behind rather quickly as it can get pretty repetitive.
Having No Story Mode in Survival Mercs is a Major Missed Opportunity
Now I’m not sure how you might feel about this but to me, I feel like if you have a pretty cool concept and backstory for a game you should offer a story mode. I understand this isn’t necessarily a AAA-level game. But I have seen multiple indie-level games provide some form of a story mode whether it be in a text-like style or a more stylish one. No story mode in this game kind of takes the wind out of it. Especially when you count the absence of the local and online multiplayer. Essentially, you just fight loops of enemies with no real payoff and it’s a shame.
Squadmates Being Completely Controlled By AI is a Bad Decision
The AI isn’t reliable and hurts Survivor Mercs. After you acquire a squadmate from the battlefield, the AI will randomly have that member attack enemies on the map. The problem is after testing this I can confirm that AI companions only attack enemies that you least expect. That’s right you can be moving forward at an angle and the AI will attack enemies below instead of above.
You’re probably thinking maybe they are programmed to protect your flank or perimeter, spoiler alert they are not. If you think it gets better with more squadmates on-screen unfortunately it doesn’t. In many ways, it gets worse with more squad members as they would constantly shoot at enemies that are not a severe threat instead of enemies 2 feet away from me.
This is only further amplified when you get to level 20 and the mini-boss shows up on the desert map. I have lost count of how many times I have been easily overrun and overwhelmed by enemies due to the AI’s incompetence. You are at the mercy of the AI when it comes to the large number of enemies on the screen and this can lead to some frustrating gameplay.
Final Thoughts on Survival Mercs & Verdict
After dedicating over 80 hours to the game I think it safe to say I had a really good time despite my gripes. This game has a lot of potential and it is a fun experience that caught me completely off guard. Yes, the game isn’t a AAA-developed game. But I do feel that the team over at Wolpertinger has something special here that I can easily see getting better as more content continues to drop. I had a blast all things considered and I can’t wait to see what else the team has in store for the future.
If you are interested in the game it’s available now on Steam and will be available soon for PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and Xbox Series X|S.