Stellar Blade is shameless — but not in the way you think.

For those unaware: The prelaunch marketing for the buzzy action-adventure game, developed by South Korea’s Shift Up and published by Sony (it’s a PlayStation 5 exclusive), focused less on gameplay and more on the physical appearance of, and particularly revealing outfits worn by, main character Eve. By the time the game released to the public, that’s all the internet was talking about.

The thing is, yes, you gain access to some scandalous outfits for Eve throughout the game (including, weirdly enough, a mascotlike bear costume), but the game itself doesn’t care about Eve’s appearance (which is clearly based on the titular protagonist of the Bayonetta franchise). The only time it’s even mentioned is in the context of her hair (which you can style later in the game).

What’s truly shameless about Stellar Blade is just how unabashedly it lifts inspiration from far better games but does nothing to improve upon those elements or make them its own. By so nakedly utilizing gameplay mechanics, plot points and combat styles so closely identified with their source games without putting its own stamp on them, Stellar Blade mostly just does a disservice to itself.

Take its story, for example: Eve, an angellike soldier with a penchant for skintight battle armor, descends to Earth from the orbital Colony to help reclaim the planet from the monstrous Naytiba, which have driven humanity off the planet. During her quest, Eve encounters a ruined world and broken beings who question what it means to be human. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the premise is lifted straight from 2017’s Nier: Automata, a game with a narrative so deeply affecting I still think about it, years after beating it. From its main story to the many, many side quests, Stellar Blade’s take is superficial in comparison; no one will be talking about its story next month, much less years from now. (And where the twists and surprises in Automata sneak up on you, the major ones in Stellar Blade can be seen from space.)

When you’re not forgetting about the plot, you’ll be splitting your time between combat and exploration. Stellar Blade’s environments are fun to explore, littered with little pieces of lore and collectibles and even fishing spots. (When you get to the desert, keep an eye out for the hyper tube; it’s a blast.)

But combat is the primary mechanic of Stellar Blade, and it mostly holds up, even if the camera doesn’t want to work with you. Much like with the story, the combat inspiration is obvious from the start: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The combat is surprisingly deep — you have access to a skill tree with a nice breadth of options, from buffing your dodge ability to unleashing screen-wide attacks — but it doesn’t overwhelm.

Parrying and, to a lesser effect, dodging are your core survival skills here; you’ll want to take your time to get the hang of those skills since the game dishes out too much damage to survive otherwise, especially during the chaotic boss fights. In all, the combat is derivative but there are worse games to emulate.

Visuals, though, are where Stellar Blade shines. From the environments to the enemy design to the aforementioned boss fights, the game is gorgeous to look at. The Naytiba are grotesque and mesmerizing in equal measure, and they become even more so as the game progresses, leaning into a surprising (and well-done) level of body horror reminiscent of the Dead Space franchise. The world’s explorable locations pack all sorts of lovely detail, from posters and signage to crumbling buildings and haunting laboratories.

In the end, Stellar Blade is a perfectly serviceable action-adventure game — and perfectly forgettable. Across the 30-ish hours it takes to get to the end of Eve’s mission, you’ll encounter plenty of fun combat sequences and well-designed locales along with a story that leaves almost no impression at all. If you’re looking to play as a Bayonetta-like character in a Nier-like story with Sekiro-like combat, Stellar Blade is perfect for you. Honestly, though, you’re probably better off just playing those games instead.


Stellar Blade ?? (out of four)

Developed by Shift Up, published by Sony Interactive Entertainment; available on PlayStation 5; rated M for Mature for blood and gore, language, suggestive themes and violence; $69.99

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