Ratz Instagib: it’s all in the title. The beloved ‘instagib’ style of one-hit-kill combat from the days of Quake and Unreal Tournament is imported wholesale into an arena shooter where everyone plays a rat. A space-marine rat, no less, armed with a laser rifle and a boost-jump pack.
The game is proving to be popular on Steam Early Access right now, despite being quite limited in its offering. For your money you’ll pick up developer Lino Slahuschek’s complete vision of the core mechanics and modes, with fleshed out maps and features to come later. But is that enough?
Stripped back of almost everything we expect from a shooter, Ratz is astonishingly streamlined and simple. There’s one weapon – a railgun-like laser that hits exactly where you aim it and has zero travel time. There’s no iron sights, no reloading, no automatic fire. Your rat can jump, or catapult themselves backwards using a ‘boost’ that works a lot like a traditional rocket-jump, but without the worry of blowing yourself up. Using just this trio of abilities, you’ll need to shoot every other rat in the room.
It’s a distinctly kinetic game. Jumping keeps your momentum up, and bunny hopping around will cause you to glide across maps as if you were on ice skates. Stop jumping and your pace begins to crawl, making you an easy target. This causes matches to be fast and frantic, with rats hurling themselves off furniture and boosting themselves up walls as they chase down their prey. The entire maps become intersected by bright flashes of laser lines, which nicely leave permanent marks on the wall there they strike.
The maps themselves are brightly coloured representations of rooms around the house; a lounge, a balcony garden area, an underground lab(?!) and a gym. Your rats may be equipped with marine-like armour, but you’re still tiny, and as such obstacles and hideouts are giant sofas, bookcases, and boxing rings. At ground level these items make the maps a little labyrinth like, which can cause chasing down enemies to be a bit of an energetic thrill ride. There’s room for verticality too, provided you can get the knack of the boost-jump, although lots of items are just too high to jump to. You can spawn atop of them though, and the player who spawns on the light fitting instantly gets a snipers-nest bonus that other players can’t attain through traversal.
Ratz is a punishing game. It offers a level playing field for all – no unlocks beyond cosmetic changes for your gun’s firing pattern and kill animations – and the one-hit-kill gameplay can frustrate if you’re not used to this style of play. It’s a game of speed and accuracy, and its difficult to master doing both at the same time. Since the player base isn’t all that large at the moment, matchmaking is essentially non-existent: you’ll be thrown in a game that may well contain one of Ratz’s best players, and you’ll be utterly dominated before you’ve even worked out what direction you’re facing.
Talking of player-base, that lack of numbers also makes it severely problematic to play. Playing deathmatches is normally fine, but there’s often no more than two or three games going on at any one time, and swapping servers will normally find you playing with the same bunch again. Other modes are more problematic. Simply put: no one’s playing them. Aside from free-for-all, there’s Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Freeze Tag, Survival, and Duel modes. All are working, but it’s impossible to play them since no other players are. I’ve attempted to connect to these modes numerous times, and resulted in nothing. Deathmatch is the only reliable mode, but even then try playing during the morning hours and you’ll be greeted by nothing more than an infinite loop ‘connecting’ message.
Ratz: Instagib is astonishingly niche, and it’s proud to be. The fact that you can desaturate the entire map to grayscale and highlight enemies in a vibrant colour demonstrates the audience it targets; hardcore players that hone the precision of the headshot art form. It’s nice that it exists, but right now there’s just no community. Unless you and a hundred other instagib fans go out and buy it, there is essentially little to no game here, despite the finely-tuned mechanics. You can still get an equally great instagib experience in your usual haunts of Quake and Unreal Tournament, and there you’re guaranteed plenty of opponents. Unless you want to actively help build the Ratz community and are willing to give it a lot of patience, your thrills are easily found elsewhere.