I’ve spent the past few days rushing through hallways, slashing with a knife and clutching a glass idol full of vital goo. I run through a world where the mundane is mixed with the macabre: apartments depicted in jarring orange, with doors sealed by flesh. Men in suits wait in the corners, but their heads are nothing but black goo and teeth. Every texture shifts and moves, clashing with one another.
It’s an ugly, unsettling place to be, and each session I spend there is vivid, intense, and violent. Some runs end in seconds; others take minutes. Either way, this bright, semi-coherent mishmash of a world is clawing at the back of my brain.
Post Void, an early August release from developer YCJY Games, is secretly one of the better shooters of 2020. It’s a compact experience that focuses entirely on the rush of racing down corridors and shooting. It’s a little like an arcade light-gun game, except sped up by 500x. The end result is a thrill ride, a distilled essence of the OG Doom.
The rules are very simple: I start with a pistol and with my idol full of vital essence. I clutch one in each hand. I move through corridors filled with enemies. If I run out of health, I die. If I stop killing, I die once the timer ticks down and my idol is empty. I learn to keep an eye on my idol as I aim and move. The only way to live is to make it to the oasis at the end of the level. There, I will receive a random upgrade, such as a new weapon or enemies that will now explode when they die, and move onto the next level. Rinse and repeat 10 times.
A bad run through a level is clumsy and slow. I stop to unload multiple shots into a target instead of one clean headshot. I tank bullets instead of sliding under them. I turn down wrong corridors and fight enemies I don’t have to. I finish in 30 seconds, not 15. It isn’t frustrating in the moment, but it’s clear in retrospect how much I’ve improved after a few warmup rounds.
Each level is procedurally generated, so I can’t memorize a run. I need to be ready to adapt. I have to focus on my own momentum, and the better I get at the game, the more elegant and streamlined my movement becomes.
Post Void does a lot with very little. There aren’t many enemies, and you hardly see them if you’re playing right. The environments are visually loud and, at times, even ugly. There are no places to rest, and few details to admire. I want to keep moving through these halls, which are ripped from the aesthetics of high school notebooks, free record-store zines, and airbrushed vans. The color palette seems inspired by old punk records, and everything is pixelated and animated in a way that unnerves me.
None of that matters, because the design works for the fast-paced action — and that action is good. Each weapon is effective in its own way, and rewards me by giving extra visual and audio feedback on successful hits. The starting pistol is a one-hit kill if I can nail a headshot, but is near-useless for body shots. If I land a body shot on an enemy, I just hear the noise of my pistol. A headshot, on the other hand, gives a satisfying and immediate squelch that pops against the soundtrack.
The knife is my personal favorite, as it requires me to stay in melee, but is deadly. I’m constantly near death, taking tons of damage, but staying alive through the pure frequency of my murder. The uzi rewards players who like to spray and pray, while the shotgun deals pure death with long periods of downtime to reload.
Post Void cuts the fat from the bones of other shooters. I can complete the tutorial in 30 seconds, and fit dozens of runs into a 15-minute window. Charge, kill, grow, die, repeat. Each run is self-contained, and so short that the failures don’t sting. I can feel myself improving, and my typical run begins to last a little longer as I go. It quickly becomes a “just one more turn” situation until I realize that an hour has passed.
The difficulty will be a barrier to some people; if you can’t hit a headshot on a small, fast-moving target, you won’t be able to get too far into Post Void. Each run also ends with flashing images, so I found the accessibility mode mandatory in order to avoid migraines or seizures. Luckily, the game begins with a warning about the effect.
Post Void has succeeded at installing an itch in the back of my brain to pick it back up, and that’s impressive for a game that demands so little of my time. I find myself seeking perfection, even if it means I have to die again, and again, and again, and again in the pursuit of improvement … or at least satisfaction.
Post Void is now available on Windows PC. The game was played using a download code provided by YCJY Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.