Stuffed – Not a complete turkey

No teddy bear's picnic

Calling Stuffed a Call of Duty Zombies clone is a bit reductive but not too far from the truth.

If you aren’t aware, there’s a tabletop game called Stuffed Fables in which you and a few friends play as cuddly toys trying to protect your child from having bad dreams. It’s a neat theme, and I can’t help but feel that the similarly named Stuffed might have taken a little influence from it. Rather than moving around a board to hold back the nightmares, now you roam around a dream version of a house, blasting the night terrors away. It’s a solid idea, and a reasonably fun game to play, but there are more than a few letdowns within.

Playing as a cute teddy bear, your job is to ensure your child, Ellie, has a good night’s sleep. Whilst you’re cuddled up in her arms, you enter her dreamscape to protect her bedroom door from encroaching monsters in the form of dreadful shadow creatures, ground sharks, and…rubber ducks? Kids are scared of weird stuff I suppose. Anyway, you hold these creatures back using an adorable set of toy-themed weaponry, only to have to do it again the next night should you be successful.

Your basic weapons do the job early on, but enemies quickly ramp up their health meaning you’re forced to upgrade.

In real terms, Stuffed plays an awful lot like Call of Duty Zombies but in a procedurally generated map. Each attempt, and indeed each night, takes place in a slightly different version of the house, with Ellie’s room in a different place and adjoining rooms laid out in a different pattern. I found this to be an interesting approach, as dream logic can be a bit bizarre, and the layout of a house might be different in a dream world from one night to another. Maybe I’m just projecting a little bit, but if that’s an intentional design choice, then I appreciate the thought.

The Call of Duty similarities are quickly apparent, as you earn points by defeating enemies that can then be used to buy weapons and ammo scattered around the house. Those points can also be used to open more doors around the house, giving the enemy more points of ingress, but potentially revealing more powerful weapons for you to make use of. 

The weapons themselves really fall into your usual categories of pistol, automatic weapon, sniper rifle, rocket launcher and shotgun, with a couple of variations on each here and there. What makes them fun is the design themselves. Shotguns can fire party poppers, and rocket launchers send forth explosive drinks cans. It doesn’t change the mechanics, but it certainly makes them more interesting than the usual fare for a first-person shooter, and plays with the theme in a fun way.

That carpet looks very familiar.

Combat itself is fun enough, but certainly not the strongest shooter I’ve ever played. Everything is functional enough, but weapons lack power behind them, aiming feels floaty, and it doesn’t take long for Stuffed to have thrown everything it has at you. The real problem comes from how the difficulty ramps, as well as the layout of the house. Looking at the latter first, the maps don’t feel all that random, with really there only being a few setups, and the order in which you unlock rooms being different. This can be a problem as some layouts make protecting Ellie’s room considerably easier. If you have one direction enemies can approach from, you’ll have a much better time than when you’ve got two directions to cover at once.

And this is where the difficulty issue comes in. Stuffed is clearly designed to be a co-op game, but on Xbox there’s currently no multiplayer option at all. No split-screen. No online. Nothing. At least on PC you could get together a few people to have a game and stand a chance of getting through a night, as the option is available there right now. But on console you’ll have a really tough time as the difficulty doesn’t appear to scale to the player count. Getting past wave ten became an exercise in frustration due to the droves of fast moving enemies that can tear you apart in seconds or break down the door before you can get back to defend it. This is the one area that really put me off returning to Stuffed after I’d played enough to write this review.

This big chap turns up from time to time, and you’ll need something with a high damage output to get rid of him before the door is destroyed.

The thing that really gives away the multiplayer origins of Stuffed is the wardrobe where you can unlock cosmetics using money earned by playing the game. Being as this is a first-person game, there’s little point in dressing up my skeleton bear as a unicorn when absolutely no one will see it. It’s a shame, as there are a lot of neat designs available to buy, and there’s a fun multiplayer game waiting to be played here, but without that option, it’s quite hard to recommend. Maybe if there’s an update in future it’ll be worth heading back into the toy box.

Stuffed is available now on Xbox and Steam Early Access.

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