Stellar Blade Review – Flesh, flash and fierce foes

From form-fitting fashion to gruesomely gargantuan foes, Stellar Blade puts it all on display.
Stellar Blade - EVE and Adam

In the wake of the positive sentiment surrounding the Fallout and The Last Of Us adaptations, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve covered nearly enough of the typical post-apocalyptic narrative.

World ends, world rebuilds, the cycle continues. But while formulas can certainly provide a guide, it’s the individual stories, characters and complications that provide flavour into each sphere of recovering destruction.

In Stellar Blade, the stillness and persistence of the slowly rebuilding world contrasts keenly with viciously gruesome enemies – and while there’s certainly a lot to discuss, the game offers a take on the post-apocalypse that feels just different enough to work.

Read: Stellar Blade demo – A surprising romp of precision and ponytails

As someone who came out of the demo with an unexpected interest in exploring the rest of the game, I made sure to keep an open mind while progressing through the story. Sure, this arid, industrial version of post-apocalyptic Earth is a place where grotesque aliens skitter around corners and any semblance of practical clothing fell out of fashion long ago – but I was intrigued.

What I found was a reasonably straightforward adventure that – while not quite what I was hoping for after the demo – highlighted combat precision, rewarded gumption, and didn’t skimp on flesh – both torn asunder and worn on display.

Resurrecting a still, stagnant world

The premise of Stellar Blade is simple: kill aliens, rescue humanity, profit. But naturally, it’s never quite as easy as the sum of its parts. You play as EVE, a member of the 7th Airborne Squad who is tasked with ridding the planet of the dangerous and gruesome Naytiba.

Dispatching these aliens with a violent but elegant combat style, EVE finds herself on a hunt – as the last remaining member of her squadron, she is tasked with gathering all the Alpha Naytiba cores in order to gain access to their Nest – and finally wipe them out for good.

Having seen her leader fall victim to a powerful Naytiba in the demo, EVE is primed to loathe these bloodthirsty creatures. It makes sense – if I was facing down a zipper-headed monster with teeth jutting violently out of its torso, I’d probably have some concerns myself.

But as you further delve into the story, whispers and rumours swirl. Violence comes in many forms, and it’s pertinent to remember that power doesn’t always come in the form of the biggest, sharpest teeth.

Stellar Blade - Abaddon
Image: Shift Up Corporation / Sony Interactive Entertainment

The only (mech) girl in the world

When you’re exploring a desolate wasteland where everything seemingly wants to rip you limb from limb, it’s nice to have a spot of company. While much of the world you explore in Stellar Blade is still suffering from the fallout of its destruction – and most of the population are wiped out – you are granted the opportunity to collaborate with some seemingly friendly faces.

First up, we have Adam – who starts his partnership with EVE as a voice emanating from a floating robot, and turns out to be the type of male model that would thrive as a fictional husband on BookTok. With his on-the-nose name, Adam is your first real source of interaction – in his disembodied voice/robot form, he begins to guide you toward your destination, and EVE places her trust in him to lead her in the right direction.

Then, once you defeat your first Alpha, there’s Lily. A youthful engineer, Lily initially gives off a very similar vibe to Merrill from Dragon Age: Origins – there’s the same nervous energy, the same near-childlike disposition and hesitant approach to conversation in the early days. But she’s also got a lot of brains and a not insignificant amount of courage – which, considering where you find her, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Though you’ll still face the bulk of your journey solo, Adam and Lily (and indeed, a handful of ancillary characters around the world) help ground the world with their conversation. While surface-level to begin with, the deeper into the story you go, the more whole and intriguing it feels – at the very least, making it feel a little less like you’re the only mech girl in the world.

That’s not to say that everyone can be trusted, though – survivors linger for a reason, and being cutthroat can mean the difference between life and death. As the conspiracies unfold and secrets emerge in later stages of the game, Stellar Blade finally begins to show its deeper side.

Lily, Adam and EVE - Stellar Blade
Image: Shift Up Corporation / Sony Interactive Entertainment

Monster, may I?

Thankfully, whether facing down enemies up close or at range, EVE is well and truly equipped to handle herself in combat.

Precision was my descriptor of choice during the Stellar Blade demo, and that certainly remains the case in the full game. Each battle tasks you with landing exacting blows and strikes, whipping out often lengthy combinations to ensure your foes are sufficiently quashed. Upgrading to the ranged projectiles is fun when you have ammo (though it runs out quickly and can be a real drain on the ol’ finances), but the elegance of the sword was hard to pass up.

The combat on the whole is flashy, but manageable with some focus. While I’m not usually one to enjoy quicktime events, whenever they occurred it didn’t feel too obtrusive – truly the main focus is how well you can slice and dice through medleys of offensive moves, avoiding the often heavy blows of creatures far bigger than you. And boy, are those creatures something to behold.

Checking out all the gruesome variations of Naytiba was easily my favourite part of the entire game. Facing down these foes was an experience, especially considering how unexpectedly gory and fleshy they can be. In my earlier review of the Stellar Blade demo I said:

“Slenderman-esque ‘Crickets’ and evil starfish-looking ‘Hydras’ wander the streets, while bigger bosses are towering and dangerous, with cavernous maws of sharpened teeth. There’s even one whose vertical mouth spins teeth like a chainsaw, whipping around their head in a flesh-tearing frenzy.”

These grotesque creatures only increased in scope post-demo, with boss fights that feature mangled monsters of all shapes and sizes. And while some were certainly easier to dispatch than others, there was certainly enough bite to go around and keep things interesting.

Lower grade enemies served up a decent amount of variety, and I do credit the pulse grenades with a significant portion of my victories as I traversed the post-apocalyptic remains of what used to be Earth. Some easy personal favourites included the hammerhead horse-like Dozers, and the syringe-headed Corrupters, which fling luminous green toxins at you like cannonballs.

Some of them even made me giggle, by virtue of how frankly ludicrous they were. When I first encountered Gigas – the first Alpha Naytiba you encounter, pictured below – I had to pause and put my controller down to chuckle to myself. What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall when the concept of a “rotating tyre of teeth” was brought up. Thank you to that ideas person – ten out of ten, no notes.

Alpha Naytiba Stellar Blade
Image: Shift Up Corporation / Sony Interactive Entertainment

Losing my grip

Unfortunately, however, it’s not all violent delights and gruesome visages. I like to think of myself as a reasonably level-headed person, but one mechanic in this game led me to practice some very necessary late-night breathing exercises, and even the calming Irish twang of the meditation narrator wasn’t enough to calm my ire.

I won’t mince words: the platforming systems in Stellar Blade can be deeply frustrating.

At multiple junctures, I would leap towards a bar or rope, only to see it slip through EVE’s fingers. My entire real-world body would lurch in the direction of the TV, mentally (and fruitlessly) attempting to guide her to safe ground. Unfortunately for me, EVE seemed more interested in launching herself headfirst into the ether.

I probably wouldn’t have minded this so much, if not for the fact that it was a relatively consistent element of traversal. There’s a decent chunk that requires you to make the most of this mechanic, and after EVE’s sixth or seventh involuntary base jumping attempt, it can certainly get tiring – especially if you’re as forgetful as I am, and neglect to take regular camp breaks.

Stellar Blade platforming
Image: Shift Up Corporation / Sony Interactive Entertainment

“I think I’ll try defying gravity” – EVE’s anatomy, apparently

There will very definitely be a percentage of players who shy away from Stellar Blade on principle, largely because of EVE’s aesthetic and general skimpiness. I won’t pretend I wasn’t originally one of them – there’s really no need for her to look the way she does, and I can confidently say from personal experience that breasts do not move autonomously quite like EVE’s.

I didn’t spend much time seeking out the assortment of outfits given they didn’t offer much significance outside of aesthetics. That meant, however, that for the bulk of my playthrough, EVE and her crew rocked gold Stargazer Suits, which you can pick up as you enter Xion for the first time.

While Adam and Lily got to rock sick 80’s style gold suits, EVE made a bold statement with thigh-high lace-up boots, a bronze mech bikini, hexagon-patterned bolero, and a corset style “skirt” (using that term loosely) which made it abundantly clear that she is not the type to wear underwear.

Would this be my first choice of attire to battle a cavalcade of toxin spouting flesh-mountains? No. Did the half-rim glasses I made her wear for Bayonetta vibes make a difference? Not really. Will there be players who outfit her in the bare minimum skin suit, just to catch a glimpse of a rogue bikini-clad breast as it jiggles into view? 100%.

At a certain point it became a case of, “well, it’s going to be like this regardless of my opinion, so the only way forward is through”. Once I made the effort to stop paying attention to the miraculous motion of her derriere and décolletage, they did eventually fade into the background.

It’s worth noting that there are apparently more appropriate outfits scattered around the world – even jeans and a jacket, allegedly. If nothing else, that part feels realistic – it really is hard to find a good pair of jeans.

In an ideal world, sure, I probably wouldn’t prioritise going out of your way to find appropriate clothes, or forcing your brain to look past the ever-present jiggle of EVE’s boobs. But despite what the discourse may lead you to believe, the skimp and skin suits are avoidable – if you’re motivated enough to find alternatives.

Stellar Blade - screenshot of the equipment page
Screenshot: GamesHub

Final takeaways on Stellar Blade

This is inevitably going to be a divisive title. There’s no two ways about it – we’ve already seen exhaustive social posts bemoaning certain aspects (and assets) of the game. And while a lot of that criticism has justifiable ground, there is still a lot to enjoy once you get past the flashes of flesh.

Personally, I found Stellar Blade to be a solid, engaging experience. Regardless of how often I booted it up, I’d still laugh at the fact that “ponytail length” found itself a home in the main settings menu (I’m on team Short Ponytail, for what it’s worth), and it’ll never get old seeing EVE draw a full-length sword out of said ponytail.

Who knows – maybe if I could manage to do that, I too might feel invincible enough to face down rotating tyres of teeth wearing no more than a gleaming fabric swatch.

The highest notes for me were easily the soundtrack and monster design. There’s something enthralling about trading blows with a gargantuan pile of horned flesh while the music swells, and I frequently found myself just sitting at camp, enjoying the more peaceful melodies that floated around the atmosphere.

All in all, although it didn’t quite hit the mark of what I’d hoped for after the demo, I vibed with Stellar Blade enough that I would willingly go back in – even just to spend some time in that rough-edged world, where dry greenery peeks through industrial carnage and the music lulls you into calmness.

At least until another toothy Naytiba turns a corner.

Four stars: ★★★★

Stellar Blade
Platforms: PlayStation 5
Developer: Shift Up Corporation
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 26 April 2024

A code for Stellar Blade was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale.

Steph Panecasio is the Managing Editor of GamesHub. An award-winning culture and games journalist with an interest in all things spooky, she knows a lot about death but not enough about keeping her plants alive. Find her on all platforms as @StephPanecasio for ramblings about Lord of the Rings and her current WIP novel.