Brut@l Review – PC
A lot of modern games with a retro style are placed in the genre of ‘rogue-like’, in which you potter around procedurally generated environments, levelling up and getting loot. It’s surprising to me because back in the old days I don’t remember ever playing a game that termed itself like this, I’m pretty sure I first heard the term when Indie Games started pouring onto Steam. Of course, the genre is actually named off the 80’s PC game Rogue. I always just called them Dungeon Crawlers or RPG’s. How does this relate to this game? It doesn’t really, but it’s always interesting to ponder on the relation between old and new and the context of phrasing. For more mediations on genre, check out this article by our very own Vince.
Brut@l (yes, it really has that) is a rogue-like dungeon crawler based on the ASCII games of old. I remember playing a few of these on a DOS PC we had lying around, so even though they were way before my time, I do hold a certain fondness for them. It utilises the ASCII games as both a stylistic and gameplay element, and really gives the game a unique ‘tron-like’ feel, in that you are somehow journeying through a computer system, though this never forms any part of the narrative.
The game is formed by ASCII letters, and the landscape is covered in a dot based grid with borders around the playable space. It’s all in 3D, so the ASCII is purely a visual choice rather than actually representative of everything as it was in the old games. That said, it is used extensively. The characters may hold shields that are @ signs, and every part of their weapons and armour, as well as the environment, are made up of various letters and symbols. In fact this forms a key part of the crafting in the game, dotted around the levels are various special characters you can pick up that represent a letter. Pick up the right combination of letters and you can craft a weapon made out of these letters, and even upgrade them later. Making a club with spikes for example, the ‘Spikes’ are simply F’s turned on their side. It’s a really cool way to integrate the characters into the game and it works very nicely.
The core objective of the game is to traverse various dungeons, prevail over the obstacles, kill the badies and descend another level, seeing how far you can survive, all the while upgrading your character, either via various stats and skills you get from experience points, or from crafting and augmenting weapons. It’s a simple setup and works in the games favour – it’s easy to pick up and play as you immediately feel at home, having experienced this sort of gameplay many times. Conversely this may be a weak point of the title as it doesn’t have any particularly unique gameplay elements – the style can definitely stand on its own, but the somewhat vanilla gameplay means it makes no strides in that area.
That being said, not every game has to rewrite the rule book. What is offered is generally very fun. The whole game has a fluid and polished feel to it – I didn’t come across any bugs or issues with collision, and the menus are presented very nicely and intuitively. It is quite gory and violent – but that seems to be part and parcel of these type of games. The combat depends on which character you are playing as. As a warrior, it is all about parrying with your shield and hitting with your sword. As a ranger, it’s about shooting from afar, and a mage of course uses magic. The warrior starts off at a bit of a disadvantage in certain areas because he only has very weak ranged abilities, so enemies that are unreachable pose a particular threat, and should probably be avoided. You can morph your character to be a jack-of-all trades however, via selecting different skills and crafting the correct weapons, or even finding them as a loot drop. You can switch between up to four weapons on the fly, so there is a lot of room for strategic builds.
There is also a co-op option which makes the whole thing more satisfying, and the game starts to evoke a ‘gauntlet’ style feel, which I very much enjoyed. In addition there is even a dungeon builder, craft a custom dungeon and share it with your friends. I personally wouldn’t use such a tool, but it is a great addition for replayability and building a community around the game.
Overall Brut@l is a well made game with a beautiful visual style and fun gameplay – it is a very polished title that whilst it reaches the top end of its peers, it doesn’t do anything to particularly stand apart.