Brut@l is a class based, action-oriented procedural death labyrinth, with minor crafting attached featuring up to 4 player local co-op, even on PC, which is uncommon and online leaderboards. The game released for the PS4 last August and February 9th on PC. Does it satisfy those looking to pound beast after beast into submission? Let’s find out.
Developed by: Stormcloud Games
Published by: Rising Star Games
Release date: February 9th, 2017 (PC)
Age rating: T
Platforms: PS4, PC (Reviewed on PC)
- Brut@l is a modern re-imagining of the classic ASCII dungeon crawler
- Brut@l fuses old-school gaming with a stunning 3D visual style to create an experience that is inspired by the earliest of videogame adventures
- Choose your hero – Ranger, Mage, Warrior or Amazon – and descend into a procedurally generated world constructed entirely from ASCII
- Reach the 26th floor, vanquish the fearsome Guardian of the Dungeon and claim his crown.
Story & Setting
The story is pretty slim, the long and short is you’re thrown in as a gladiator like combatant and you must fight your way to the bottom of the dungeon. There isn’t much more to address behind it, although like most dungeon crawls, it does have a good amount of potential to make each run it’s own unique story. In one attempt in particular I remember just not having any luck with the drops and being stuck with a large, slow sword on an archery focused character, and yet a seemingly miraculous series of armor drops and weapon upgrades, along with some skill on my part, propelled me to the 16th floor, the farthest I’ve gotten before or since, to finally be stopped by a room full of orcs and mages with tentacles on their backs that shoot blinding projectiles, an encounter that successfully burned through all 3 extra lives I’d earned so far and ruined my otherwise excellent run.
The whole game is procedural, but it appears to be procedural done right, where care has been taken to prevent the player being completely screwed. Potion recipes and colors are random to prevent you memorizing them, but each potion only requires 2 ingredients and ingredients are common so figuring out which one is which doesn’t take too long. Food drops are random, but the hunger meter takes a long time to drop so managing it was basically a non-issue in my time with the game. Weapon recipe drops are random, but I have never gotten out of the first level without finding at least one. The materials to make them are random, but letters to create at least 1 of 3 particular weapon:pike, bow and short sword are extremely common in the first few levels. Enemy placement is random, but they appear to spawn in preset groups so as not to set up horrible death rooms nobody can reasonably be expected to handle at their current power level. Breaking objects in the environment also awards exp (though not a ton) so a sparsely populated floor or 2 isn’t a death sentence near the beginning of a run.
There are numerous other examples of this attention to detail, and while it shouldn’t be special I’ve played enough games using procedural generation to know that unlucky rolls killing you in ways you couldn’t have feasibly avoided or dooming runs are fairly common in these types of games, so their avoidance of them is special. This isn’t to say it doesn’t have horrifying death rooms that are likely to kill you, it does, just that it makes sure you have been given the tools necessary to deal with it.
The combat, like the visuals and crafting is minimalist in nature. Melee weapons each have a different 3 hit combo and an unlockable special attack. The combos drain a resource bar that regenerates over time, effectively preventing them from being spammed. Ranged weapons have a weak shot and a strong shot. Blocking only negates damage if it’s timed, otherwise it merely halves it, and dodging grants invincibility frames but you can’t interrupt it and there is a recovery so that can’t be spammed either. The challenge of the game isn’t in the combat per-say but in figuring out how to deal with the groups of enemies given the tools you’ve managed to make so far, and not falling off a cliff or into lava while doing so. The forgiving combat, slanted item rolls to prevent people being screwed over at least early on and the ability to spend your loot buying extra lives (the cost isn’t obvious but it isn’t small and appears to raise each time you purchase one) do give me the impression that genre veterans may find this game easy, but I did not. The game has little trouble wearing me down so that the 2nd or 3rd moderately challenging encounter comes when I’m at half health and don’t have lives left.
The class/leveling system is also sparse. There are 24 abilities along 4 lines, each class has access to all the abilities, all that’s different is the abilities they start with and that the wizard starts with a wand that can do several ranged attacks in a row, everybody else only gets 1 at a time by throwing their shield. There is a health/crafting line, a pike/hammer line, a sword/bow line, and the magic line, and each line culminates in an ultimate ability. You use these tools, and whatever items you can find, to get to the bottom of the dungeon and face off against the boss.
I’m not old enough for ASCII text that comprises the levels, weapons and items and most everything else to be a nostalgia trip, but the effort Stormcloud Games went to stick to the idea is impressive and the mostly black and white (in that order) high contrast aesthetic most certainly stands out, especially when vibrant greens, oranges and blues show up as environmental hazards or elemental effects. It also usually helps keep enemies and hazards distinct from both the player character and each other, which is important as the game gets to throwing 5 or 10 enemies at a time at you relatively quickly and it’s important to be able to tell the difference between the 4 or 5 random warriors that pose little threat, save the threat of an unfortunately timed stun, and the 2 or 3 much more dangerous orcs in the same group. Easily the high point of the game, with no technical problems that I’m aware of to bring down the experience.