Disclosure ‐ We would like to thank the wonderful people for providing us with a review copy of BRUT@L at our request.
BRUT@L (Brutal) is a 3D dungeon crawling roguelike from Stormcloud Games. It features four unique playable classes; the Warrior, the Amazon, the Mage and the Archer. Each toting their own unique playstyle and weapons. You pick your hero, drop into a randomly generated dungeon made up of ASCII characters. (This is something that is nearly impossible to accurately describe, so just go watch the trailer). You kill baddies that get gradually more difficult and you collect loot that gets gradually more desired. It’s a very cool game with a very cool art style. However, it feels as though the game exists as little more than a vessel for the art style. Almost like they wanted to make 3D ASCII art more than they wanted to make an actual game.
I’ll start with the positives. If I were an art critic and was rating Brutal based on visual aesthetics alone, it would be getting a solid 10 from me. Everything from the rubble that lies around the dungeon, to the way the enemies go “splat” (as I force my spiked club into their cranium) is wonderful. The amount of detail that has gone into the design of not just the characters and the levels, but the tiniest features within those levels is brilliant. I cannot give enough praise to the art team at Stormcloud Games.
I was a little concerned that the appeal of the art style would wear off eventually, however I was as equally charmed after 10 hours of gameplay than I was after 10 minutes. There is not a single game out there that shares an art direction with Brutal, and I would be surprised if anyone was able to do it even half as well as Stormcloud Games have.
Brutal‘s most redeeming gameplay factor is far and away it’s crafting and potion brewing. Using the ASCII characters that you pick up around the dungeons to craft weapons is one of the neatest features I’ve ever seen in a game. It is what really sets you up to notice the rest of the wonderful design that has gone into the game and although anxiety inducing, the random elements that potion brewing involves is nothing less than excellent when you stumble across a Berserker Potion and lay waste to all the enemies that stand in your way.
This is only a small joy though as the next run is completely unaided by your knowledge of potion brewing in any way. Which is really where my first major criticism of Brutal comes in. Nothing carries over from one run to another. Perhaps this is an intended design choice for the most hardcore of roguelike fans, but as someone who is very new to the genre, it seems infuriating to me that the only thing that improves from one run to the next is myself. Especially when the game (at its core) is not THAT difficult, and it’s more of a chore to get to where you were up to than an enjoyable experience. In fact, the hardest feature of the game when you first fire it up is trying to remember everything that the tutorial teaches you at the beginning.
That’s not to say that the challenge and gameplay that IS present isn’t phenomenally optimized because it is! Everything from the combat to the level traversal has been gone over with a very fine-toothed comb.
Everything from the rubble that lies around the dungeon, to the way the enemies go “splat” (as I force my spiked club into their cranium) is wonderful.
The game can be played both single player and co-op. Co-op adds a little more enjoyment to the gameplay, which isn’t exactly a selling point because what game is NOT more enjoyable with friends. Although even co-op brings in its own problems namely the camera style. As opposed to split screen, Brutal opts to take a single camera approach, meaning you and your comrade can only be a certain distance apart. This doesn’t always cause an issue as a lot of the dungeon rooms and corridors are small enough that you can freely explore without having to ask your party member to “come here”, however, there are a few maze style rooms spread throughout the dungeons that are absolute hell to traverse without good communication. It is far more restrictive than it needs to be and definitely hurts the co-op experience.
Brutal also comes with a dungeon creator which is brilliantly simple, but pretty fun. For those who’ve not spent a lot of time creating levels in other games, it is easy to pick up and understand but is missing a lot of the depth that serious level builders will desire. I am not a veteran level builder, so I cannot really give it a valid assessment, but it seems as though its lack of depth will stand in the way of allowing seasoned creators to get too far into it. It seems almost as though it was included as an afterthought. It IS a nice inclusion and it IS fun, do not get me wrong. But it is shallow.
All in all, I liked Brut@l. I really did. There are quite a few things that are going to keep it out of GOTY contention. But at its core, it pays homage to the dungeon crawlers of old brilliantly. It is made well and does exactly what it sets out to do (well, at least what I think it has set out to do). It is unfortunate that I don’t think this style of game can exist in today’s market and thrive. But if you want a slick little game, and do not care about your progress being reset with every little hiccup, then jump aboard.