There’s something about an old-school dungeon crawler that I can really appreciate. I invested a ton of hours into them back when I was younger and you don’t really see too many of them released these days, so discovering Crystal Rift brought a smile to my face. I actually got to try it out at EGX 2015 and my initial impression was a good one, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating playing the full game. That time has finally come with the Crystal Rift’s release on Playstation VR and whilst I still think the game has the charm and old-school appeal that was present when I first got to try it out, the flaws that come along with the aged gameplay mechanics are also all the more obvious.
Crystal Rift places you into a dangerous dungeon, tasking you with exploring, uncovering objects, and ultimately surviving the monstrosities inside. That’s what I gathered anyway – besides the notes and letters that are littered around, there isn’t really a whole lot of context to Crystal Rift’s narrative. It’s not too bad a thing given the old-school nature of the game, but I think in this day and age a bit of a story could’ve only benefitted the game. It’s always nice to be able to have some sort of objective set in stone, no matter how old-school a game might be.
The inspiration provided by classic dungeon crawlers ‘Eye of the Beholder’ and ‘Dungeon Master’ is certainly apparent in Crystal Rift’s movement system, which adopts a grid-like approach. Whilst moving across set squares might be a little unnatural to gamers who hadn’t tried these games when they originally released, it actually worked quite well in a virtual reality environment where you’re also able to use your head to look around. Being limited to one square at a time did have some frustrations though, especially when you want to examine something particular in the environment that always felt a little out of reach no matter where you were. Still, the game was designed to re-create the vibe of these classic dungeon crawlers so what better way to do so than by having it control like one?
The grid-like nature of movement can bring some restrictions to combat though. Combat certainly isn’t Crystal Rift’s strongest point, especially when you and your enemies are simply restricted to moving in four directions. It’s too easy to exploit enemy movement and attack them with no fuss, whilst their actions are performed so slowly that they’re incredibly easy to avoid too. It doesn’t feel like combat requires any skill, but rather just needs you to move around a lot. There are a few enemies that have a better variety of attacks, but even they are easy to overcome. Combat simply didn’t offer any challenge, taking away the sense of any real opposition in the dungeon which in turn made the game a little less engaging overall.
It’s also worth mentioning that the enemies had your typical cheesy dungeon crawler look to them, with some actually looking a bit cute. There was nothing frightening about them at all – in fact, they were charming if anything. Now this wouldn’t normally be a problem, however, developers Psytec Games have advertised Crystal Rift as a sort of horror experience. Believe me, outside of a few predictable jump scares there is nothing horrifying about the game. There isn’t any sense of tension built nor will you feel intimidated by any of the monsters you encounter – if you’re looking for a frightening virtual reality experience, you might be better off looking elsewhere…
At least the game does have some decent puzzles, though a lot of them are simply a case of pulling a few levers to open some doors or simply finding the appropriate hidden item. There are plenty of secrets to look out for too, with Crystal Rift definitely requiring a keen eye if you’re hoping to uncover everything.
One of my favourite aspects of the game was avoiding the countless traps that are found around the place – it’s a dangerous dungeon that you’re working through, so avoiding things like harrowing blood-soaked spikes is a pretty common task. In honesty the gameplay might feel a little too old-school and boring to some though, but the virtual reality integration actually really compliments it.
You can play Crystal Rift outside of a virtual reality headset, but in honesty I wouldn’t really recommend it. The gameplay is a little too simple and combat a little too boring to entertain you when you don’t have the benefits of the immersion virtual reality offers to compliment it. Playing the game on a standard screen makes you realise you’re playing a genre that hasn’t really aged that well – playing it inside Playstation VR brought a fresh way to play though, almost reinvigorating the genre in some sense. That being said, there are certainly better virtual reality titles out there that trump Crystal Rift in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean Crystal Rift is a dull virtual reality release by any means.
Crystal Rift is hardly a visual masterpiece with incredibly simple textures and character models featured in abundance, though in honesty it never bothered me when playing. Given the nostalgic vibe of the game, the simply aesthetic style actually felt quite fitting – it didn’t look bad, but simply incredibly ‘early 90s’ and old-school. It a style the developers were clearly going for and something they managed to faithfully re-create. It also made the game look visually pleasing in a VR headset – there was a real smoothness to everything around you which can often be missing in a more graphic intensive experience.
Whilst nostalgia played a role in enticing me to Crystal Rift, it’s also one of the key positives going for the game. A lot of gameplay mechanics and the visual style appealed to me because they reminded me of games I enjoyed when I was younger and not because they necessarily hold up well now. Whilst I had fun playing Crystal Rift, I could definitely appreciate it’s an acquired taste and that this style of game hasn’t particularly aged well.
There’s certainly something charming about it but the flawed combat, simple puzzles, and old-school visual style won’t be for everyone. If you’re a fan of classic dungeon crawlers though you might find something to love with Crystal Rift – especially when played inside of a virtual reality headset.
Developer: Psytec Games
Publisher: Psytec Games
Release Date: 29/11/2016
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Playstation 4, PC, Mac, Linux