From the moment I first saw Brut@l I knew it was going to be a little bit special. Gameplay wise there’s nothing you wouldn’t have seen before – it’s an enjoyable dungeon crawler with rogue-like elements. It’s the aesthetic style of the game that stands out the most, with the game adopting a visual style that’s re-creates the classic ASCII look of 80s dungeon crawlers but with a modern 3D twist. I’m a sucker for visual gimmicks like this and Brut@l certainly drew me in with its style.
At its core, Brut@l is a rogue-like, class based dungeon crawler that challenges you to battle through multiple floors of a randomly generated dungeon. Your ultimate goal? Getting to the 26th floor and bringing an end to the dungeon’s brutal Guardian.
Your adventure can be played out as one of four character classes: the Warrior, the Mage, the Ranger or the Amazon. The Warrior is a powerful up-close fighter with high HP, though his speed can let him down and you’ll often be outmanoeuvred by your foes. The Mage has low HP but his magic powers and skills are super effective against his opponents, plus he can take them out from range. The Ranger is a jack of all trades character that has average HP and fighting skills, though his high speed certainly makes him effective at getting out of sticky situations. Last but not least is the Amazon, who plays very similarly to the Ranger but focuses on busting her foes to pieces with kicks rather than punches.
Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses, though as you progress through the dungeon you’re able to improve their stats and abilities in a way that best suits your style of play. Because of this it’s often only the character’s starting skills that you really need to focus on – the only character that felt substantially different to begin with was the Mage.
There’s a real sense of progression to be found with the levelling up system in the game, with your character slowly buffing up into an ultra-powerful killing machine. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the odds will always swing in your favour though, given that Brut@l’s enemies become stronger and stronger as the game progresses – you’re going to have a tough time if your skills aren’t up to scratch.
The combat of Brut@l is fairly button-mashy with most attacks performed through the use of simple combos, but it works effectively to provide an enjoyable experience in-game. There are a great variety of weapons on offer that each feel unique thanks to their special abilities and different ranges, with each different weapon making the button bashing style of the game feel a little more varied. It’s satisfying to see the blood of your foes cover your ASCII surroundings as you pummel them to death too, though that may be the macabre side of me talking though. There are also plenty of defensive manoeuvres that you’ll need to master if you’re going to make it to the 26th floor – you’ll be blocking, dodging and jumping your way around enemy attacks.
Whilst in combat you’ll have to carefully manage your stamina and mana, otherwise you might find yourself unable to attack effectively and your defences vastly weakened. Brut@l is never ridiculously difficult, but it can certainly punish you if you don’t manage each situation you find yourself in with care – especially with the plethora of enemies that want to bring your adventure through the dungeon to an early end.
Brut@l’s enemies are dangerous and come in plenty of different shapes and sizes. The foes you’ll encounter are stereotypical for a dungeon crawler, though the game’s clever ASCII design makes them a treat to look at – you’ve got the likes of skeletons, trolls, minotaurs, zombies, spiders and dragons coming at you, which is pretty much what you’d expect from a deep, dangerous dungeon. Each enemy comes in different varieties too, so you never quite know to expect from each foe. The one constant between them all is that they’re incredibly satisfying to take down and each enemy’s fighting style certainly compliments the combat mechanics of the game.
Crafting plays a big role in Brut@l with you not only able to create your own weapons but concoct your own potions too. In true ASCII fashion, your weapons are crafted from the use of different letters. You’ll find these letters scattered throughout the dungeon, though you’re not actually able to construct each weapon until you find the instructions that advise you as to which letters each weapon needs. You’re even able to enchant your weapons with different elements if you manage to find coloured varieties of each letter, bringing an additional ounce of variety to your arsenal. Enchanted weapons come with advantages too such as being more effective against enemies of the opposite element type and also being able to open special doors and chests – weapon enchantments aren’t just used in combat!
I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to manually experiment to come up with different weapon types, though there are plenty of different recipes to find anyway so it didn’t make too much of a difference. Each weapon looks great though and the developers have been particularly creative in designing a variety of tools of destruction based entirely upon ASCII characters.
The potion making comes with a risk and reward element to it, with each potion either giving you a boost or causing you to suffer. You’ll experiment mixing ingredients with no idea as to what’s useful and what’s poisonous, though fortunately the recipe for each potion remains after you’ve created it so you shouldn’t have to make your character suffer through the same awful concoction twice.
Besides the deadly enemies and the poisonous potions, there are plenty of other hazards littered throughout each level that’ll certainly help your HP dwindle away. The amount of explosive barrels I managed to hurt my character with was ridiculous, but it was hard to resist smashing everything apart when the game rewards you for doing so. You’ll also suffer due to the game’s clumsy jumping – whilst Brut@l’s controls are pretty sound, there were a few instances where I would die because I wasn’t able to make an accurate jump over a bottomless pit. Whilst I’m sure some of the deaths I suffered were my own fault, there were plenty that occurred because the jumping wasn’t responsive enough – plus it doesn’t help that it’s often difficult to work out exactly how big a gap is due to the monochrome nature of the game.
One thing that’s worth nothing is the perma-death aspect of the game – if you die in Brut@l, that’s it. Your dead, you lose everything, and nothing carries over. Whilst it’s a familiar concept in gaming these days, it was quite daunting to lose everything and all progress, especially since dungeons could last a few hours. Whilst it’s never frustrating to have another crack at the game, it would’ve been nice if there was a game mode that was a little more forgiving, though maybe that’s just the casual in me coming through.
Graphically the game perfectly replicates a 3D rendition of the ASCII worlds gamers explored in the 80s. Whilst video games have often adopted monochrome styles with the occasional splash of colour, Brut@l takes it to the next level with its old-school stylised look – it looks amazing and is simply oozing with creativity.
However, whilst Brut@l looks great there’s only so much a world can offer when it’s built entirely around ASCII characters. Environments can start to feel a little familiar at times and with the same black and white surroundings appearing time and time again, the game can suffer with a lack of variety. It’s not too much of an issue, but when most dungeon crawlers these days send us across a plethora of different environments it can make Brut@l feel a little limited.
Multiplayer is limited too, with local play the only way to tackle dungeons with a friend. The screen doesn’t split either, so the aforementioned tricky jumps can become even more dangerous if you aren’t well positioned. That being said, local multiplayer is still great fun and a lot of my favourite moments with the game were spent with another player – it’s just a shame you don’t have the convenience of online play.
The game does have some online interactivity though with the in-game dungeon creator that allows you to create and share your own custom made dungeons with players around the world. I absolutely loved it – you can fine-tune everything from its layout, items, enemies, weapons… you name it, you can change it. It’s one of the neatest level editors I’ve come across in a game, plus its incredibly accessible too with the learning curve a fairly small one. It won’t take you too long before your putting together dangerous dungeons for the whole Brut@l community to attempt to conquer.
It really adds to the replayability of the game, especially given the creativity gamers have previously shown in using robust level creators. You’re also not allowed to publish your own dungeon without completing it yourself first, meaning there won’t be a plethora of impossible to beat dungeons out there that waste your time. It really is awesome – don’t be surprised if you spend more time creating dungeons rather than fighting through them!
I’d been looking forward to playing Brut@l ever since its initial reveal and I’ve certainly not been left disappointed – it’s a fantastic dungeon crawler with a slick visual style, entertaining combat and endless replayability thanks to its excellent level creator.
Whilst it might not be entirely flawless, Brut@l is a fantastic modern interpretation of the classic dungeon crawlers that holds its heritage close to its heart.
Developer: Stormcloud Games
Publisher: Stormcloud Games
Release Date: 09/08/2016 (Playstation 4) TBC (PC)
Format(s): Playstation 4, PC