I have to admit that the first time I clapped eyes on Brut@l, or at least a screenshot, I wasn’t impressed. I grew up in the days of ASCII games and I freely admit that in the intervening years, I’ve become something of a graphics snob. Frankly, I didn’t want to go back but dutifully downloaded the PC version of Brut@l and logged in to Steam.
Boy, am I glad I did.
BRUT@L IS BOTH NOSTALGIC & NEW
Brut@l is utterly and comfortingly familiar. It is also utterly and fascinatingly original. Brut@l rewards players with a comforting nostalgia alongside 21st century game play and graphics. Don’t get me wrong: We’re not talking 3D spectacles that will rock your socks off. What we are talking about is a unique take on an old look.
In an era of roguelike hack’n’slash games, Scotland’s Stormcloud Games needed to find its niche. There’s no question that they accomplished just that. Maps are procedurally generated in stunning black and white ASCII format. The Wizard, Amazon, Ranger and Warrior are fully 3D, though more like a shadow without white outline for definition and a splash of color here and there. In fact, everything in the game is created out of black space, white lines and ASCII computer symbols. In one of the most intriguing aspects of the game, weapons are made almost entirely out of letters. As players journey throughout the 26-levels, crafting recipes will be found. To enhance the character’s weapon, the proper letters will need to be found.
DEATH IS THE END OF THE JOURNEY — LITERALLY
Beneath the veneer of the overall look of Brut@l, the game is a fairly standard dungeon crawl. The four classes should be instantly familiar to anyone who has played an ARPG. Warriors have a big health pool. Amazons have both a ranged and melee attack. Rangers use bows at a distance. Wizards light up the darkness.
Once a character is selected, each map generates itself. Players fight through each of the 26 floors looking for keys to open locked gates that then reveal more of the map. Along the way, and in true ARPG fashion, players break things to look for loot, recipes or food items for resource regeneration. Zombies, spiders, Minotaur and a host of other critters will try to take you out. Believe me: You don’t want that to happen. Death in Brut@l is, well…brutal and it is permanent.
Experience is gained by killing monsters, opening doors, breaking objects and so on. Once enough is earned, players can unlock new abilities in four different skill trees. Each has advantages and disadvantages along the journey so it is a good idea to carefully consider how you want things to go down later in the game. Things like blocking and being able to take out flying enemies and so forth. Strategy will become more important as the dungeon deepens. It’s worth noting as well that enemies that are technically out of melee reach can keep hitting you even when you’re in another room. “Walls” aren’t really there. The map is simply flat with the ‘barrier’ being the fact that there are spaces players cannot go.
“Loot”, and I use that term generously, consists of finding the letters to enchant weapons with. Enchantments can grant fire or lightning to a weapon that both damages foes and, depending on the effect and the door found, will cause gates to unlock. Color matters. Other gear that drops is solely for the purpose of sacrificing at an altar for a small chance at extra life. Lastly, players can craft buffing potions once recipes are found. While not bad, I will admit to being pretty disappointed in the loot system overall.
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE
But what Brut@l lacks in loot, it more than makes up for in combat. Before continuing, however, here’s a cautionary advert:
USE A CONTROLLER
Trust me. Just do it.
While I played with a mouse and keyboard most of the time, I found my experience in combat much more efficient using a USB controller. With Brut@l’s emphasis in blocking, evasion, dodging, sliding, etc., a controller is imperative. Mouse and keyboard simply will not cut it.
Combat is fluid and visceral and a ton of fun. I loved having my Amazon fling her shield at range, then go in with fists flying to devastate enemies. But I also had to think, a rarity these days. I needed fire to permanently eliminate zombies, for instance. I had to make sure to dodge certain attacks. Things like that make combat in Brut@l a step ahead.
There is also local co-op and multiplayer via Steam but I did not play it. I must say, however, that if it’s half as fun as the single player game, it’ll be just that more fun with a friend.
For those intrepid creative types, there is a dungeon creation tool as well. Have the system randomly create a map and then place monsters, gates, triggers, traps, etc. to your heart’s desire. Then you can challenge your friends to see if they can survive your mustache-twirling evilness.
In the End
When all is said and done, Brut@l is a decent hack’n’slash game with better-than-average combat and a totally wicked graphic style. While not on par with classic ARPGs like Diablo II or Titan Quest, it’s still a lot of fun and worth the $14.99 (11.99 through the 16th) price tag.
Brut@l is available on Steam for PC and on PlayStation 4.
Disclaimer: We were provided a Steam code for the purposes of this review.