Platforms PS4
Developer Stormcloud Games
Publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date August 9, 2016

Disclaimer: Review code provided

I made it to the 11th level of the dungeon before I made the dumbest mistake possible, causing me to ruin my most memorable run to date and lose two hours of hard fought progress. By the time I’d hit level 7 I had already made it further than I ever had. At level 9 I was sure I was dead – I had next to no health, no food or health potions and had just entered a room full of skeletons with spears and shields. I decided I wasn’t going to go down easy and charged in – then I saw the two trees of life in the opposite corner. Health recharged, I smashed the skeletons to pieces and continued on my way, all the way down to level 11…

Where I misjudged a jump and skidded off a platform.

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There’s no doubt that Brut@l has its hooks in me deep (something Tom can attest to as he was on Skype with me when my run abruptly ended). That run to level 11 wasn’t my last run, or even my best. I’ve been further down the dungeon, even though I’ve never made it to the end, and likely never will. That run was intense and memorable, however, with plenty of twists and turns – moments where I was sure I was dead yet miraculously survived and moments where my overconfidence almost destroyed me entirely.

Brut@l is an excellent example of procedural generation done extremely well. It’s a third-person dungeon crawler whose dungeons are randomly generated. After picking from one of four classes, you’re dropped into the first level of the dungeon with a shield and an unlit torch. From there you need to explore, scavenge for items and ultimately survive 26 floors on a single life (or more, if you can appease the Gods with offerings of loot). Its procedural generation of items and monsters never feels like it’s blocking you from having a good time, but rather it’s creating memorable, intense and ultimately fun gameplay.

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It’s an impressively pretty game. Everything in Brut@l is built from ASCII characters, like the dungeon crawlers of old brought to life in three glorious dimensions. It’s an interesting way to modernise an old style of game design and update it for modern audiences, from a graphical standpoint. Brut@l uses striking colours against its black and white backdrops for maximum effect too. It creates a game that’s both a joy to actually look at, but one that communicates its ideas through this effective use of colour too. It’s easy to see what elements enemies are made out of, as well as spot various trinkets and other points of interest in the environments, because their colours stand out against the backdrop.

It’s also pretty easy to pick up and play too, thanks to relatively simple gameplay design. Combat revolves around using a single button to attack, with square providing players with three-hit combos. Blocking allows you to mitigate some damage, but if you can time your blocks just right you can reflect all damage. Or you can dodge around, under or over enemies. There’s also a special move you can activate that changes depending on the weapon you’re holding at the time.

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It’s really simple, allowing Brut@l to be easy to play (if harder to master). You can learn everything you need to know fairly quickly. Then it becomes all about figuring out the best way to handle the impressive variety of monsters you’ll face in the dungeon. And variety is the right word. There are the standard skeletons, zombies, orcs, knights and such. And then there are the more interesting enemies. Like sorcerers who can temporarily blind you, nymphs who play pan pipes (I think) whose notes can damage you and steal your weapons and big guys who let our terrifying screams as they run at you with barrels of TNT under their arms.

The combat in Brut@l is a lot of fun. It flows quite well, with slick animations for both protagonist and antagonist. Sliding through a monsters legs and smashing the back of his head in with a massive club always looks cool and feels badass. As you progress further and further into the dungeon the enemies you face become tougher, and their combinations become more devious. Though it can become a bit of a button masher if you’re facing a lot of bad guys at once, fighting in Brut@l is generally always quite tactical, forcing you to figure out the best way to tackle whatever enemies you’re encountering.

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As well as combat, Brut@l also comes with a heavy focus on crafting and exploration. The former is a pretty well thought out system. Whenever you find a new weapon you need to craft it before you can use it. Rather than scour the dungeon for your standard crafting materials, building stuff requires you to collect ASCII letters hidden throughout the dungeon. You’ll need a specific combination of four letters before you can craft a weapon, and if you want to enchant it you’ll need to find enchanted ASCII letters and replace the standard ones with these glowing, coloured letters. There’s also a neat potion crafting system. Like a lot of the game, this is colour coded. There are eight different coloured potions and they’re created by mixing two of a variety of crafting materials.

The twist? Until you use one of the colours you have no idea what they do, and in a brilliant use of the procedural generation of the game they change every time you start a new game. Some are helpful, some are harmful. One of my favourite moments in the game came from potion experimentation – quaffing a bottle of poison and, when trying to see if the next unknown potion would make things better, setting myself ablaze. Everything in Brut@l is about risk vs reward. Making decisions like testing out potions or setting off across the poisoned floor in the hope that the ASCII letter you’re looking for might be on the other side.

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There’s also a progression system that unlocks the ability to use Brut@l’s various weapons, endow them with special abilities and unlock bonuses like increased health, mana regeneration and the like. Everything in Brut@l comes together into a slick, tight gameplay experience that has more depth than you might otherwise be expecting. Plus thanks to the well programmed procedural generation mechanics, couch co-op and dungeon editor, the game has legs and a near infinite amount of replayability. This game, while incredibly good looking, is definitely not a case of style over substance.


Summary

Brut@l is a great looking game, making awesome use of its ASCII-created visuals and fantastic use of colour against its stark black-and-white backgrounds. But if you look beneath the surface you’ll also find a rock solid game, with slick, easy to pick up combat that will propel you time and time again through the randomly generated dungeons. A great mixture of enemies you’re expecting, and a few you aren’t, helps and Brut@l knows how to throw the different bad guys together in combinations that will test your tactics as well as your stabbing abilities. The crafting system is really inventive too, tying itself into the dungeon exploration and forcing you to look everywhere for the ASCII letters you need to build that one weapon you really want. All in all Brut@l is a really well put together game that can suck you into run after run in the elusive pursuit of besting its 26 levels of procedurally generated ASCII-kicking.

7


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