If you’ve ever thought “gosh, I wish someone would make a dungeon crawler with beat-’em-up gameplay, rogue-lite/like progression and a focus on local multiplayer”, well, Crawl has arrived to answer your oddly specific request.
But what makes Crawl special isn’t its mixed heritage, it’s the unique way one plays it. Instead of all the players in a session taking the role of adventurers and working as a team, one player becomes a lone hero delving into the depths of a dungeon. Everyone else takes the form ghosts that wander the halls, planting traps to hinder the hero and summoning monsters to fight them.
Crawl Review – Pick up and play
Once the adventurer player has been slain, the ghost player who delivers the killing blow becomes the hero and continues the journey. The player who is in the role of adventurer once the final boss is defeated wins the game.
As complex as that sounds, this is an extremely easy game to pick up and play. Aside from movement players only have two buttons – one for attack and one for a special move. These change depending on the whatever role players (ghost or adventurer) are playing at any given time.
The “pick up and play” tag is important, as Crawl is billed as a local multiplayer experience. A big part of what makes the game work so well is having live players to challenge, so it’s worth rounding up some mates for a session. Unfortunately, after realising how accommodating Crawl is – thanks in part to the simple control set-up – it’s likely they’ll start asking “why can’t I hit anything?”.
Crawl review – A weird way to balance
In what we assume is a way to balance the game and prevent outcomes being based on skill alone, many of the attacks are inaccurate and difficult to land. The direction an avatar was facing before attacking sometimes factors into where it strikes, but sometimes it doesn’t. Many of the spells and special moves lash out in any which way, and there’s a general feeling of not being in control.
Players will likely be frustrated by this, even if they concede it’s a necessary evil, a bit of RNG and dice roll to level the playing field and create ludicrous events.
It forms part of Crawl’s incredible balancing act and it’s likely a large portion of development time was allocated to making sure that no game ever favours one side too much. If an adventurer player is killing all the monsters and gaining enough levels to beat the final boss, all the ghost players’ summoned monsters grow in strength, and vice versa. Resources like gold and the ability to summon lower monsters is dished out evenly and any progress one gains is accompanied by niggling thought that the other players are becoming stronger too.
Crawl review – Lovely to look at, if a little short
The only part of the game more gratifying than the this balancing act is the art and sound direction. Give any video on this page a watch and behold as chunky pixel art and intense music come together to make something truly beautiful. The monster designs are a particularly strong aspect, with the thought of seeing a new variety being impetus enough to upgrade them. It helps that each new monster, of which there are dozens, plays completely differently and is fun to pilot.
Crawl’s real problems only start to show after about two hours. At that point players have probably seen a substantial part of the game, and even grown tired of it. The titanic bosses and their impact opening cutscenes start to wane, especially when a single play-through shoves the same unskippable cutscene into the players’ faces three times.
As this is a rogue-like/lite there are new monsters, weapons and more to unlock, but that golden two hour window is going to burn players out on this game quickly. Once the game’s shown off its gimmicks and impressed players who new to them, there’s not much in Crawl that’ll draw many back to it.
Crawl review: Verdict
This review is a bit late. Crawl released on Steam a little less than a month ago. This is neither the fault of the developers offering us code (they supplied us with one minutes after we requested it, thanks Powerhoof), nor is it a case of me being lazy.
No, the reason this review is late is because Crawl’s multiplayer is local. Trying to get people with full time jobs to come and play a game can be a challenge; it took me a few weeks to set up a time where everyone’s schedules matched up.
For review purposes, local-only multiplayer is an annoyance, but this aspect could hurt the game immensely in the long run. Many people only have others to play with over the internet, and it will kill this game’s possible popularity on Youtube and Twitch.
Luckily, we really do think it’s worth the effort to make a night of Crawl. Even if you only get a single good session out of this title, we believe its worth the asking price. A lack of content combined with frustrating controls can’t take away from the genuinely good , albeit short, time you can have with it.
Crawl was reviewed on PC with a code provided by the developers