Brut@l has a striking aesthetic that tries to brush up on the ASCII dungeon roguelikes of old and modernize the formula some in the process. In the end, Stormcloud Games gets more right than wrong, though a few frustrating quirks turn the title into a niche title that will not appeal to everyone.
As someone who is north of forty and recalls the classic ASCII dungeon crawling games of old, Brut@l is targeted at me. You choose from one of four classes and enter a roguelike procedurally generated world drawn from ASCII characters. As someone who has run a MUD with his wife for the last decade and a half, and having used plenty of ASCII characters to create visuals in a world of text-based gaming, the Tron-like aesthetic of brightly glowing characters in stark contrast against a black screen was immediately appealing.
I anxiously dove into the game with my character (I went warrior first, because... well... I always go warrior first if there's an option) and found the combat easy to pick up as it revolves primarily around a single button attack and a single button dodge mechanic. As you progress and gain new skills that can add effects and more complex magic to the mix, the potential for moments of brilliantly illuminated encounters punctuated by flair had me wanting to come back for more. This is key, because I am not always a fan of the roguelike genre. I am not a huge fan of permadeath and being heavily penalized for failure.
However, some of the cracks start to show the longer you spend time with Brut@l. The biggest issue is the combat, which is where you spend the majority of your time. It has a floaty, imprecise quality that can lead to moments of frustration due to the sort of soft-locking mechanism that gets employed. In one-on-one battles this is not such a big deal, but when you are being bum-rushed by multiple enemies and the penalty for any major mistake is complete and utter death. This can lead to some really frustrating moments that will no doubt appeal to fans of the genre as they expect that failure is simply part of the equation, but it can be a bitter pill to swallow when you come away with the impression that it had less to do with your skill and more to do with the sometimes flaky combat mechanics. I will say that you are far better off using a controller than the mouse and keyboard scheme, which only exasperates the control issues.
The good news is, the randomized level generation means you are always in for a surprise. Also, kudos to the team for not just making the game pretty, but I enjoyed the soundtrack as well. In terms of depth, while the combat is awfully shallow for something you will be spending so much time with, the ability to craft and enchant items adds a nice layer of depth to the proceedings. There is even a dungeon creator for those who want to spend more time with the game, but have something of a creative slant to their personalities.
At its best, Brut@l is a visually interesting reminder of classic gaming with some nice crafting systems and plenty of challenge to keep you busy. Unfortunately at its worst, the controls feel sluggish and penalize you harshly for that failure. Additionally, while combat is easy to pick up and entertaining, it is also basic to a fault and you spend a lot of time just walking around smashing up the environment. When it is all said and done, Brut@l is a solid offering for the action/adventure genre, but there are better overall examples of the genre as well.
Rising Star Games
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Article by Nick