Brut@l is a good old-fashioned classic dungeon brawler that successfully manages to keep its retro feel while simultaneously bringing some new elements to the table.
The game creates procedurally generated levels/dungeons, a method becoming increasingly popular among developers and players alike. The game (as far as I am aware) does not have an end — your aim is instead to play for as long as you possibly can without dying. Food, health and revives are very scarce. Brut@l works on a level-by-level basis; you will spawn in a predetermined room of that particular dungeon and then work your way to the finish point. Along the way you will fight enemies, dodge traps, and collect potions, food, weapon-crafting books and letters (I’ll explain that in a second.) The finish point is a glowing white hole in the floor that you jump through before getting a nice little screen that comes up showing your completion percentages for the dungeon, items, enemies, rooms, etc. Of course, this whole experience is also available in Co-op mode, but I can guarantee you will argue with your partner about sharing food and items which is an inevitable part of the fun. On top of this, if one of you falls in battle you can’t use a revive to resurrect your buddy; you instead have to sacrifice half your current health. However, if you both die, it will cost a revive to bring the two of you back to the land of the living.
Now onto those letters I mentioned above: anyone who has played a game with crafting mechanics will be familiar with collecting materials to create their items. The “letters” are your crafting materials. For example, you may find a ‘Weapon Codex’ for an axe and the codex states you need to find the letters ‘C, J, F and Y’. At the bottom of the screen is an alphabet displaying the letters you currently have. Letters are found in crates, barrels, boxes and all the usual places you get goodies from in games. You then craft the item and all the letters needed will float up to form your new axe.
Along with normal crafting, we have enchanting: this again uses the letters. However, carrying on from the example above, let’s say the axe requires an Enchanted ‘J’ and you have an orange J. You can infuse this letter into your axe to imbue it with fire. There are many enchantments that are all colour-coded, fire being just one of them.
Now I promise this is the last point about crafting but it is certainly worth a mention, potions also have to be crafted. The catch here is that you don’t know what a particular potion does until you drink it… and yes some are bad, as in you may burn to death bad. You may be thinking well that’s only for the first run through, I’ll just remember the ingredients for the health potion and I’ll be fine, wrong. When you inevitably die and restart, all of the potion recipes will randomise and you have to rediscover them all over again. Personally I think it’s a great touch and adds to the game’s difficulty.
In terms of gameplay, Brut@l is smooth and fast. The early dungeons will feel easy, like you can afford to take a few hits because you have plenty of food to get your health back. Don’t let this fool you — using lots of food early will really start to work against you later on. Having an inventory nicely filled with meat and dungeon pizza (yes, it’s a real item) only lasts the first few dungeons (if you waste it all like me); in this sense, the game is brutally unforgiving.
Let’s have a look at the graphics next: to sum it up in a word, they are unique. Think retro, medieval Tron if you can. The game appears more or less completely black to you while enemies and parts of the environment are all white. Anything elemental (ie. fire, ice, and poison) all retain their standard colours: orange, blue, and green respectively. Brut@l could also definitely be described as minimalistic, although this definitely isn’t out of laziness or anything else that could be negatively insinuated from ‘minimalistic’. The graphics are heavily influenced by the ASCII graphics style, with the edges of the map appearing as dashes or the ‘#’ symbol and barrels also being made up of dashes. Even your character and the dungeon monsters are made up of letters and symbols. Quite frankly though, it looks good and with some things you really can’t tell it’s letters and symbols they are constructed from.
Stormcloud Games have incorporated a leveling and skill tree system similar to what is seen in many other games. You gain experience from both defeating enemies and destroying inanimate objects. When you gain enough, you level up and gain a skill point which can be put into one of four skill trees. Brut@l also uses what looks like a typical class system. There are 4 classes as of now: the warrior, amazon, ranger and mage. In most games, the class systems are designed to give you access to different playstyles — but not in Brut@l. This is actually one of, if not my only problem with the game: your class determines which skills you start off with, but that’s as far as class divide goes. Any class can wield any weapon and learn any skill. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it allows you more versatility regardless of who you pick, but personally, I believe a more refined class divide would benefit the game greatly and add to the unforgivable nature of Brut@l.
The last thing worth noting is that the game features a dungeon creator mode where you can build your own dungeons and post them for the community to try out. A lot of options and customization are possible, allowing for an enjoyable and seemingly limitless experience. I’ve tried this out and although there is no tutorial, found it very easy to pick up the controls and get into.
In summary, Brut@l is an addictive dungeon brawler in which you’ll find yourself constantly trying again and again to 100% levels and beat your high score. Co-op, singleplayer, and dungeon creator are all equally enjoyable in their own ways and if you enjoy getting creative you will be swapping between them all non-stop. In the future I would like to see some new classes, a more defined class divide and perhaps some form of ‘modifier’ or alternate game mode to enjoy the procedurally generated dungeon runs in various ways. Don’t let my ending on a negative note sway you against purchasing the game however, as Brut@l is an excellent contender as a dungeon brawler and should not be overlooked. You can grab yourself a digital copy from the PS Store on the 9th of August.