Brut@l is an upcoming dungeon-crawler from Stormcloud Games that puts a modern spin on the traditional ASCII graphical map representations of early titles. Zack Webster got the chance to try out the game, which is planned for release this summer.
Amidst a cavalcade of indie games on display in Sony's booth lay Brut@l, an action RPG beat-em-up that has the player delving through a dungeon with ASCII-inspired graphics. I got to play through a level of the dungeon and got a good look at a lot of the game's mechanics along the way. While not providing the most original dungeon crawl, the demo for Brut@l was entertaining in some interesting ways.
Brut@l immediately sets itself apart with its very distinct art style. The entire dungeon is modeled and textured to look like a 3D representation of ASCII code, with the additions of particle effects and fire. The result is a really cool looking game that displays its information in a very clear fashion. The game looks good, especially in motion.
It is also a very simple game to grasp. The X button made the character jump — with a double jump available — the square button attacked, the triangle button was used to interact with the environment, and the circle menu brought up the game's inventory. I found this last bit to be a bit irksome and I found myself accidentally pressing it a few times expecting a more immediate action, but the menu is worth visiting frequently enough to warrant it. L2 brought up a shield to block, with the option of pressing X while holding it to perform a dodge roll, while R2 would throw the shield Captain America-style. If properly leveled, L1 and R1 could be pressed together to release a special attack.
Combat was rather simplistic: most enemies died in one or two hits and combos only went up to three hits. Despite the game's name, the difficulty felt pretty easy and my only death was caused by myself attempting to make an impossible jump, though I was in the early levels of the game. The developer, Stormcloud Games, says that later levels would prove more difficult and different combinations of enemies would appear, some of them possibly only being weak to certain types of damage. The goal of the game is to make it to level twenty-six of the dungeon, which houses a final boss that just so happens to be a dragon. Implementing roguelike aspects, in Brut@l players begin the game with nothing and death ends progress. However loot, which is a generic currency in this game, can be used to appeal to the gods for an extra life after dying, so thorough exploration can be rewarded with more continues.
In fact, exploration is a big part of the game for just how much there is to collect. Beyond loot, players can also find treasure chests that contain helpful items like potions, crafting materials, weapons, and armor. Potions initially have unknown effects until used once but can either be thrown weapons or used as a consumable. Up to four different weapons can be held at a time, each assigned to a direction on the D-pad. Most interestingly, I also found some letters scattered throughout the levels. These are, in fact, runes and collecting the right ones can enchant weapons in your inventory, giving them new properties. These properties, like adding fire damage, make them uniquely able to kill specific types of enemies such as zombies, who can only be killed with fire.
The RPG elements to the game are slim, but that's expected for a game as light as this. I did level up several times and each gave me a skill point to spend in one of four trees, but each tree only had five paths for upgrading so unless the game has more than was showed or the game leveled me quick because it was a demo, it feels like an underdeveloped feature. Also, despite this game feeling very much like a Gauntlet title, the only available cooperative mode is two-player local. There will be a level creator and share tools, but it seems weird not being able to get four friends together for a game like this. Still, the game was entertaining in my time with it and I can only imagine a friend making it better. Brut@l is set to release later this summer.