The term “Rogue-Like” is often thrown around, but rarely do games actually try to replicate the actual game Rogue. But then again, Rogue is an old game from 1980, with turn based combat and ASCII art. Brut@l tries to modernize rogue by adding in a 3D camera and fully animated characters, but often times this dedication holds it back from being enjoyable.
Brut@l is a dungeon crawling, loot-based RPG with permadeath. There have been no shortage of these kinds of games in recent years, from Binding of Isaac to Our Darker Purpose, but the the thing that makes Brut@l stand apart is its striking art design. Inspired by Rogue and other ASCII games, Brut@l brings ASCII art and goes 3D by making most of the landscapes pure black, highlighted by bright white lines. In theory, this art looks really fantastic, but a lot of times, due to how identically colored everything is, things like smaller enemies can blend into the environment easily. It’s really more of a thing that looks good in screenshots but not in action. The only stuff that stands out is different status effects, like poison or ice.
There are four classes of characters, Rogue, Warrior, Amazon and Mage, though they vary in few ways. They each start with 3 abilities unlocked, but as you level up your character, anyone can unlock these abilities. This becomes nearly critical as some skills can be incredibly important. For example, the Mage can very quickly unlock the ability to identify any potion (all of the potions are randomized every game), so that potion you drink can either heal you or cause you to get drained of all of your health. Other characters have specific combat abilities that can help out, so choosing the right starting character becomes crucial to your style of play.
That said, actual strength-wise, there doesn’t seem to be any real difference. The main difference in characters is their health and mana reserves. But if you start as a mage, until you begin unlocking really worthwhile equipment, you can basically do as much damage as a warrior. Getting decent weapons that are fast and do any significant amount of damage takes a long time in each run, so a lot of your time is going to be spent punching stuff.
Unlocking weapons, though, is handled in a really interesting way. As you go through a level, you collect ASCII letters. Those letters can be combined into a sword or an axe or any number of different modifications for weapons. That said, it can take some serious time before you’ll unlock any of those as finding these in a sea of almost all black and white is a pain.
The real thing, though, that is massively irritating with Brut@l is the environment itself. So, a lot of dungeon crawlers don’t actually allow you to fall off of the environment. Maybe they do and they put you back with a deduction of health. Brut@l, though, makes the decision that if you dodge and fall off a platform, that’s it you’re dead. Okay, that’s bad enough, but then adding in platforming to this game with abysmal air controls is actually a step way too far. Moreover, there are a ton of hidden traps throughout the levels that you really have little way to see. These can absolutely wreck your run.
If the addition of a moveable camera were added, this could be relieved but of course, the camera stays in a static position behind and above the player. Because, actually fighting enemies generally is simple enough. You are given enough options to move around and do enough damage to hurt enemies consistently, but it’s the spaces between fights that kill you. That seems counterproductive to a game that seems to be dedicated to tough fights. That said, fights do get tougher the deeper you go, but considering how easily you can die from just going through a level, it’s rare that you’ll want to play that far.
Playing in multiplayer adds little value, too. In fact, often times it becomes a worse experience as you each try to individually jump from one area to another, and then try to not fall off the ledge but oh wait, the platform is crumbling better get to the next one but the camera is locking us in place and oh now we’re dead, great. Fights don’t get tough for a while, so this moment to moment movement struggle is incredibly frustrating.
Brut@l looks good but it’s tough for all the wrong reasons. And, getting into a game that so blatantly calls itself “brutal”, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s tough. You expect tough fights where you have to keep aware of the environments but not in a way where you can just fall off the world and die. Not in a way where traps are hidden because of a refusal to use a multi-directional camera. Basically, not in the way Brut@l is.
SCORE: 4.5 out of 10
A code for Brut@l was provided to Pixel Related for review.