Now Available on Steam Early Access
Developed by Powerhoof
I've never been much of an online multiplayer kind of guy, in my household we couch co-op and that's kind of a tradition of ours. Playing side by side with friends and family, bulky plastic controllers in hand is a lost art and one that deserves a lot more attention. We've seen many titles try and bring back this passion for a more human gaming experience in the living room recently with successful titles like Nidhogg and TowerFall Ascension reminding us of that feeling of intense person-to-person competition and friendly rivalry we were able to get with console games in the past.
With the rising popularity of online PC gaming where does this close and personal human interaction go, is there still room for the local multiplayer experience?
Crawl thinks so, and it answers the call by pitting man against monster, friend against friend, in the darkest and nethermost caverns of the most replayable player on player dungeon crawler to date. You will die many times by the hands of your most trusted acquaintances but as Bram Stoker once wrote, "We learn from failure, not from success!”
The heavy, ominous chip melody evokes a feeling of terror and haste as the monsters swarm about the mortal player for their own chance at sweet humanity, and must tear it from the cold dead hands of their cohort before losing the chance to turn the tables. The sound direction is incredibly fitting, with voice samples sounding as if straight out of an authentic 80's pinball machine or arcade cabinet. The suspenseful horror aesthetics and doom-impending tone of the music compliment the tension, chaos and madness of the multiplayer struggle for supremacy all too well.
You begin by choosing one of the three Gods of unspeakable horrors, determining which set of ghastly familiars you will be taking control of and leveling up throughout your mad grab for humanity. You gain blood as you spill it from your human target to be exchanged for gold and used at merchants to buy an array of varied equipment and skills, ranging anywhere from double-daggers with fast speed but short reach to floating glyphs that fire lasers on your command. This puts a lot of motivation on the monster players to bleed the human as much as possible, in order to better prepare themselves with loot once stealing back humanity.
Monsters themselves add one of the deepest layers of the game, each with branching sets of evolution trees to play around with and unlock more of. Evolving your monsters is dependent on Vitae which is acquired through enemy humans leveling up, and keeps the playing field between the two more or less balanced. Honestly, though, I don't think anyone is capable of explaining the game as well as the trailer does.
Before even getting a chance to sink my teeth into Crawls' gritty and visceral gameplay I couldn't stop watching that damn trailer, it sent chills down the spine. It's really the most captivating I'd seen in awhile and the narration nails the urgency of your doom-ridden quest. I had to know how such an effective voice actor was acquired.
After questioning the developers on the subject, it turns out that the narration wasn't hired or professional help at all, but the contributions of a close friend they had previously worked with and this fact just fortified in my mind the strong bonds behind the creation of the game and it's origin of a personal and human nature. According to Dave, "The voice actor from the trailer is a friend of ours, Adrian Vaughan. He’s a 3d artist who we met at the first game studio that Barney and I worked at together. He’s one of those guy’s who’s always putting on funny accents and I got him to do some voices for an adventure game I made for a competition (called The Unicated)."
Apparently they weren't expecting the trailer to gain as much attention and praise as it did for the game, as Dave goes on, "We were incredibly pleased with how the trailer went, we had no idea if it would be received well or not while we were working on it. We thought it might be too long, or wordy, and it was difficult getting a balance of the tone and the explanation of the game. We’re so glad we did it that way now though."
Crawl clearly has some heavy retro arcade influences, and upon discussing the game with the developers the sources of inspiration were confirmed. "For Barney, two big inspirations were Bomberman and Gauntlet, and they shine through in the gameplay most of all." and with it's blend of the dungeon delving hacknslash action of Gauntlet and the rage-inducing competitive party game aspect of Bomberman, I'm inclined to agree that both of these examples shine through.
He continues to explain, "We’ve grabbed inspiration from tonnes of games though really, old RPGs like Legend of Zelda, the gothic tone of the first Diablo, and a bit of Dark Souls’ brutality to name a few." All being perfect representations of where Crawl takes its grim and savage direction.
This is a game that will bring together the most unsuspecting of players, serious-minded people who don't even game will forget themselves and get caught up in the blood-boiling clash for mortality. Not only does it bring friends together but it tests the limits of your friendship, edging you closer to feelings of vengeance on your once trusted peer.
Similar to the feeling of having the excitement of 1st place in Mario Kart swiftly crushed and ripped from you by a friend lucky enough to get that one Blue Shell and take your place of glory, leaving you with nothing but the desire to track them down and kick their ass.
Crawl is a game made by friends, for friends. A multiplayer experience unlike anything seen since the 90's. A game made by two close compatriots who wanted to rediscover and reinvent what gathered them around the tube so many years ago. The kind of entertainment we've lost sight of after so many years of growing into adults, getting jobs and families, and in general forgetting what made us really have fun as kids.
Despite being its best around warm-bodied experiences I can still wholeheartedly recommend the game even for those who might be too busy or too far from friends to partake in the multi-person mayhem. With bots and their adjustable difficulty, I was still kept on the edge of my seat during every attempt to steal the victory from the intelligent computer opponents.
With even more balancing on the horizon as well as constant updates to content, and a serious community involvement from the developers on forums there is pure determination shown in shaping the game how players want and proves that Crawl is already one of the shining examples of Early Access done right.