Crawl is one of those games that’s been in Early Access for so long that when the final release actually occurs, you think, “Didn’t that come out ages ago?” Before this review, I played only a bit, but I was always aware of it. It was one of those indie multiplayer games that always seemed to come up, like Gang Beasts and Duck Game. I had been meaning to try it for real. So, I gathered a few friends and we began to dig into the depths of the game.
Crawl is a dungeon crawler for up to four players. The game’s unique mechanic is that only one player at a time is alive; the others are ghosts who can control traps, objects, and most importantly, monsters. At the start, you choose one of a few gods to worship, and that determines what kinds of monsters you can summon as a ghost. The ghosts’ goal is to kill the living player; the one that succeeds becomes the living adventurer.
For better or worse, it’s the ghost player who does the last damage that gets to be alive. Kill stealing is problematic in many games, and I have mixed feelings about that. The ghosts also collect Wrath which lets you upgrade your monsters. For the living player, the goal is to find gold to buy equipment, explore the dungeon, and kill monsters for experience until you reach level 10. At level 10 you can try to find the portal in each level and take it to the boss fight.
The game’s mechanics and controls can take a little bit of getting used to, especially when playing as a ghost. It gets a little bit confusing trying to figure out exactly what object you’re possessing and what you’re supposed to do with it. Playing as monsters is fun and I like the variety of creatures present. That being said, it always seems difficult to really do much to the other player as a monster; you die pretty quickly. One thing I do appreciate is the need for cooperation in what is otherwise a competitive game; each room is big, and the ghosts have to work together to make sure they corner the living player.
Even though things can seem one sided if one player is alive for a long time, it’s sometimes easier than it seems to catch up. On the flip side, the longer someone is alive, the better equipped they are, making it even more difficult to finally kill them and catch up. It largely depends on the skill of the players in when they’re in ghost mode. When I played with my friends, I spent most of my time as a ghost, because I’m not very good at this game. So it’s hard for me to comment on the living player part in the multiplayer experience. What it does tell me, though, is that you need a group with balanced skill levels to get the most out of this game.
Another area where I have mixed feelings is the graphics. I have never been quiet about not being a fan of pointless retro-style graphics. It makes sense for something like Shovel Knight, but I don’t think Crawl benefits at all from intentionally dated visuals.
I suppose it’s easier for the artists, as the sprites don’t have to be detailed, but I’m honestly not sure whether that is better than doing it for no reason at all. I guess it’s just a matter of preference. Crawl does at least do 8-bit better than a lot of other games do; it has a style of its own, and I can definitely appreciate that.
For someone like me who isn’t too good at these games, Crawl can be a bit disappointing. But I think that with the right group of people, it can also be a lot of fun. There’s a lot of variety at play, with the monsters and equipment, and exploring dungeons is always fun. But this is definitely a game better suited for some groups than for others. It’s both punishing and rewarding, as befits a rogue-like. It’s worth a try if you and your friends like this kind of game, but I recommend practicing.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
When the monsters come, nobody wins
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 5/10
+ Play as monsters
+ Cool concept
- Very hard for anyone to win
- Can get one-sided quickly