You don't often see multiplayer games mixed with dunegon crawling and horror, but that's a pretty apt description of Crawl in a nutshell. This new four-player PS4 game places you in the role of a hero, trapped in a dungeon filled with nightmarish creatures and a nasty boss blocking the way out.
Other players possess the dungeons many traps and objects, while also manifesting themselves as monsters to try and kill the hero. Death to the hero passes that humanity on to another player. The goal? Seek a way out by leveling up and defeating the horror guarding your path. Is Crawl a multiplayer masterpiece, or just plain horrible? Time to find out!
A Premise Oozing With Atmosphere and Style
Initially, you'll play Crawl by yourself. The game's tutorial is given life through narration that perfectly totes the line between ominous phrasing and slight tinge of classic horror. Injured and bleeding out, you must crawl (get it?) your way out of a mysterious dungeon.
The narration includes vocabulary that would be Lovecraft proud, and defines the core mechanics of the game perfectly. Once you've finished the opening, you'll be placed on the main menu, ready to start your journey into madness and salvation.
Crawl allows you to play with up to four players (any empty spots can be replaced by AI if you prefer to do single player). There's not online multiplayer here, it's all about couch co-op, which I vastly prefer for these kinds of games.
The rest of the story is told by your adventures. You start each match with four humans who must fight to the death to decide who starts in the role of the hero.
From here, the other players will seek to end your life in any way they can, and the results are frightening, gory, intense, and insanely fun. It's just enough of a story to get you excited about the various creatures you'll unlock, the bosses you'll see, and the atmosphere the game provides with its dark corridors and Lovecraftian vibes.
Bring Friends, or Play Alone. It's Always Awesome
Playing Crawl by yourself is entirely possible with multiple difficulties for the A.I and plenty of things to unlock as you progress. If you want a challenge, you'll find one.
That being said, Crawl really cranks up the awesome factor when you bring friends. I had a full team of four people during my time reviewing the game, and I can safely say that I haven't had that much fun playing a local multiplayer game since my days with Mario Party back on the N64.
Granted, Crawl is way gorier and far more dark than Mario Party, but the fun factor manages to call upon classics from my childhood. Playing as the hero is a fun, but ultimately horrifying role for whichever player has their humanity at the moment.
There's always one hero, and everyone else plays as specters who can possess objects, traps, or use pentagrams to summon a random monster based on the deity they chose at the beginning of the match.
Once you take on a monster's form, you'll enjoy two unique attacks for each beast, creature, or indescribable horror. Standard attacks are complemented by special moves that always impress.
Some creatures are cooler than others, but the balance feels pretty good overall. Even the weaker ones can be amped up with upgrades.
The hero must defeat all the monsters or break the crystals in a room to move on. They can find shops on each floor of the dungeon and purchase weapons, relics, special moves, potions to augment their stats.
Even if they fall in battle, when they become the hero again, their purchases remain intact. The only time your progress is reset, is when you start a fresh game, so don't worry about upgrading your hero.
The specter players can also enjoy upgrades between each floor of the dungeon. As the hero gains XP and levels up, specter players get Wrath. Wrath can be used to upgrade the monsters you spawn across three different types and several upgrade trees per creature.
While you may start out as a lowly rat, you'll soon find yourself in the shoes of a mutated rat warrior carrying a bladed weapon. Skeleton archers are cool, but undead sorcerers are even better.
The progression of creatures, and upgrades for the hero both combine to make either side of the game fun to play. Whoever gets the last hit on the hero immediately takes their place and "regains their humanity" as the game so eloquently puts it.
The goal of the game is to become the hero, reach at least level 10, and warp out of the dungeon to face the final boss. What's awesome, is that the boss comes in several varieties that, suffice to say, multiple playthroughs will put you up against some pretty awesome boss designs.
Just don't be surprised if your final foe has tentacles and gnashing teeth, or involves a cultist ripping their heart out to give them life. These things are par for the course in Crawl.
If the hero can defeat the monster, they win and escape. If they die after three attempts fighting the boss, the specters gets a soft win. You may find that one player manages to face the boss themselves several times, or that different players take their humanity and try their hand at the fight.
Specters get to control the bosses as well, possessing their limbs to deal damage. These moments can get pretty chaotic, but it hardly takes away from the experience.
Just expect to lose your character in a sea of magic, blood, and blades from time-to-time, but never for long. While the dungeon looks roughly the same each playthrough, the variety in bosses and the upgrade trees for monsters, along with the suite of unlockables give you plenty of reasons to come back.
Well, that, and the fact that it's insanely fun.
Old School Visuals, New School Feel
Crawl uses a pixel-art style that works really well here. There's just enough detail to the monsters to convey the terror and horror of their visage, and the bosses are a treat to encounter.
Combine this with silky-smooth frame rates and some excellent animations for attacks and specials, and you have a visual treat that many high-fidelity games fail to achieve.
Then there's the music. Oh yes, the music is fittingly old school, but full of energy and excellent rifts that I found myself humming long after I put down the controller.
All of it just oozes style and confidence. If you can get a group of people together, Crawl is the most fun you'll have with couch co-op on the PS4, bar none. Even if you have to play by yourself, do not let this one slip under your radar.
Crawl stands tall as one of the finest multiplayer experiences that the PS4 offers, and represents the pinnacle of cooperative dungeon crawling.
Final Score: 9.0/10
A copy of Crawl was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 4/13/17