Depending on how long you’ve been in the business of being a gamer, you may or may not remember grid-based dungeon crawlers. These games were typically in first-person and involved navigating dark corridors by moving one “space” as if the floor beneath you was laid out like a chess board.
Crystal Rift is a new game for PlayStation VR that can be played without the headset. It’s a grid-based dungeon crawler that calls to mind these classic titles. Does it work in today’s day and age, or is this relic better left to collect dust in a dungeon somewhere? Let’s find out!
A Story Told in Scraps of Paper
The story in Crystal Rift is pretty good, which is an accomplishment, considering how little of it you actually get. As you explore the game’s 25 levels, you’ll come across pages placed within small enclaves that have various types of story written on them.
Sometimes it’s an intriguing note about the titular “rift” and other times it’s just a hilarious quip referencing the current level you’re in. The writing is sharp, and the notes are quick and easy to read in both standard play and VR, which I appreciate. Sometimes in VR, text can be blurry, which in this case would have severely hurt the experience.
There’s a sense of intrigue throughout the story, and the promise of a major twist when you hit one of the later levels according to the game’s marketing. If anything, that promise, combined with the intriguing nature of the notes and the cryptic messages I received when picking up collectibles, kept things interesting enough to propel me forward.
All-in-all, the story here is enough to serve the game and keep the pace moving, but it’s nothing grandiose or world-changing. I would have loved some narration, or perhaps a more thorough story, but doing so would have hampered the fast-paced exploration the game achieves, so I can understand the developers erring on the side of caution when it comes to story moments.
Everything You Expect, But Not Much Else
The gameplay is Crystal Rift is both refreshing and stale at the same time. On the one hand, The streamlined nature of the gameplay makes the pacing fast and the exploration almost constant.
You won’t find yourself bogged down by menus or complex RPG elements, so you’re free to keep moving through the level, searching for any hidden switches or secrets.
In that regard, Crystal Rift is really fun. It’s worth mentioning that the game, while decent on a standard TV, really shines in VR. This is due, in part, to the immersion that VR offers, but also a result of the movement system.
Moving around in a grid pattern is true to the genre’s roots, but it can feel pretty stiff on a standard television screen. What’s worse, is that you can’t pan the camera around to inspect your surroundings.
It still works just fine, but the ability to turn your head and pan a beam of light around as you explore the environments really adds another layer to the experience.
Suddenly traps, spikes, and fireballs became far more menacing when they were coming at you in VR. Similarly, the basic enemy types looked far more menacing when they marched at you in full-sized form.
For people who suffer motion sickness, the default grid-based movement is similar to many other VR games that employ a stuttered movement. In this way, one hand washes the other and the experience is nice and comfortable within the VR headset.
Going back to the gameplay, beyond your exploration and secret-searching, you’ll find yourself in brief bouts of very simple combat. While you do gain some magical powers that add welcome variety to the combat, it’s rhythm and strategy remain largely the same throughout the experience.
This is where some additional RPG mechanics would have been helpful. Perhaps a basic loot system where players could switch out weapons beyond the sword and bow/arrow you get in this game.
This type of depth would have been welcome and would certainly stave off any fatigue from repetition, but as it stands, Crystal Rift’s gameplay loop is very simple and consistent, barring a few changes to the formula throughout.
While there are options to amp up the difficulty like permadeath, the only real difficulty comes from traps and environmental hazards. Enemies are quite easy to defeat, barring a few intense encounters.
The puzzles in the game are well done, but not overly difficult. They typically place you in scenarios where the stakes are high, but I enjoyed the tension they created.
I will say that I love the classic scream that occurs when your character meets their untimely demise. It reminded me of the shriek you heard in the original Doom games, and it most certainly brought a smile to my inner game’s face.
As it stands, Crystal Rift’s gameplay is very basic which is simultaneously a good and bad thing. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly simple and easy VR experience to jump into for anyone who even has a fleeting interest in the genre. On the other hand, it lacks the depth that hardcore gamers would expect from a throwback RPG like this.
It strikes a nice balance, but it’s hard not to imagine what the developer could have done with a little more depth to the RPG mechanics. It’s also worth mentioning that the PC version of the game included a level editor, which this version unfortunately lacks.
It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the game could get this feature added in an update, but as of now it’s not included.
Finally, as was the case with Psytecs last game, Windlands, there are lots of options for comfort in Crystal Rift. This means you have a lot of choices for how you want to modify the game if you're feeling any motion sickness.
I played on the default settings and didn't feel any motion sickness myself, but if you're prone to it. this game will give you the options you need to make it work in your favor.
A Crisp and Clear Blast From The Past
The presentation in Crystal Rift is very simple, and while it won’t wow anyone on a standard TV, it does create an excellent presentation in VR. The basic graphics have a very sharp quality to them, and the clarity of the overall image is excellent when compared to more complex and blurry VR titles.
The head tracking is perfect, and the weapon effects look good, especially the effect fireballs have when flying towards your head. Overall, Crystal Rift nails the nostalgic feeling of classic grid-based dungeon crawlers, even if it doesn’t include a lot of features one would expect from the genre.
The streamlined gameplay can become repetitive, and the story takes a major backseat, but I can’t deny the child-like grin I had on my face when I first tried this game out in VR. While you can play it either way, I would highly recommend the virtual option for the best experience.
In the end, Crystal Rift is a solid foundation for what can be done with a first-person RPG on PlayStation VR. In this case, the streamlined design betrays the natural complexity of the genre in a way that leaves the experience feeling kind of light by role-playing standards.
That being said, if you’re looking for a fun and simple dungeon crawler to try out on PlayStation VR, look no further, especially if you catch it on sale.
Final Score: 7.5/10
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 12/6/16