- Reviewed by Manny Nolasco
In a world where game design is starting to re-establish the balance between gameplay and presentation, Brut@l is a clear example of reaching both ends of the spectrum in the form of simplicity. If you're looking for a hack-n-slash, rpg leveling, and dungeon exploring driven experience, Brutal is neatly put together with a "pick-up-and-play" attitude in mind. Newcomers and veterans alike to this genre will all find something both familiar, and refreshingly new when playing this game. Uniqueness, presentation, and sound design, are the three pillars that support this title's ability to stand out from the competition.
Brutal starts out with a basic character selection menu and then immediately throws you into dimly lit dungeon with only your two fists and abilities to defend yourself. At first, the black and white isometric design of both the levels and characters takes a little getting used to. As far as presentation goes, Brutal emphasizes the concept of "less is more", while uniquely trademarking itself with the ASCII (@) symbol with the combination of other familiar keyboard characters. In more ways than one, this approach to simplify presentation puts the focus on gameplay and less on its backstory. Ultimately, this leads to a positive experience, as the player is instantly motivated to finish the level completely and as quickly as possible.
The gameplay of Brutal is a hallmark in itself by demonstrating that once again, simplicity is key. Progression throughout the dungeon relies solely on the player's ability to find specific hidden keys to unlock special doors. They can be found in numerous places from treasure chests, within storage containers, to even fallen enemies. As the player progresses throughout the level, they will encounter hidden weapons, new gear, and shrines to provide offerings to the gods in hopes of favor towards their character.
Brutal's greatest trait can be attributed to the quality of its sound design. I highly recommend that players wear headphones to have a fully immersive experience. One could argue that dungeon crawling is defined by the feeling of isolation and being lost, and Brutal's sound design is a capstone embodying this achievement. From the repetitive footsteps of your character, to the eerie screeching of whatever abomination or pitfall that lies in wait for you in the next room, Brutal never falls short on providing unexpected encounters in both level design and enemy combatants.
In conclusion, Brut@l is a fun experience and has much to offer to those who take the time to invest in it; however, this is not to say that it is without some minor technical difficulties as well. During several playthroughs, I did encounter frame rate issues during the slower exploration parts of the game (oddly, not during the action sequences). I also thought that enemies were difficult to spot at times, like when rats would latch onto your character and slowly drain your health without knowing. But these observations are nearly subjective and may vary depending on the player's hardware and individual experience. I enjoyed how Brutal reminisces itself to a time of simplicity in gaming, while still providing a unique spin on the familiar genre of dungeon crawling. Lastly, I strongly recommend that players play this game with each character class, as the starting level and gameplay changes significantly based on your choice.