I can still remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, running away from some pretty nasty ogres. My HP was really low and I was all out of healing items. I make a last stand in a room where I have room to maneuver. I manage to take out the ogres, but my HP is dangerously low. Oh look, a potion? I hadn’t found the healing variety yet, I was relying on food to bring my HP back up. I drink the bottle down and toss it aside. Damn It, I’ve just immolated myself. Well, better luck next time I guess.
This is the sort of thing that happened often in my bedroom in the late 80’s playing PC games like Rogue. The visuals may have been primitive, but to me it was real. I wasn’t seeing an @ symbol as my character, instead it was a stalwart warrior. Dots and dashes didn’t make up the halls of the dungeon, instead I was seeing the stone floor, ensconced torches and treasure chests that made up this dungeon. Fast forward 25 years and I’m having those same kinds of experiences with Brut@l.
What Is It?
At its core Brut@l is an action-oriented RPG with roguelike elements. You’ll choose from four different starting classes, each of which play slightly differently. You earn experience as you make your way through the randomly generated dungeons, slaying monsters and breaking objects and recovering loot. Since the game is a roguelike, you only get one life to make it through the 26 levels. Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Well, it is, but it’s not quite as bad as you might think. Collecting money in the dungeons will allow you to potentially earn yourself another life or two. Altars are also scattered throughout the dungeons where you can make offerings to the gods. The more you offer the better your chances of the Gods’ favoring you with another chance at life.
You can also keep yourself alive by eating food items you find. These will restore some of your HP and your Hunger Meter. There are also health stores that you can strike scattered in the dungeons that will restore some of your health each time you hit them. Though the task of getting down 26 levels in one go may be a daunting one, you have many tools at your disposal to prolong that life for as long as possible. You can also save your game if you have to take a break and come back to it later. Beware though, if you die, you lose your save.
Why Should I Care?
The first and most striking thing that you might notice about Brut@l is the art-style. If ASCII art were to come alive and be given depth, I have a feeling this is what it would look like. Everything is recognizable as a three-dimensional model, but you can see their ASCII origins easily. This alone is enough to get someone’s attention. It doesn’t hurt, though, that there is a truly fun, challenging and satisfying game underneath that style.
Brut@l has several different mechanics at play. Each of them are simple on their own, but when they’re combined together they create a game with a fair bit of depth to it. Many of the mechanics involve collecting items. It’s what you do when romping through a dungeon. That and defending yourself from all the creatures that want to kill you. Collecting ASCII letters in combination with Codex entries will allow you to forge weapons. These weapons can then be enhanced using Enchanted ASCII letters later. You can brew potions by combining ingredients you find in the dungeon and filling empty potion bottles. You won’t know what effect the potion will have until you either drink it yourself or throw it at an enemy. Can you afford a bad status effect or taking damage from drinking that potion, or do you want to risk potentially making an enemy stronger by throwing it? These are questions you’ll have to answer on your own. There’s no right answer, you’ll just have to go with what feels appropriate.
You’ll uncover pieces of armor you can wear to help protect yourself. Keep in mind that these pieces will break as they take damage, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for more as you progress. You won’t have to manage these, just pick them up and wear them. If you’re more of a ranged-weapons type person, you’ve also got the option of using a bow or a magical wand. One thing to keep in mind your ammo is limited, so make those shots count. You can’t afford to spray and pray here, find a good spot to shoot from and whittle away at the monsters’ health. If you prefer to be in close, there is an entire arsenal of fantasy weaponry to craft and wield.
Combat in the game is very smooth. The controls are responsive and easy to get a handle on. Dodging might be a little tricky to get your brain around if you’ve played a lot of action games that use right-stick dodging, but it’s not something that will hold you back for long. You can also reflect attacks back at your enemies by timing your block just right. This is a tricky mechanic to get a handle on, but you might want to practice it against some arrows, as reflecting those back will greatly increase your longevity in the dungeon.
Once you get the hang of the controls, it won’t be much longer before you’re striking, dodging, reflecting attacks, and making a complete annoyance of yourself in the eyes of the monsters. Give it about an hour and a half to acclimate to them, it’s worth the few initial fumbling deaths.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Brut@l puts all of its elements together extremely well. Its combination of looks and smooth controls make it an experience that you just don’t see every day. That’s the wonderful thing about the industry right now. It may have its share of problems with large publishers trying to milk you for every dime they can. It may have a slew of independent developers that release unpolished, buggy, loads of drivel. And yet there are studios out there like Stormcloud that are making the sorts of games they want to play themselves. Games that take a concept, hone it to near perfection and deliver a game that not only looks good, but feels special.
Brut@l’s concept may not be unique, but its execution is. It identifies a niche and strives to serve that niche to the best of its ability. It’s is a game that knows exactly what it is, and is better for it.