Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Crimsonland (PS4)

Crimsonland, at the core is a minimalist's top-down twin stick shooter that incorporates creature carnage on a massive scale. The indie style shmup, which was developed by 10tons takes the simplistic controls of twin stick shooters, throws in hordes of relentless enemies in varying types, and gives the player just enough weapons, and power-ups to overcome the insurmountable odds before them. Within the game you'll find two main modes of play including, "Quests", and "Survival" in which you can test your skills, or your patience as a shoot 'em up master. By playing through all six chapters of "Quest" mode you will unlock perks, and weapons of different varieties which can then be used in the "Survival" modes that are to follow. PSN trophies are also obtainable during your main playthrough should you meet the set requirements to unlock them. As important as the quest completion is though you will find that Crimsonland's true value ultimately lies locked away in the various "Survival" modes that are unlocked through an initial 'Quest' mode playthrough.

In Crimsonland's 'Quest' mode you will begin your journey as a no named soldier who is facing waves of zombies, lizard men, aliens, giant spiders, and giant bugs. The battles that follow take place on a variety of different apocalyptic terrains, and are each void of human life except for that of the main character's existence. In the way of plot nothing is ever really explained about the main man's situation, or how he got into the predicament that he is in. All you need to know is that you have to rid the virtual world that he walks in of the many creatures that now call it home. At your disposal you'll find that you can use only one gun at a time in the escalating conflicts, but can pick up different weapons if so desired. Aside from the standard firepower which comes in the form of handguns, SMGs, assault rifles, rocket launchers,and other bloodletting weapons you will also find assist power-ups (nukes, bullet enhancements, enemy freeze ...) that will also aid you in clearing the crowded battlefields of creatures. After choosing your difficulty (Normal, Hardcore, ???), and choosing which chapter of the quest you want to take on you will appear on the screen in the middle of a desolate terrain. Slowly at first smaller creatures will begin to appear around you, and close in as more and more begin to amass about the abandoned locale. The deeper you get into 'Quest' the more difficult the creatures, and collective situations will become.

Your goal, or aim in 'Crimsonland' is to ultimately kill off all of the enemies using obtained weapons, and assist power-ups that appear in the stead of deceased creatures. One thing to note is that not all creature types are created equal in 'Crimsonland', and that often times the difference in creature difficulty lies with a mere color palette swap, or a size increase. Some creature types will even multiply/divide when hit, shoot bullet hell spray, or spawn lesser creatures from their own being. You'll know you've completed one of the ten waves of each chapter when the progress bar at the top of the screen fills completely with blue, and a clear wave of energy blasts outward from where you stand. This end game occurrence of course coincides with the complete demise of every living creature on the virtual battlefield.

As you play through each of the six chapters, and complete all ten waves of enemies within each you will be graded on your overall performance. Things like the time it took to complete the wave, your accuracy, steps taken, and even kpm (kills per minute) will be tallied up. Supposing you get a flawless clearing during a wave playthrough "Without a Scratch" will appear on the final stats pop-up window along with two stars. While it's never really explained in-game you will find that the main character's health meter (yes he can die) is actually the circular blue ring that surrounds him. When it is completely hollowed out through creature, or bullet hell damage a message will pop up saying that the reaper has found you, thus ending your current playthrough of said wave. Fret not though, because continues are not limited in this game, and deaths never really go against anything significant except for your main menu statistics which only take in account your local 'Quest',and 'Survival' mode playthrough stats. Should you be interested in rebounding from a near-death experience during a wave playthrough you'll find comfort in knowing that one of the many obtainable assist power-ups is actually a health refill. Health refills, like other assist power-ups will randomly appear after a creature is killed, and more often than not appear as you need them.

As I mentioned previously in this review playing through Crimsonland's 'Quest' will eventually unlock 'Survival', and all the other survival mode gameplay options that go along with it. The core survival mode, which is the first follow-up mode that you'll unlock will pit you, and all of your obtained perks, and weapons against a never ending source of creatures, and creature spawn points/nests. Along with the plentiful creatures, and associated scoring opportunities also comes global leaderboard score ranking for all you high score hounds out their. This in turn increases the replay value, somewhat.

One detail that I forgot to mention earlier on is how perks, and obtained weapons come into play during survival. By finishing off each wave of enemies in the six 'Quest' chapters you will unlock either a weapon, or a perk that can be used to your advantage within the 'Survival' modes. Obtainable weapons come in a select variety that range from smaller style handguns, and SMGs to larger weapons like assault rifles, and rocket launchers amongst other things. Along with the different types of weapons comes enhanced versions of each. Some weapons will have a spray shot, some will be homing oriented, and others will feature a powerful single, or continuous shot. Each weapon also carries with it stats that coincide with the weight, reload speed, damage output, and magazine size. It's definitely best to pick up guns that will help you in the current situation that you are in, and not ones that will cost you a win.

Aside from the standard 'Survival' mode you will find four other survival mode types that each have their own rules. Rush, for example will have you trying to survive, and score for as long as you can while an alien army quickly closes in on you. Unlike standard survival you will only have the use of an unlimited assault rifle, but will have to work your way around the screen strategically in order to not get overtaken by the crowds of alien creatures. Another survival mode called, "Weapon Picker' will have you constantly picking up single clip weapon power-ups as you try to avoid the creature hordes, and score as many kill points as possible. Next up is, 'Nukefism'. As odd as it may sound that title is relative to what goes on within the mode of play. Instead of weapons, and a variety of power-ups you can only do damage with nuke power-ups that pop up randomly across the battlefield. If you wish to stay alive for the long haul, and score big you will need to keep your distance from the incoming horde of creatures, and make sure you always have a path for escape. Last, but not least the 'Blitz' survival mode will have you trying to survive in a similar fashion as the core survival, but in a more quick paced fashion. All of the obtained perks, power-ups, and weapons will be available to you during your high score attempts.

When it comes to survival mode in general the mode types which allow perks will give you the option to choose from a few of them when you reach a certain level, or score a certain amount  of points during your playthrough. There are a total of 55 perks in the game, all of which are unlockable through a 'Normal' 'Quest' playthrough.. They include things such as XP, bullet enhancement, reload speed enhancement, and a wide variety of other options that will ultimately change how you go about things on the battlefield. It should also be noted that you will find score multiplier power-ups, and point power-ups that are exclusive to the 'Survival' modes. Before you begin a survival mode playthrough of any type you can view the current global leaderboard standings in the pop-up box that follows a survival mode selection, and see where you rank amongst other players of the world. The same thing can also be done after being taken back to the pop-up box when you finally die off.

While 'Quest' will offer the player a wide variety of different challenging scenarios, and will allow you to unlock everything associated with the game you will find that the most fun to be had lies with the standard 'Survival', and 'Blitz' survival modes. If you are a co-op kind of guy, or gal you can also experience 'Crimsonland' with a friend should you feel the need. As far as I know co-op only comes in the form of a local option, meaning that online co-op likely isn't available for players looking for an online partnership.

Conclusion ...

Crimsonland is more, or less an overly high priced indie gaming experience that pales in comparison to some of the XBLIG indies that were designed with a similar theme for a much cheaper price.  I hate to say it, but that is my honest opinion. The graphic output in the game is nothing fancy in comparison to those last-gen gems, and the gameplay that it contains is honestly not all that great for a number of reasons as well. Normally when I think of a shmup (shoot 'em up) I think of a bullet hell style game that requires actual skill to complete, and score in. With the way Crimsonland was designed skill is not even remotely part of the core experience. Some of the design features that were implemented swap skill oriented gameplay for a game of chance that is not unlike playing a hand of poker.

You will find that one of the said design flaws lies with the main character's movement speed, and that the other lies with the way power-ups show up. As far as movement speed is concerned you'll find that the main character moves as if he's dragging two broken legs along. This lack of speed, which could have been remedied with a stamina bar, and run button function leaves the main character open to an unfair death a good percentage of the time. Most creatures in the game move significantly quicker than the main character, and even though you can obtain speed power-ups they are so few, and far between that you often times suffer unfair damage, and are often times unable to escape an untimely death in the more difficult waves.

As far as the power-up application goes it's the one flawed part of the game that makes a playthrough of 'Quest' mode feel like 'Russian Roulette'. If you fail to get the appropriate weapon early on you will more than likely succumb to an unfair, and inescapable death as a result. On the flip side, if luck happens to be on your side, and you get the right weapon for the current situation then you can breeze through the wave as if it were nothing. Hence the "Russian Roulette", and "Poker" references. The added fact that power-ups don't come often unless you are making significant creature kills sets you up for failure indefinitely, especially if you don't have the right weapon in hand.

Lastly, the final complaint that I have lies with the creature spawning system. In some waves creatures will simply materialize/appear right underneath you causing inescapable damage. Other times creatures will come from offscreen complicating things even further. In the final wave of the sixth chapter of 'Quest' mode, when the sh*t really hits the fan you will be hard pressed to win on your first try due to the poorly crafted power-up feature, and the fact that the level's design is overkill to the worst degree. In fact the last wave of 'Quest' mode is also one of my main complaints. Having bullet hell creatures, spawning zombies, hard to kill beetles, and spiders that multiply when shot makes for an unfair setup that points to a poor level design choice. Had the developer gone with a huge last boss it would have been a much better approach then the one that they took.

In the end I honestly cannot recommend this game at the $13.99 asking price. Even the $7.19 PS+ discount price is a bit iffy for me. The only good thing this game has going for it is two noteworthy survival modes (Survival & Blitz), and global leaderboards. Let's not forget the PSN trophies as well. Other than that the experience is not all that great. As bad as I hate to say it I've seen similar $1 XBLIG games that were designed better than this. It's just the way it is.

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