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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: Crypt of the Serpent King (Sony PlayStation 4)


Review by Matt S. 

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.


Look. I'm the first person to encourage small indies to live the dream, break away from the big publishers, and do their own thing. I feel relatively secure, even, in saying that DDNet is one of the most welcoming major gaming sites out there to really give indies every chance of getting a 5/5 rating for doing something that truly impresses us and gives us something different, emotional, and heartfelt to play.

But then there are indie games made by untalented hacks that, as harsh as it sounds, should never be allowed to make games. The proliferation of engines such as Unity (which Crypt of the Serpent King is built in) has allowed developers with little to no talent, nor any basic respect for the professionalism of game development, to build commercial projects, and in their desperation to compete with the content on Steam, console manufacturers such as Sony actively court and encourage developers like this to stick their... work... onto their platforms too.


It's an insult. It's not so much the price, because at $Aus5, I'm quite happy to play an otherwise bad game as long as there's something in there that displays some kind of unique idea to give me something different to look at. Crypt of the Serpent King has none of that. Crypt of the Serpent King's only redeeming feature is that it hasn't crashed and corrupted my PlayStation 4 hard drive yet. But I may have just got lucky there - I wouldn't put that level of shoddiness past it either.

In theory this is a roguelike dungeon crawler. On a very technical minimum it gets there; levels are randomly generated, and it is indeed a dungeon crawler. But it also fails to understand anything about what makes games in these genres worth playing, and since the developers were too Mikudamn lazy to put effort into this game, I'm going to be an equally lazy writer and bullet point all the game's problems.

1) There's one enemy type per level. That's right. One. And, worse, each of those enemies have two attack animations (which are exactly the same but for some visual differences), and every single enemy can be dealt with in the same way. Wait for the enemy to start an attack animation, back away out of reach, and then dart forward and hit the enemy with your weapon. I repeat: every single enemy can be defeated in this way. Including the bosses, who have slightly more health, but are otherwise the exact same deal.


This combat system is a bit like the old King's Field games, and that's a good thing, because those led to Dark Souls and Demon's Souls. But in this game that approach to combat is so shoddily implemented, and so lacking in depth, enemy attack pattern variety, and challenge, that the greatest threat to your character's health is that you get so incredibly bored that you stop paying attention.

2) Levels might be randomly generated, but they're boring as hell in execution. All you need to do in each level is wander around collecting keys, killing enemies, and opening treasure chests. Once you've got all the keys, it's time to go find the gate to the boss battle. Beat that boss and it's on to the next level. I'm sick of developers using "random dungeons" as an excuse for not producing interesting dungeons as it is, but Crypt of the Serpent King doesn't even do enough to make the random elements in dungeons feel randomised. Not once when I was playing did I enter a dungeon and be surprised by its layout.

3) There's no narrative whatsoever. Random dungeon design means that there's no environmental storytelling, the enemies are that bland and generic that they don't tell a story in their existence, and even when I tried to get creative and invent a story for them in my head, the context in which you fight them makes that impossible. Why are there goblins in a sewer? And for that matter, why am I in a sewer when seconds before previously I was in what I think was meant to be a mine? These are questions that even the most halfway competent RPG will not leave a player with.


4) The environments mean nothing. With almost no environmental traps (aside from one, see below), there's nothing to actually distinguish the aforementioned "mine" from the sewer. In addition to there being no environmental hazards, there are no interactive objects unique to the game's environments. The sewers have pipes pumping out sickly green smoke, but those pipes don't inflict you with poison (though they absolutely should have). The "mine" has barrels, which would have been perfect for hiding loot in, but you can't destroy them. Everything about the dungeon environments are completely superficial and artificial. And so perfectly boring as a result.

5) The keys are guarded by the most aggravating traps I've ever come across in a dungeon crawler, because getting around those traps often involves using a useless jump button. Often the keys are surrounded by an instant-death pit (or pool of lava) that you need to jump over. But because the physics of that jump are so utterly broken, no matter how much you play, you will sometimes slightly misjudge the jump and that will send you to an instant death (and when that happens you'll need to replay the level from the start). I never once died to the enemies, even on the highest difficulty setting. I died dozens of times to that leap of faith.

I could go on, but if after those five points and the video above, this game still looks of interest to you, then I clearly can't help you. You're clearly going to buy the game, and then rip me a new one in the comments because I dared to dislike a game that you enjoyed. Yes, you wouldn't be the first. But this game does offend and irritate me. Not because I lost money on a terrible game. It was $5. The money's irrelevant. I'm annoyed because I spent time playing this. Time I'll never get back, and time I was willing to invest because, as a fan of the dungeon crawler and roguelike, I expect developers who work in those genres to respect them. There is no respect from the developer in this game. Not for the genres, nor for the time that the game asks of its players. There is no greater insult that an artist can direct at their audience.

ZERO/5


- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld


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Review: Crypt of the Serpent King (Sony PlayStation 4)
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