Crystal Rift is a first-person, grid-based, retro dungeon-crawler RPG — though, describing it as an RPG may be a little misleading as it simply has none of the nuance or depth of a typical modern RPG experience. Instead, it is a simplistic take on the old-school Wizardry-esque dungeon-crawler RPGs of yore, with one foot stuck firmly in the past and one foot stuck somewhere in a cold, dank grave.
I’m a fan of both dungeon-crawlers and tile-based movement when implemented in an astute, thoughtful way. I’m very fond of titles like Demon Gaze, The Legend Of Grimrock and The Quest, which are all dungeon-crawlers that use tile-based movement and create interesting worlds to explore. Unfortunately, Crystal Rift drops the ball on the latter point; the world Psytec Games has crafted here is sadly far from an interesting one to explore. It’s not all completely awful, and I must admit that the English developer does have its heart in the right place.
You see, Crystal Rift supports PS VR, which is undisputedly a nice unique selling point. When I first donned a PS VR unit a few months ago, I do recall hankering for a first-person dungeon-crawler to explore in 3D VR. Though my wish has come true here, it hasn’t really come true as there are a multitude of design philosophies that don’t quite gel together here. Crystal Rift maybe a VR-enabled first-person dungeon-crawler, it’s just a painfully dull one. Before I delve into the reasons as to why I found the game to be a bromidic slog, I’ll elaborate on some of the elements of the game that I did admire.
Crystal Rift is fairly charming in an inoffensive, no-frills kind of way, particularly for players like me who are a fan of the genre. It can occasionally be fairly atmospheric and its streamlined simplicity makes it easy to pick up and play. However, apart from that, there are very few high-points to be found here. Have I told you that this game can be played in VR? Ahh ok, moving swiftly on, then.
The game’s narrative is undeniably threadbare, with only a smattering of cryptic written notes and collectibles to help flesh out the vague story. You begin your adventure deep within the confines of an elaborate maze-like dungeon with the task of escaping. Skeletal undead and bizarre gelatinous monsters patrol the corridors in their bid to put paid to your adventures.
Combat is real-time, but amusingly basic. There is little strategy to tackling the beasts that stand in your way. Just take a step back when enemies telegraph their swing for an attack, then move forward and take a few swipes with your sword. Rinse and repeat and the job’s a good ’un. Oh, apart from the enemies that are needlessly indestructible. Yeah, that old chestnut.
Furthermore, Enemy AI is dim-witted and easy to manipulate and exploit. If you like strategic combat, it’s best to look elsewhere as Crystal Rift has little to offer in this regard. Map design is unimaginative and pretty awful, too. Puzzles are mostly rudimentary key-fetching and lever-throwing missions and I lost count of the number of pointless dead-ends I ran into.
Controls are fine and pretty easy to pick up. You move one tile at a time with the ability to sidestep from left to right. One cautionary thing to note is that it’s one of the few VR games I’ve tried that has made me feel a little nauseous. It’s hard to put my finger on as to why this is the case, but I think it’s due to the jarring movement of moving one space at a time. The game also shockingly lacks Move support, which would have really benefited the borked real-time combat.
To add insult to injury, Crystal Rift is bereft of any meaningful depth. You don’t gain any XP, level up your character or pick up any new quests or perks. You do procure new swords that can each deliver new attacks or cast new spells, but these are few and far between and the new abilities they offer aren’t very engaging in the slightest. It’s often an all too shallow experience to really engage the player.
Visually, Crystal Rift makes a decent first impression. At times, it can look occasionally serviceable, with an old-school low-polygon, no-frills aesthetic. As the game plods on, however, the environments begin to feel relentlessly dull and uninspired. It doesn’t look terrible and it isn’t broken in any discernible way, it simply becomes stale walking down the same drab corridor for hours at a time.
Paradoxically, there is some amusement to be eked from it in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. It’s sporadically atmospheric, particularly in VR, however, the experience is too often submerged in layer upon layer of uninspired, unimaginative design choices that ultimately fatally wounds any momentum the game manages to pick up. If it had a more refined combat system, a little more RPG depth and a few more intelligently designed enemy encounters, Psytec Games could have been onto something with Crystal Rift. Sadly, what we instead have, is a bromidic slog through uninspired puzzles and dungeons, which is best left to only the most ardent and patient of dungeon-crawler or VR enthusiasts. I’m also pretty sure it’d be handy for insomniacs — it’s better than counting sheep!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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