Posted by Kell Andersen
Don't fear the reaper
Twin-stick shooters are like Hollywood action films. They’re violent, bold, and, while there’s plenty going around, very few are actually any good. Crimsonland is the latest entry in the once popular genre, and does very little to differentiate itself from the competition. But does this adherence to tried and tested tropes make the title a brilliant cinematic masterpiece – or is it just another dull Michael Bay snooze-fest?
10tons’ latest is a twin-stick shooter set in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world. You’ll wander about barren arenas, sometimes with friends in tow, violently pointing your gun at preposterously large packs of enemies. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of adversaries, with numerous different breeds of bugs, zombies, and aliens all making up the monstrous menagerie that must be mowed down. What’s more, the sheer number of foes that swarm the screen can be quite staggering.
The shooting itself feels fluid and satisfying. Indeed, there’s something undeniably cathartic about the slight kickback that you feel as a handful of bullets hurriedly hurtle towards an aggressively ugly alien. In terms of firepower, the title features a gun cabinet that would make action heroes such as Sly Stallone smile. There's over fifty in total, ranging from basic assault rifles to unwieldy and experimental cannons. Each of them feels unique, and it can be quite satisfying to learn and adapt your play-style to these individual traits.
Power ups and one-use items also randomly generate around the map, and can often turn the tide of battle. There’s nothing exceptionally brilliant about the design of any of these aids, with the only real standout being one that turns all of your foes into blocks of ice.
In terms of presentation, the levels themselves are all basically the same, with only minor palette swaps to distinguish them from each other. There’s the green one, and then there’s the brown one, and then there’s this other one that’s a slightly different shade of brown. Similarly, there isn’t anything particularly interesting going on musically. Lots of guitar. Lots of percussion. Not much else.
The game features two major modes, the most noteworthy of which is survival mode. Unsurprisingly, this sees you fighting off endless waves of increasingly deadly beasts, earning experience to level up, and then claiming perks. The upgrades range from simple damage augmentations to much more interesting and bizarre improvements.
One gives you only thirty seconds to live, but awards double points during this time. Another increases your attack power dramatically when you’re standing still. Once you reach an experience threshold, you’ll be allowed to pick from a random selection of three of these perks. This unplanned element means that you’ll rarely feel like you’re facing the same threat more than once.
What’s more, the title features several unlockable variations on this basic mode. One sees you attempting to take down the horrific horde with naught but an automatically reloading assault rifle. Another has you defending yourself purely with the random power ups that spawn around the map. All of these variants make for quick and fun distractions from the main game.
The other major mode presents you with a series of sixty quests to complete. They come in six lots of ten, with each set closing out with a boss fight of some description. The content of the levels themselves can be a touch uninspired, often amounting to little more than slight variations on the same enemy patterns. Unfortunately, the aforementioned perks are not available in this mode, which means that you’re completely at the whim of the game’s random weapon drops. Indeed, it can be quite frustrating to start a level, only to have your first gun be completely incompatible with the task at hand.
And therein lies the most crucial difference between the quest and survival modes: the former forces you to deal with ever-changing, but incredibly specific situations, while the latter always presents the same broad situation, but allows you to use the random perks to control and adapt to your surroundings. Put simply, it would have been nice to have been able to use the perks in the quest mode. As it stands, it’s an agreeable addition that gives the title some structure, but feels undercooked at the best of times, and downright unfair at the worst.
Crimsonland is exactly one video game: a perfectly competent twin-stick shooter, and nothing else. Unfortunately, the title’s quests feel a bit half-baked, and the whole thing could do with a facelift. However, with an addictive survival mode, a proliferation of interesting perks, and a host of guns to collect, those in the market for some mindless action are likely to find a lot to like here.