Crimsonland

Outside the typical RTS genre in videogames, we don’t see a lot of top-down action these days. Back in the SNES era, my earliest memory of a shooter with an eagle-eye perspective were those missions in Contra 3 that let you spin around and cover the screen with bullets by dual-wielding various types of guns. Crimsonland puts you in this same perspective while dozens and, very often hundreds of enemies bum-rush you.

Unlike the aforementioned series, you don’t die in one hit although sometimes you might as well. Being placed in a flat square you can only traverse at a snail's pace (in comparison to enemy’s relative movement speed) until you get power ups, the player will usually find themselves in frustrating situations where outrunning (or merely wiping) an incoming horde is next to impossible. This happens because of several factors, not just your abysmal starting speed. We have to consider the fact that you start out most of your missions with only a staple (and largely useless) pistol, and your choice of weapons entirely depends on the random number generator wanting to give you a rocket launcher or (why not?) another pistol you cannot use each time you defeat an enemy. Enemies are merciless and homogenous in behavior; they’re coded to pursue and touch you to drain your health, forcing you to adapt to the age-old strategy of running around in circles until either you get bored and die or they die first.

Strategy is non-existent, as the varying levels of urgency, like wanting to take out big enemies out first or swarming enemies first, do not play a significant factor. The enemies all share one common trait: Seek and touch. There is some variation with certain projectile users but even those types are scarce. That highly invariable design plus a glaring lack of invincibility frames after being hit makes hard hitting enemies as threatening as the smallest bunch of creeps, since you are unable to tank for more than one second before enemies start pushing you around, the combined might of their meager damage killing you before you’ve had a chance to fire a bullet. As a result, a sheer amount of frustrating moments occur due to the player’s horrible speed and a mob’s effortless ability to gank.

Another complaint I had was with the enemy spawns. In a game where every non-power up object you touch wounds you, you’d think the developers would make a condition for spawns to be unable to occur in the same space the player character occupies. But no, gone are the moments of feeling the achievement of outrunning a horde in order to conserve that sliver of health you have left before enemies "poof" into existence right over you and ending the game.

I mentioned the homogenous design of enemies earlier, and it really is a pity. As a trooper, we’re sent to fight our foes in several different worlds and areas overrun by a variety of monsters, such as aliens, lizard men, zombies, giant spiders and bugs, often with several factions invading the same place at once. The critical part is that each faction behaves like the last, with only certain variations added to their groups, but they’re all, ultimately, the same kind of enemy. They all bum rush you, with the rare unit shooting projectiles, or doing something as extravagant as splitting into two more when dying (only to, you guessed it, bum rush you) or exploding on death. A lot more thought could’ve gone into these factions, rather than justify a different class with different looks. Their highlight however is that their animations are fluid and they’re a reminiscent of a Zerg Rush setting from the old days of StarCraft.

Speaking of rushes, one of the other things Crimsonland does well is immediately send you to battle and get yourself moving. The enemies keep pouring in as fast as you continue to make them explode into gory bits, and the power up and weapon pickups you find only make it easier to keep increasing the frags. Devoid of invincibility frames upon being hit, it is sometimes better to ignore a power up in favor of not jumping in the middle of a horde, so depending on your weapon of choice (splash damage weapons are great at clearing paths for example) your plans of action require corrections on the go. Being stuck in a giant flat surface with no other job than to run around and shoot, the craziness periodically rises as the enemy horde grows into uncountable numbers, several factions stacking one atop the other, all trying to give you a hug. Despite the frustration of horrible enemy spawn timings (that you cannot predict other than through sheer memory), the rush you’re in helps to keep your attention in the game. Repetitive, yes, but if a game can keep my attention right until the moment my avatar perishes, then I say it’s doing it right.

The game is divided into two main modes, both with up to four player local co-op available. The 60-mission Quest mode is divided into six 10-stage chapters, with each new stage introducing a new weapon or unlocking a perk for the other game mode. Beating the game once unlocks higher difficulties, but the game is largely the same, and too repetitive to play 120 more times after the initial one third. Instead, I found the fast-paced Survival mode a much more agreeable setting if you want to burn some time and have fun. Survival mode is at the same time subdivided in different categories of gameplay that you unlock in the Quest mode, and lets you play with certain conditions such as only being able to pick up power ups in order to kill enemies or to have one clip per weapon but have weapon pickups periodically pop up around the battlefield. This is complemented by the experience system (Which I’ve no idea why it is not in Quest mode) that makes use of the list of perks you’ve unlocked in the aforementioned Quest stages to reward you with extra abilities that can radically change the way you play the game (Again, why was this not implemented, at least to a lesser extent, in the Quest mode?!) awarded to you as you accumulate and reach point thresholds. So yes, while the Quest mode is a dull and repetitive and highly unimaginative experience of repetition, the different Survival modes can be a blast by allowing the player access to everything the game has to offer.

Is it great to play solo? Perhaps the first 60 missions. I can attest to having fun despite the problems I noted, but it is definitely better to play with your friends afterwards, especially in Survival. BLAST ‘EM TO BITS!