The Keep Review

When it first appeared on the 3DS, The Keep nicely filled a specific niche. There were few old-school dungeon crawlers on the platform, and The Keep felt perfectly scaled to the handheld device, with gestural combat and spell casting well suited for the touchscreen. Writ large on the PC, though, The Keep fares a little less successfully. The PC marketplace is saturated with both lavish triple-A dungeon crawlers and smaller, retro-style Legend of Grimrock-esque games. In this very big pond, The Keep offers little to distinguish itself.

Like The Legend of Grimrock, The Keep traffics in nostalgia and reminds the player of an earlier age of adventure games, when character customization, movement, and graphics were constrained by the limits of technology. Although The Keep's visuals are sharp on the PC and contain a few welcome flashes of color and effect, by and large the game's environments and textures are simple, bland, and overly familiar, even to players of retro or old-school dungeon crawlers. Similarly, The Keep's tired "Stop the Evil Wizard" story and lack of a memorable or sympathetic protagonist fail to generate much excitement, despite a few surprising twists and generally competent voice acting. 

In its default setting, the game's UI is huge but a patch recently made it scalable, and it's clear that the developers will continue to refine and tweak the game's controls and make improvements. At it's core, though, The Keep was a game designed to be controlled by stylus and a touch screen. Casting spells and swinging a sword are accomplished by drawing a relatively precise pattern on a 3x3 grid; easy enough with a stylus on a small screen, much less so with a mouse. Movement through the environment is not free but as in older games, controlled via the arrow keys and feels unnecessarily cumbersome and even a bit motion-sickness inducing.

The Keep is filled with environmental puzzles, some of which are frustrating to solve due to the game's dim lighting or repetitive maps. Although not explained well, the game's magic system -- based on collecting runes and scrolls and combining them in interesting ways -- brings a little variety to the game's combat, which is frequently challenging. It's very easy to die in The Keep and careful resource management and planning are important to success. For the truly masochistic, the game offers a rogue-like permadeath mode.

The biggest issue with The Keep is that as a PC title, it offers nothing to really distinguish itself from the legion of other dungeon crawlers, both retro-style and contemporary. Conceptually a game for a small-scale platform, on PC its limitations become amplified and its quirks become impediments to enjoyment. The Keep is not a bad game - especially on the 3DS - but doesn't feel like an essential experience to either fans of old-school dungeon crawlers or gamers who have grown tired of empty-headed, big-budget titles that are all sizzle and no steak.