My first draft of this review started with the line “polishing faecal matter and then applying glitter was designed for instances such as this” when referring to Crypt of the Serpent King. But after a bit more time with this game I would like to formally apologise and take that statement back. This game is by no means a diamond in the rough, but it is a better experience than having to watch paint dry. Shorter as well.
Crypt of the Serpent King started out life back on the Xbox 360 as one of the Xbox Live Indie Games, so naturally will have passed a lot of people by. It is back now on the Xbox One with updated graphics, textures and importantly, achievements. It is still lacking a story though.
You play as an adventurer who must escape the Crypt of the Serpent King. We assume. That’s because the only piece of lore in the entire game that gives any story away is that of the title. The game starts and the character is already in the crypt – it is in first person also so we are not made aware the gender or even species of the character – and the game does just literally fade to black after defeating the final boss. We have come to expect so much more from games nowadays, even indie ones, so this glaring omission of story doesn’t necessarily give the player the throwback to dungeon crawlers of yore, more it just feels a bit lazy.
What makes this worse is that the soundtrack in later levels is actually quite good at building tension and making the whole experience a bit creepier than the same bland corridors and map layouts would otherwise suggest. The music will regularly have crescendo moments that would typically accompany a jump scare or particularly tense moment, but the actual gameplay is very repetitive and does not include any of those ‘Surprise!’ moments. The one piece of music that will get most on your nerves though is the one you will hear most often; that being the one whenever an enemy spots you and charges at you. It doesn’t gee you up like other battle themes, but it does encourage you to defeat the enemy quicker to avoid listening to it longer than you need to.
The gameplay itself tasks you with traversing through seven levels, with each requiring you to collect a set amount of keys. Along the way will be treasure chests containing gold, health or additional arrows for your ranged weapons – when you have unlocked them. Throughout wandering through the randomly generated dungeons you will encounter enemies. But only one type per level, so it becomes extremely easy to know what to do when you have defeated a couple of them and figured out their attack patterns. In fact, the biggest difficulty comes from making the jump to reach the key pedestals as they are usually surrounded by lava, or other traps, causing instant death.
Combat is as basic as it comes also. Enemies will rush forward and attack as soon as they are in range. A simple step back or to the side avoids all attacks, and allows you to rush back in and counter by pulling on the right trigger. There is no option to block attacks so it simply becomes a case of dodging and then attacking. It’s as simple as that.
Another major issue with the character models, and the weapon models your character wields, is that they appear to be made out of leather – everything has a dull finish to it that reflects little to no light from the sconces on the walls of the dungeons. There are shadow effects from the wall fixtures, but if anything it highlights the bland graphics even more. I wasn’t expecting volumetric god ray levels of lighting, but when the sword I wield does not even look remotely silver, then there is an issue. I know that it does not look silver, as it also covers a large portion of the screen and it can sometimes make what is in front of you difficult to see. Couple this with some of the blandest corridors you will see and that freshly painted wall starts to look more and more appealing.
But it’s not all bad. As mentioned before the music certainly ramps up the tension, so you do start to feel something could happen. If timed correctly, with an enemy directly round a corner, it will make you jump, but for this to happen would be pure luck and it did not happen to me.
For the achievement hunters out there, Crypt of the Serpent King can give your Gamerscore a big boost in relatively short time. Each playthrough should take no longer than two hours, and only three are required on each of the difficulties (easy, medium and hard), to earn all 21 achievements. This increase in difficulty is noticeable, but not in the enemies themselves, rather what the chests contain, or rather don’t, in higher difficulties.
This review may seem like a bit of a spanking, but despite all the above, the game is not as bad as I have made out. Sure, a bit of quality control would have been welcome, but it’s clear where its inspiration came from and if you are a fan of early 90’s hack and slash dungeon crawlers, then you will likely see some enjoyment from this. It is very basic and should last no longer than a few nights to complete, but with a price as low as this it is difficult to expect anymore.
Protip: Turn off the lights, light a few candles and leave a tap dripping in the background for the immersive Crypt of the Serpent King experience.