Crimsonland is the epitome of a guilty pleasure. It's obscenely bloody, ridiculously relentless, and of course, it doesn't have a brain in its violence-addled head. A top-down shooter that originally released over a decade ago on the PC, developer 10ton has brought this maniacal bullet frenzy to Sony's new PlayStation 4. Unfortunately, although the action is enough to make a devilish grin appear on your face, it's little more than a mindless distraction. It's fun, but it's just a little too bare-bones for this day and age and while your pulse will rise, you'll likely emerge unimpressed.
As you might expect, the graphics aren't exactly a highlight. Despite the upgraded visual presentation, the old-fashioned artistry and design can't be ignored. You'll see a lot of the same enemies over and over, and although the blood-spatter effects are pretty sick, they don't match modern standards. There's just too much repetition in the visual construction, as each stage doesn't look much different than the last. Enemy design and animations are also outdated, so you're left with an underwhelming visual display, even though the constant red-soaked battlefield remains a draw.
Speaking of repetition, the audio suffers from the same problem. At first, the driving soundtrack keeps you involved in the hectic action, and there's no doubt the kick-ass score matches the over-the-top combat. Metal music is a perfect choice for such a game but they needed more variety; at some point, you become tired of the entire technical presentation. The effects are cool at first, but they eventually become tiresome; the music rocks during the first hour, but loses its luster soon after. I suppose one could argue that this matches the absurdly repetitive gameplay, so it's par for the course. Still, I think more could've been done for this re-release.
The game isn't complicated. You use the left analog stick to move, right stick to aim, and the shoulder and trigger buttons are used to shoot and reload. In terms of control, there isn't much else to talk about. It's responsive enough and you don't often feel cheated due to shabby control and a lagging camera. If you want, you can use the touchpad on the DualShock 4 to locate the aiming reticle on the screen, but I honestly can't imagine why anyone would want to do this. It's fidgety and unreliable and it just nowhere near as accurate or efficient as the analog stick. These are the kinds of gimmick additions that don't mean anything.
However, with six chapters and ten stages per chapter, there's plenty of hugely visceral combat to sink your teeth into. You don't have to bother with a narrative of any kind; as I said, this isn't complex: Enemies are coming. Lots of them. They must be eliminated and hopefully, in the bloodiest manner possible. You'll mow down hundreds of faceless foes, utilizing all sorts of crazy weapons. There are multiple modes, which add to the depth of the gameplay, but the experience basically just boils down to aiming and firing, over and over and over. I say there's nothing wrong with that - the control is fine and the fun factor is high - but this starts to drag after a while.
There's some strategy involved in Quest Mode, however. That's when power-ups and weapons spawn at random points on the map, and you have to start each mission with a plain ol' pistol. Your actions will dictate the frequency and type of spawned equipment, so there is a bit of planning involved. Beyond more powerful weapons that can eliminate dozens of oncoming enemies in a single sweep, there are a few nifty power-ups. Speed boosts and time slowdowns make things that much easier, and bombs can help a lot when you're hugely outnumbered. Often, success relies heavily on which power-up and weapon you choose.
In this way, the game can be worth your time. It's repetitive as hell but it can also be very addictive, especially if you move past the Quest Mode and sample the more involving Survival Mode. Featuring Survival, Rush, Weapon Picker, Nukefism and Blitz, this is where 10ton really shines. All of these options infuse some much-needed freshness into an otherwise ho-hum shooter, and there's even incentive to keep pressing through Quest Mode. The more you earn during those missions, the more equipment you'll have available for Survival. Having extra incentive to enjoy more of the production is always a good thing, especially if that incentive increases the variety.
Another added benefit is the four-player co-op, which can be wicked fun with the right crowd. Unfortunately, you can't play cooperatively online, which is too big of a drawback to ignore in this day and age. I prefer local co-op - probably always will - but the bottom line is that online multiplayer action is vastly preferred by the majority of the gaming crowd today. That being said, it can be super fun playing with friends, especially when all you want to do is tear sh** up. It actually reminded me of playing Bomberman four-player, even though the latter title is obviously a bit more strategic in nature.
This is one of those titles that doesn't really stand out in any way. There have been top-down shooters since that are simply more robust in every possible way. They're more technically proficient and they're generally more immersive and involving. The problem is that when you don't stand out from the crowd, you feel outdated and generic. That's the feeling you're constantly fighting when playing this game, and it's a little disappointing. I know there are lots of fans out there, though, and they will defend this kind of brainless action. I defend it as well, but it typically has to offer more, you know?
Crimsonland feels somewhat threadbare after over ten years, even if it remains quite entertaining. There just isn't enough content, customization, or options to justify extended periods of play-time, and the repetition is grating. Playing with friends helps a lot, as does testing your skills in the more enjoyable Survival Mode, and this might qualify as a perfect rainy day diversion. Otherwise, this retro twin-stick experience will inevitably feel light when compared to just about anything of today. Maybe that's precisely what you're looking for, though, I don't know.
The Good: Solid, responsive control. A huge amount of satisfying gore. Survival Mode is definitely where it's at. Four-player co-op is a huge plus. Brainless but fun.
The Bad: General outdated feel. Insanely repetitive. An overall lack of variety and diversity throughout. No online co-op.
The Ugly: "If you think blood is ugly, than ugly be everywhere!"
7/25/2014 Ben Dutka