Crimsonland Review

By Brandon Fusco,
The recently revamped and re-released Crimsonland for PS3, PS4, and Vita is based on the original twin stick shooter that was released for PC back in 2003. In the years since then, more than a few great twin stick games have come and gone, changing the landscape of the genre. Developer 10Ton has made an effort to refresh their game by tweaking gameplay elements and revamping the graphics. Are these changes enough to make this game a contender in today's market, or will they only highlight just how far we've come since then?

Older gamers might find this image looks familiar.Older gamers might find this image looks familiar.

Crimsonland can be a fast, frantic, and rewarding game to play for small periods of time, but unfortunately, its roots from another era show through in almost every quality of the game. The gameplay in most twin stick shooters, when boiled down, is pretty simple: try not to get hit while shooting all the bad things. Crimsonland certainly has that in spades. All told, there are only four functions that you can perform on your controller: moving, aiming, shooting, and manually reloading. After that, the fun comes from a combination of running for your life, ducking through gaps between your enemies, and shooting anything that might be able to get a tooth or a claw into you.

Right from the start of the game's Quest mode, our non-descript trooper, heavily based on the DOOM marine, is dropped into a wide open green field with a pistol, and soon a generic heavy guitar riff starts playing in the background. You are given some room to move around, but that room is empty and uninteresting. The playing field is a completely flat surface with no obstacles and nothing but an invisible wall keeping you in play. In this regard, every level is essentially the same. The backdrops tend to become more desolate throughout the game by changing colors and themes, but this has no effect on how the game plays. All of this seems to be in an effort to pay homage to the 90's era shooters DOOM and Quake. It is partially effective, but the lack of any connection to the gameplay makes the art style and music seem oddly tone deaf and forgettable.

The backgrounds look fine, but there's no significant difference.The backgrounds look fine, but there's no significant difference.

Not long after you begin the first mission, mutants will find you or you will find them, and that's when the shooting begins. Destroying these enemies can reward you with a randomly dropped weapon from those that you've unlocked, or a one use power-up that gives you some kind of boost. The gameplay is basic but it is fun in its simplicity, relying on a good variety of weapons to mix things up, even if they have a tendency to be unbalanced. The enemies that you come across are far less varied with only a handful of higher tier enemies showing any unique qualities, and even then appearing very rarely throughout the game.

Freezing enemies is a great way to buy time. If only you could do it reliably.Freezing enemies is a great way to buy time. If only you could do it reliably.

The first dozen levels or so are pretty simple and straight forward. Kill the bad enemies marching towards you while trying to destroy any nests in the area that can spawn additional enemies. Destroy enough of them to move on to the next Quest mission. Anybody experienced with twin stick shooters will probably find these early levels far too easy to keep you challenged and entertained, but the difficulty ramps up from there.

Quest mode can be rewarding in a manner of speaking, although once you understand the mechanics of the game and what each type of weapon can do, you'll breeze through most missions. Most Quest missions are set up in a particular way with the intention being that a player would have to come up with the proper solution for that particular level. However, progression from level to level can be inconsistent where you may steamroll through five missions on your first try and then hit a mission that requires you to retry several times. Compounding this is the randomized weapon and power-up drops from your kills, so even if you know what you're doing, you might not have the right tool for the job.

Getting stuck with the wrong weapon can end your attempt before it really begins.Getting stuck with the wrong weapon can end your attempt before it really begins.

At one point, for instance, there is a level where the player must make their way around the map clockwise while destroying nests rapidly as they spawn to keep from being overrun. The problem arises when you can't find a weapon with the correct mix of damage, accuracy, and weight, which is an attribute that affects the run speed of your character but is not mentioned anywhere. Usually your first or second kill drops an improved weapon over your starting pistol, and then you don't get another weapon drop for quite some time. If you get a weapon that's too weak, you won't be able to kill the nests quickly enough. If it's too inaccurate, you won't be able to effectively take advantage of the way the nests are lined up, slowing your progress.

This can create a situation where it is beneficial on tougher levels for a player to kill the first enemy and restart the level if the weapon dropped is not what they want. Such a situation is damaging to the game in several ways, the first and most obvious being time. After trying to get the right weapons over the course of seven or eight attempts, you might make a single mistake, resulting in another seven or eight rolls of the dice before you can try again. What's potentially worse is that it strips away any sense of accomplishment from beating a difficult mission because you are no longer coming up with a plan and executing it, but rather waiting for the right weapon and not messing up. That excitement is replaced with a sense of relief when the mission is put behind you and you can move on.

The two things to take away from the Quest mode are the weapon and perk unlocks obtained from completing the various missions. While the weapons will show up in the Quest mode, the perks that are unlocked only appear in the game's Survival mode.

Plenty of options for pain!Plenty of options for pain!

Survival mode has several different game types aside from the classic style that you would expect and a Blitz mode for those on a time crunch. Rush, Weapon Picker, and Nukefism each strip away your perks and various abilities. Nukefism takes away your weapons, only allowing you to kill enemies with power ups that appear randomly on the map. Weapon Picker makes it so that you can't reload anything, so all weapons are single clip only. Rush gives you an Assault Rifle with unlimited ammo but no other weapons. Each of these modes is compelling for a short period of time and players that are particularly fond of Leaderboard climbs should get a little distance out of them.

The traditional Survival mode and Blitz modes are the only two modes that appear to have any staying power, and even then, not much. Each mode plays much like any of the missions except that enemy and nest appearances are random, and a leveling system is included. Once you hit a new level, you get to pick from a variety of perks that have more flavor text than actual description in them. Learning what each of these perks does and how best to use them with the weapons that you are finding is good fun. While some of the better designed Quest missions can be enjoyable, the random elements of Survival are thrilling, and the ability to pick the perks that fit your current play style replaces that sense of urgency that's lost in the Quest.

Sometimes there's nothing to it but to shoot it.Sometimes there's nothing to it but to shoot it.

While the game offers a four player co-op feature in almost every aspect of the game, it is local only, which is a huge let down in the age of the internet. Unsurprisingly, the Vita version of the game doesn't feature co-op at all, though that doesn't affect the gameplay much as the only real changes appear to be a slight non-proportional increase in the number of enemies and an increase in their health. While having four people on a couch playing together can be quite fun, the systems in the game don't really lend themselves to any kind of emergent gameplay experience, and so any ensuing hilarity is likely to be as a result of the people playing, rather than any crazy gameplay moments.

Trophy wise, the game is somewhat uninspired. There's a set of trophies for completing each chapter of the Quest on normal, and for completing the Quest on Hardcore and Grim. Most of the other trophies simply require you to do a simple task a certain number of times, or to get a particular score in a specific game mode. The only real standout is a trophy for completing each normal Quest mission without taking any damage. The upside is that the combination of luck, skill, and dedication required to get some of these trophies is quite high, making this a great game for the rare trophy collectors out there. Furthermore, if you have the time, the game currently supports cross-buy and each version of the game has a separate trophy list. Be warned that since the game lacks cross-save, you'd have to complete each list separately.

Adding fire helps in almost any situation.Adding fire helps in almost any situation.

Is Crimsonland a bad game? Not at all. It's generally a very functional game that is fun when you get to enjoy the catharsis of explosions and bloodshed. Ultimately, the trouble comes when the game requires you to perform a particular task, because this usually requires you to get lucky and have the perfect weapon or power up. When that luck doesn't pan out, the mayhem gets completely derailed. Only the Survival mode really avoids this pitfall, and that requires you to complete the 60 mission quest before you can get the most out of it.

It's easy to see how the design of Crimsonland would have been exceptional in 2003, but the landscape of the twin-stick genre has changed drastically since then, and the fresh coat of paint and minor tweaks are not enough to bring it up to speed with its modern cousins.

The Crimsonland Playstation 3 review copy was provided by the developer. Brandon enjoyed his eight hours with the game, unlocking 12 of 21 trophies in the process, and would like to see where a proper modern sequel could have taken the title.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)