BRAWL Review – Bombs Away (PS4)
After playing BRAWL since its release, I found that the frame-rate issues I saw in the earlier build are no longer present. Keep that in mind before reading through the original review.
I run between some boxes, frantically trying to avoid the fiery blast of a bomb that another player has just placed down. The bomb explodes, destroying some boxes near me and revealing a packet of extra health. I run towards it, but, shit — I’m running in the wrong direction. My controls have been reversed thanks to a third player’s special attack — a strange type of bomb that emits a mind-destroying gas. As I try to get a handle on the switched up controls, another bomb explodes next to me, and I die instantly. It’s okay, though, because that’s just the craziness of BRAWL.
I think it would hard to write about BRAWL without also bringing up Bloober Team’s other PlayStation 4 game, Basement Crawl. You’ve probably heard about it, and maybe you’ve even played it. Either way, you probably know that it was a disaster. It had numerous bugs, oversimplified multiplayer combat, and messed up matchmaking. It was bad, but thankfully, BRAWL is not.
While BRAWL is very much its own game, it probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Basement Crawl. It features a similar isometric view and has players dropping bombs in a Bomberman-esque type of way. In a way, it is everything that Basement Crawl should have been, and indeed, the developers took into account a lot of fan feedback. BRAWL has an engaging single-player mode (which is fantastically and creepily narrated by Telltale’s The Walking Dead actor Erik Braa), numerous multiplayer modes, a couple challenge modes, unique characters to choose from, and easy matchmaking. It’s good, and it is one of those games that are easy to learn, but oh so difficult to master.
When I first loaded up BRAWL, I moved on over to the single-player campaign mode. There are eight different characters to choose from both in this mode and in the multiplayer modes, and each one has his or her own backstory and special moves. I chose to play as first as a little girl and her teddy bear. The girl is blind, and the teddy bear is, well, evil. He sits on her shoulders brandishing a knife and telling her where to move. One of her special moves is to throw a knife into an opponent, briefly slowing him or her down. Her other special move allows her to switch places with said opponent, which is great for setting up traps or getting out of tricky situations.
Her short single-player campaign starts off with Erik Braa, who players the evil master of a Hellish area called The Emporium, which is where the game takes place. Through his creepy (yet hilarious) narration and a series of disturbing images and animations, the girl’s terrifying backstory is revealed. Each character has his or her own scary backstory narrated by Braa, and the stories will no doubt keep you up at night.
Like with any character in the single-player mode, players do not start off with special skills or bombs. Instead, they get these as they complete sets of various tasks which are not only meant to give some character backstory, but are also meant to serve as tutorials. Multiplayer battles are the actual meat of BRAWL, with the short single-player campaigns trying to prepare players for online or local multiplayer matches. The single-player mode is able to prepare players by using a variety of different enemy minions. These do not appear in the core multiplayer modes, but do show up in the two challenge modes. Each enemy is fairly unique, as some can use shields to block, others can eat your bombs, and still others will use charge attacks to wipe you out. However, almost all of them have one thing in common — they know own to deftly dodge your attacks.
Actually, the AI is incredibly gifted at this. Most of the time, I would drop as many bombs as possible in an effort to blow up the enemy minions. The number of bombs players are able to drop at one time and the blast radius of each bomb is determined by how many certain power-ups the player has picked up, with one power-up corresponding to bomb number and the other corresponding with radius size. If my blast radius was large, all the bombs I would drop in an effort to kill minions would usually end up killing me instead, and the minions would meander away unscathed. While their amazing ability to remain unharmed by sneakily avoiding bombs is impressive, it seems out of place in a the single-player mode, which functions mainly as a tutorial mode. Luckily, the AI bots in the multiplayer modes are a little more forgiving.
It’s Party Time
In any of the competitive multiplayer modes — Versus, Duel, Classic, Sumo, or Color Domination — players may either face off against bots, online players, or local players. Bots offer a fun way to get used to the hectic yet strategic nature of BRAWL, but playing against other people is where the real fun is.
Each game mode offers a unique style of gameplay. Of course, strategically placing bombs and blowing up opponents is still the focus of every mode, but the bombs are used in different ways. In Versus mode, for example, players can compete against three opponent across 13 different maps. Characters are allowed to use their special abilities, and the winner is usually the person with the most kills after a certain amount of time. In Sumo mode, players are charged with trying to use bombs to push their opponents off of the maps. Various trap doors and interestingly designed levels help make this mode incredibly entertaining. Characters are all given the same two special moves, which increases the level of strategy needed here. In Color Domination mode, players use their bombs to send paint flying all over the map. Whoever is able to cover the floor with the most paint during a certain amount of time wins. It is crazy, hectic, and fun, but I did see some clearly noticeable frame-rate drops during this mode. Whether or not this will be fixed in a day one patch is not yet known.
Are You Up for a Challenge?
Besides the various multiplayer modes, there are also two challenge modes — Horde mode and Sheep mode. Both modes allow for up to two players at a time. Players work together in each mode, and teamwork is vital for racking up points or just staying alive. In Horde mode, players must defeat increasingly difficult waves of minions. The map is somewhat small, making it difficult to place down bombs without also getting caught in the line of fire yourself. After each wave is completed, the map grows darker and darker, finally leaving only a little bit of light emitting from each player. Meanwhile, in Sheep mode, players must defend a flock of sheep from being eaten by enemy minions. Once again, being able to work together and devise bomb-placing strategies is important, as enemy waves get harder and harder over time.
The challenge modes, although they are meant for two people playing co-op, are just as fun to play solo. Since the enemy waves are somewhat random, the levels can be played over and over again. When playing co-op online, however, it should be noted that players will not be able to communicate with each other via the PS4. If you are trying to player through random matchmaking, this might make the challenge modes a little bit difficult, seeing as teamwork is vital here. It is certainly possible to do well without communication, but it does not make things easier.
But then again, BRAWL isn’t really about being easy. It is about forcing players to make strategic moves and plan accordingly, all while giving them a limited amount of time to do so. It’s fast, it’s smart, and it’s absolutely worth picking up, especially if you dig party games. While it has some flaws, BRAWL is a game that will keep you occupied for quite a while. It also should be noted that PlayStation Network accounts that purchased Basement Crawl will be credited with BRAWL for free, giving you yet another excuse to download and play the game when it releases.
BRAWL was reviewed in Bloober Team’s Poland studio, with the trip paid for by the studio. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.