Originally gaining popularity nearly 10 years ago as a student-developed PC game, developer 10ton updated Crimsonland for an appearance on PlayStation 4. The quality twin-stick shooting gameplay and structure have survived the decade admirably, but its visuals and presentation feel firmly rooted in the past.
Calling Crimsonland an ugly game is a stretch. It features a smooth framerate, locks in a 1080p resolution, and features some cool particle effects associated with the weapons. But beyond this technical competency, the game art is incredibly bland. You fight a collection of generic zombies, bugs, and aliens on levels that are only a few embellishments away from being flat, single-color backgrounds. After making it to the second batch of levels, I was excited to see a road had been added to the background, which indicates just how sparse these environments look.
Looking past the visual shortcomings, Crimsonland is a quality twin-stick shooter. The game sets itself apart with campaign levels that arrange enemies so you are forced to do more than just fire at them with the right control stick and avoid them with the left. In one level, spawn points must be tackled in a certain order, while in another you might find standing still is the best way to stay alive despite your initial instincts. It makes you examine your approach and think about what you need to do – a welcome feature in a genre typically devoted to pure skill.
Adding up to three other players adds more enemies, and retains the important tactical approaches of the levels. Taking on the assorted creatures doesn’t get easier by adding more guns, which leads to an enjoyable multiplayer experience. The drop-in, drop-out co-op is restricted to the couch; you won’t find any online options here.
As you progress through the 60 levels, you unlock 30 different guns and 55 different game changing perks. Each gun feels distinct, and appears as a drop in the levels after you unlock them. This gives you a good opportunity to get your hands on every weapon and figure out your favorites. The perks, unlocked in single-player, can only be used in the assorted survival modes, which is a confusing disappointment. I rifled through the menus for some time trying to equip perks before finally figuring out their use in the extra modes.
The five different survival modes offer a selection of alternate gameplay styles with leaderboard support. Outside of what you’d expect from the ‘stay alive as long as you can’ mode, another mode limits ammo, taking away your gun and forcing you to use power-ups exclusively, or limiting you to one underpowered weapon. These alternate modes are interesting distractions, but the ability to use your assorted perks in the standard survival mode makes it the one mode worth revisiting after making it through the campaign levels.
Crimsonland feels like an incomplete game. It has all the gameplay mechanics in place, but its backgrounds, character assets, music, and general presentation look and sound like they were put in for testing purposes while awaiting the real art and music to arrive. The twin-stick shooting at the core is fun, but the experience can’t help but be diminished by nearly every other aspect of the game.
Poor presentation and bland visuals hold Crimsonland back, but there is a fun twin-stick shooter to be found here.