by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
Throwing down the Gauntlet
Fresh out of Early Access from Timedrop Studios, Attack of the Labyrinth brings together the relentless monster bashing of Gauntlet and the masochistic thrill of the roguelike, with permanent death around every corner, and a few hundred snarling creatures between you and your loot. The game features 4 playable classes, 10 randomly generated levels and local co-op, but is it a dungeon worth sinking some time into?
Keep it Simple
Attack of the Labyrinth's arcade sensibilities are clear from the moment you start a new game. There are very few hints as to what you're meant to be doing, or how to go about it, but that's because they just aren't needed. This is a game about smacking monsters about the head with fantasy weaponry, and picking up as much gold as you can cram into your tiny pantaloons before you move on to the next area.
The four playable classes neatly cover two variations each of ranged and close-range combat, and form a neatly balanced team in multiplayer. It's a shame there's not further variety here, as there could easily be other roles like a healer or different kinds of powers for the wizard. Instead, both melee characters attack in much the same way, but with some variation in attack speed and range, and the same is true for both ranged-attack characters. Class archetypes in fantasy games are a well-trodden path, so it's really a little baffling that there's so little depth on offer from Attack of the Labyrinth.
While playing, the controls are quick and responsive, although it's not currently possible to re-bind them. The game plays very much like a twin-stick shooter, but uses the face buttons of a gamepad to attack, instead of the second analogue stick. Why this has been done is beyond me, as it feels much less intuitive. When running about, I also noticed that hitboxes seem to be a little on the large side, and often inconsistent, which affects the melee-range characters badly. There were many occasions where an attack missed for no discernible reason, or when an enemy registered a hit without any visual contact.
Levels are all randomly-generated, which should offer some handy re-playability. Sadly, the system succumbs to the bane of many procedurally-generated games in that it utterly fails to give the levels any sense of personality beyond swapping out the graphical theme. Similar titles like Dungeons of Dredmor feature sophisticated generators which churn out sprawling levels, but every room within is alive with purpose, and the map as a whole feels cohesive. Attack of the Labyrinth's dungeons, on the other hand, simply feel repetitive.
An unfortunate result of this is that, between the game's frantic combat and the fact that everywhere looks the same, it's remarkably easy to get lost. Here, certainly, Attack of the Labyrinth really does live up to its title. There's no minimap to be found, so if you find yourself adrift in yet another vaguely brown corridor, you've no choice but to resort to trial and error to divine your way out. Each level does include a map room, but of course you have to find it in the first place before it's of any use, and even then you can't take the map with you. The best the game offers is a compass which, again, must be found early on. It points in the vague direction of the key you'll need to exit the level, but doesn't show the way to the exit so it, too, is only partly useful.
Throughout the levels, enemies spawn constantly around the edges of the visible area. Downtime? Forget it. I found the never-ending onslaught absolutely exhausting after a short while, as nowhere is safe. You can clear out a room but have it filled with enemies again a few seconds later.
Other games have dealt with enemies in different ways, like Gauntlet's destructible monster generators, or just having enemies die permanently, as in Dredmor. The idea is to provide a sense of accomplishment, allowing the player to explore and clear a level. Here, though, enemies come at you from the moment you enter a level to the moment you end it, and then it starts all over again. There's nothing to accomplish except reaching the end.
It might be forgiveable if the enemies were particularly interesting, but the AI is spectacularly useless. Unable to do anything but move towards players in a straight line, it's defeated by complex tactics like standing behind a corner, at which point the brain-dead enemy will walk straight into the interceding wall until you move.
The Spice of Life
The game progresses through a variety of locations over its ten levels, from ice caverns to lava palaces. Enemies do also change visually to match this, but the enemy types – like the playable character types – are severely lacking. It doesn't take long before the game has run out of inspiration and getting all the way to the end is more an exercise in persistence than skill and strategy.
Visually, though, it does look nice. The pixellated graphics are appealing if you enjoy the style, and there's even some control over the filters in use to customise the appearance somewhat. Sadly, the sound is jarringly disconnected from the images, stylistically. While the artwork appeals to late-Super Nintendo fans, the sound effects are crude bleeps and digital farts that sound more like they came from an Atari 2600 title from the 1970s.
Overall, Attack of the Labyrinth does offer a bare-bones dungeon-crawl experience, and the local co-op play is a welcome addition to any game. Players looking to dig any deeper, though, will find it disappointingly shallow in its execution and desperately in need of more content. From the paltry selection of playable classes, to the lifeless levels, to the uninspired enemies, this game only barely justifies its budget price point.
Simple arcade-like gameplay. Local co-op play. Nice visuals.
Dull, random level design. Little variety in gameplay throughout. Very poor sound effects.