Welcome to SPRAWL, Seven. A first-person shooter inspired by old-school shooters like Quake, Half-Life, Deus Ex and many more, SPRAWL has a lot of high pedigree to channel. Much like Ghostrunner or Doom 2016, it’s all about fast-paced gunslinging, dystopian atmosphere and slow-motion wall-running. Boosted by a stellar, headbang-worthy soundtrack, it should have all the hallmarks of a great game.
In the five hours it took me to finish the game on Normal difficulty, I can safely say it’s scratched the corpo itch. It has a couple of minor issues with bothersome glitches and some finicky platforming, but boy does it deliver on its source material. Mechs abound and digital voices in your mind, it’s time to take on the Megapolis, one headshot at a time.
Sprawling In My Skin
Let’s start from the bottom of this cyberpunk dystopia. You are Seven. Hunted and chased by the authorities of the walled city, you are tasked with bringing an end to the military Junta’s rule. To do so, you’ll have to obey the commands of a mysterious, not-at-all sinister voice invading your mind. Can you trust the being whispering your orders? Only one way to find out.
Much of SPRAWL’s story is delivered via the aforementioned voice in Seven’s head and through text introductions at the beginning of each level. It’s not a whole lot to go off of, but it does enough to contextualise your slaughter through the city. It’s traditional fare for the cyberpunk genre: untrustworthy digital voice, a corrupt and militaristic government ruling via oppression and a whole heap of violence.
The couple of times SPRAWL attempts to introduce a primary antagonist, it can be a bit forced. The story plays second-fiddle to the gameplay, which I’m fully okay with. It’s non-invasive enough that you can safely ignore it, confident in the knowledge that your bullet-inspired carnage through the city is worthwhile.
For those looking for a bit more depth in the narrative, you won’t find it here. This isn’t Cyberpunk 2077, but it’s not supposed to be either. Instead, the environments and exposition are there to provide a platform for your bullets, grenades and fluid movement antics. When you let go of why you’re manically murdering everything in the game, you’ll be able to embrace the do of the high-octane slaughter.
Now, when I mention high-octane action, I mean it. SPRAWL nails its fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall action like a headshot from a Barrett 50. cal. Verticality and mobility are king in this game, meaning you need to be constantly on the move if you’re going to survive the threats that await you. This military Junta ain’t here to play, they want your head.
You can select from your arsenal of firepower on the fly via a weapon wheel. With relatively low ammo counts, you’ll be consistently switching weapons to keep enemies off of your behind. Figuring out what gun is most effective versus the variety of enemy types creates a compelling combat puzzle to solve. You can waste your slo-mo on that pack of encroaching mechanical dogs with your pistols, until you realise that SMGs wipe them out faster than dystopias destroy individual freedoms.
Enemy variety is significant as a result. Initially, you’ll be easily dispatching regular grunts and the odd robotic hound. In fact, the first 4 levels actually lulled me into wondering if I needed to up the difficulty. That is, until I hit mission five. Suddenly, all manner of mechs, beasts, armoured troops and even prototype vehicles were being launched my way. Wave after wave after wave.
Some sections can feel like absolute gauntlets as a result. It’s an awesome spectacle and the difficulty ramping up in the second half gives SPRAWL a hugely challenging and rewarding upskilling of the player. There are a couple of scenarios that feel a little too punishing, but overall it’s handled superbly and I enjoyed meeting the challenge. Even when I got frustrated, I booted straight back in and popped some heads.
Like many old-school and retro shooters, you’ll be hoovering up health, armour and ammo pickups along the way. On normal difficulty, it felt nicely balanced. You’re rewarded for blasting weakspots or kniving down a stunned opponent with ammo, health and Adrenaline. The latter is your slow-motion meter, providing you with the means to turn time into a crawl. It also highlights critical hit points, creating a wonderful loop of destruction, reward and more destruction.
While Adrenaline can’t be abused, the critical hit spots can be slightly awkward. Some enemy animations make it almost impossible to hit their combustible backpacks, for example. Additionally, if you move to a new platform, you can abuse the AI pattern, as their jumping animation makes them completely exposed to critical hits. At points, I could almost cheese an entire encounter just by taking advantage of this.
As mentioned before though, movement and mobility are essential. Stand still and you will be mercilessly obliterated in seconds. Levels and environments are intentionally packed with walls to blitz across, platforms to jump to and walls to duck behind. Wall-running happens automatically on any surface, so once you get used to it, it becomes supremely fun.
I’m sure you can imagine the blissful satisfaction that comes from evading a group of grunts, only to ping slo-mo mid-wall-run and turn a goon’s head into a red paint dispenser. SPRAWL is all about mastering the systems and mechanics it gives you the freedom to experiment with. Consequently, the game whizzes past at a breakneck pace. Almost no time is spent ambling around, you’ll always be gunning something down.
When SPRAWL does decide to let you have a very temporary breather, it’ll be in the form of collecting an item or doing some platforming. On the whole, these interjections are very brief and are combined with combat, making them relatively superfluous. Occasionally, the game will demand you do some traversal arithmetic to progress.
Particularly in the later levels, you’ll be required to wall-run, jump and shotgun boost yourself up multiple layers of an environment. Generally, this is fine. However, there are a couple of moments which had me quite irritated. One involved climbing a cylindrical structure, where any missed jump meant having to start from the bottom again. Which was rather annoying, when the platforms were purposely positioned to be more easily missed.
Collecting keycards is as run-of-the-mill as objectives can be, but they serve their purpose. It makes the areas come across as slightly more fleshed out and gives the developers the means to keep you in a section for longer. I think given the awesome level design and immense vertical spaces that the team had created for combat, it would have been great to see a couple of more creative objectives that took advantage of this.
Boss battles are sprinkled in throughout the campaign and they’re good, if a bit repetitive. They tend to all take the form of a floating ship or mech, though the environments you fight them in become progressively more challenging. For instance, one boss battle has the floor constantly switching, dropping you into a damaging liquid. It naturally ups the stakes and the final boss battle is a challenging culmination of all the skills you’ve learnt being put to the test. As it should be.
Sprawl Of Fame
If you’ve watched any of SPRAWL’s pre-release trailers, you’ll have already been head-jacked with its booming soundtrack. The sound design and punchy music will smack you around the face and demand your full attention. It compliments the supersonic feel of the gameplay incredibly well and you’ll be hard-pressed to concentrate on the action when the music gets swelling.
Visually, SPRAWL is awesome too. There’s a mix of the dour, drab colours that punctuate the aura of this being an oppressed, authorised metropolis. The juxtaposition of the more realistic graphics for some environmental details with the retro, pixelated textures also surprisingly blends really well. Enemies explode into wells of blood when nailed with a shotgun shell and the audio feedback from weapons is excellent.
It certainly helps that the game runs at an ultra-smooth FPS throughout, with very few visual or audio issues. For 99% of my playthrough, I had no bugs of gameplay problems either. Until the final boss, that is. Despite multiple attempts to reload checkpoints and reboot the game, I had the same problem. For some reason, my latter four weapons would never pick up ammo, even when I was picking up the ammo for them on-screen.
It made the final boss unplayable and unbeatable. Which is such a shame, as up to that point I’d had such a smooth experience and wonderfully cathartic, violent time. It’s likely an easy and quick fix, but I’d be remiss not to point out a significant bug right at the end. This didn’t deter me from starting up a new playthrough on hard, mind.
Like Bullet Drops In The Rain
SPRAWL is an excellent amalgamation of retro shooter mechanics in a more modern package. Harvesting the wall-running of Ghostrunner, the amped-up pace of Quake and the cyberpunk atmosphere of Ruiner, it’s an FPS well worth your time. Maeth and the development team have done an amazing job creating a fun, fluid and bombastic shooter that celebrates your skills.
It has the occasional problem, whether that be an irritating traversal section or a disappointing late-game bug. However, these don’t discount the incredible flow state that develops as you blast and maim your way through this oppressed megapolis. Earning freedom has never been without trials, and SPRAWL is no exception.
Simply put though, as I jump from one platform to the next, slowing down time, the edges of the screen blurring as I pull out my shotgun, I can’t help but smile as I disintegrate some poor soul’s body into a fountain of blood. You’ll be tested, but meet SPRAWL’s measure and you’ll have a supremely satisfying shooter that’ll satiate your violent urges for a good half dozen hours.
Fluid movement, excellent level design, gratifying combat and a bombastic soundtrack make SPRAWL a fantastic and challenging shooter. It has the odd problem with traversal and a frustrating late-game bug, but SPRAWL has the systems to match its ambitions. As you fight half a dozen mechs and ping off headshot after headshot, you’ll forget all about everything else.
SPRAWL is available now on PC (review platform).
Publisher: Rogue Games Inc.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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