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Reverse Crawl (PC) artwork

Reverse Crawl (PC) review

"Commanding the Undead and the undesirable for fun and profit."

Reverse Crawl talks a lot about letting the player be the dungeon, but you put any thoughts of budget Dungeon Keeper firmly out of your head! The Red Queen has invaded a kingdom, slain the King and gloated about the expansion to her empire. However! The King’s daughter is a practising Necromancer and brings the King back to life. With his army smashed and little way left to reclaim what was his, he’s forced to recruit platoons from oft-ignored less savoury races. He starts with a few zombies and a couple of skeletons. That’s not going to do it.

These units are split up into groups of between two to five and where Reverse Crawl tries to earn its name is by pitting these usually villainous creatures against a small army of heroes not keen on being overrun by the undead . You can fight off the first few waves of do-gooders with your stumbling army of bones via turn-based combat taking part on a hex grid. They’ll be okay for a while, holding their own against the Queen’s fringe fighters but attrition soon takes a foothold. You’re going to need more numbers.

Reverse Crawl’s hook is that you only have finite free time where you can undertake one of three randomly generated quests before you need to take on a bigger staple of the Queen’s army. You can spend this time trying to boost your power with actions like accepting expeditions to reclaim lost magical tomes or by raiding nearby merchants for their goods. Or you can try to recruit more troops for you army. You can travel to the forests and try to rescue a goblin shaman from his own people in return for his loyalty, to swell your ranks by bracing the caves to save a dark elf scouting party from a hero ambush or to save the remnants of your vanquished militia from being hunted down. There are multiple instances to undertake, but not enough time to complete them all, so you’re stuck trying to decide which better benefits your current position. It would be nice to bolster your magical prowess but, at the same time, who doesn’t want an army of poison spewing rats that can spawn weaker vermin if left unchecked?

You won’t get close to hitting every option in one playthrough. Complete one of these quests and you’re then offered one of three perks that are awarded with victory. Defeat the horror which is the giant wolf, and you have a couple of options to bolster that unit’s strength for the rest of the game. Alternatively, you could chose for the King to adopt one as a pet wherein his personal battalion will forever spawn with an extra wolf included.

There’s a real depth of choice that encourages multiple replays, especially when some of these decisions start affecting the game’s ending. But there’s also a tactical depth that I’m not sure I expected considering Reverse Crawl’s flash game chic. Strategically placing your soldiers on the hex grid is important, but it’s only half the battle; it’s also important to make sure you select the right troops in the first place. Every differing unit has strengths and weakness, and putting the wrong team forward is a battle lost before the first blade is swung. Units that swing hard often fall foul to faster units who can dodge out of the way and perhaps counter attack. Other units are especially prone or resilient to magic, or preform best against lumbering opposition. Tame a giant spider and, to get the best of her, you need to protect her brood of eggs while they hatch into acid-dripping younglings. Therefore, pitting her against archers is just plain dumb.

There’s more to the battles than throwing meat shields forward to protect your weaker ranged guys at the back; surrounding the opposition awards flanked bonuses and racking up kills collects threat, which you can spend on in-battle perks such as healing units or summoning an extra skeletal solders for the front line. These choices are easy to make to begin with and, hey, maybe they’ll forever be throughout your playthrough if you ignore quests to add further options in order to diversify your ranks. Who needs arcane fireballs when you can instead recruit a hive of Sirens who have the chance of temporarily turning a struck foe to your team for a turn? Well, you will; at least once during your time will you wish you had chosen the option to burn armour-clad monstrosities with magic fire from afar. But you didn’t. And you can’t.

Maybe you’ll change that by starting a New Game + where you’ll make better uses of chances offered to negate random negative annulments sometimes suffered by your troops or decided that you never really got a lot of use out of that pet wolf, so not revisit that option. There will almost always be a choice that has almost no bearing on your campaign and you’ll regret making, and you’ll always wonder what you threw away in order to claim it. That ethereal demon is great and all, but sometimes what you really need is a bloody great dragon messing up the scene. That’s what I’m going back in to find.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (September 28, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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