Crimsonland is a back-to-basics, top-down, twin-stick arcade shooter. Indeed, it's so back to basics, that this review is going to be fairly short, because there's not really that much to explain.
Originally launched on PC in 2003, and then remade – or should that be "remastered" – for Steam in 2014, and subsequently released on PS4, and iOS, Crimsonland has finally hit Xbox One. It's this version that we've decided to review, since we missed out on the other incarnations.
The game lacks any kind of storyline or other self-explanatory justifications. It's just you (and up to three friends playing locally), a single screen, and a myriad of monsters chasing after you. There are bugs, aliens, zombies, and other such horrors to kill, and they all do pretty much the same thing: slowly shamble towards you with murderous intent. The objective is to stop yourself from being overwhelmed by the hordes by using your skill and, of course, guns. Lots of guns. There are 30 to unlock in all.
Guns (and Perks) are unlocked in the game's Quest mode. There are seven chapters of Quests, each of which features 10 individually-selectable, progressively challenging levels that are capped off with a boss-style finale. Each time you start a level, you're usually given a peashooter of a gun to begin with, and better ones are dropped from the advancing hordes. There are assault rifles, flamethrowers, gauss guns, miniguns, and many other variants. Some are better than others – I found I tended to gravitate towards shotguns, which have a slow rate of fire, but can clear multiple mobs in one shot.
Power-ups are also dropped, and these deliver different payloads. One freezes enemies, while others slow down the action or offer different kinds of explosive effects, including a nuke that can clear much of a screen. Of course, getting to these power-ups isn't always easy, and involves clearing a path through the myriad of enemies.
As you progress through the Quest levels, each completed chapter unlocks one of the seven Survival modes. These are one-off screens that challenge you in different ways. One gives you just one kind of gun with the objective of lasting as long as possible against an amped-up horde of monsters, while another doesn't grant you any reloads, so you have to constantly pick up new bonus weapons to be able to keep shooting.
The main Survival mode is basically an endless level where you have to last as long as possible. To help you out, you gain Perks at regular intervals. These are chosen from a random selection of four, and offer bonuses to your character, like being able to shoot while reloading, doing more damage with your shots, taking more punishment, and other such niceties. The random assignment can make some games a little easier than others, as indeed can the gun and power-up drops – but that's pretty much par for the course for a game like this. The survival modes are quite challenging, and most games don't last very long - unless you're exceptionally skilled. Oh, and all modes have online leaderboards, should that float your boat.
Crimsonland is a solid top-down shooter that certainly won't win any awards for its very basic graphics and sound – but it's still enjoyable to play. In many respects it takes the fundamental design of Robotron 2084 and bumps it up a couple of notches, but still maintains a fairly bare bones approach that oldschoolers will appreciate. It's very simple – shoot everything, pick up power-ups, shoot everything some more – but it does offer a high degree of challenge and action that is quite enthralling, because most of the time you're way too busy trying to clear the screen of monsters to think about anything else. The fact that the game is broken up into bite-sized chunks also helps make it very moreish.
Indeed, that's why this game appealed to me. It's a mindless shooter that lacks any pretensions: It just presents you with basic shooting exercises that are very visceral, with a very high kill-over-time ratio. You're just blasting through vast numbers of monsters – which is pretty entertaining… for a while at least.
I did find that Crimsonland's novelty wore a little thin after protracted play, but nevertheless I do see myself going back to it on and off when I'm in the mood for something that just lets you vent through the barrel of your gun, and where you don't need to think about anything other that what's in front of you.
In that respect, Crimsonland is quite cathartic. If it sounds like it might be appealing to you, check out the free demo.
A simple, but enjoyable shooter that presents endless screens of enemy hordes to blast through. It's not particularly original, and doesn't look or sound that great - but Crimsonland nevertheless provides a fun challenge for those who might enjoy a game whose roots can be traced straight back to Robotron 2084.