Review by Bloomer

"Huge, savage fantasy adventure game is one for the hardcore"

I have grown to love Deathtrap Dungeon.

Still, when I go to sum it up in one word, that word is gonna be 'Savage'.

If I was going to splurge and use two words, I'd say it's 'Really Savage'.
I like 'Tough' or 'Savage' when it's challenging and rewarding of your improving skills in the game, and fortunately, Deathtrap Dungeon is in this category. This adventure has true longevity, if you have the stomach and, yes, the masochistic streak required for it. I will say this up front - if you decide early on in playing that you find Deathtrap Dungeon too harsh, you probably won't revise that opinion.

The easiest reference point would be Tomb Raider, also by Eidos. Superficially, both games have an athletic heroine (or hero) springing their way through dangerous environments, with a roving 3rd-person perspective of the action. Beyond that, the games part ways. DTD (I'll refer to Deathtrap Dungeon as 'DTD' from now on) is a bigger game, far more combat heavy, with nastier and more focused puzzles, and a solid dose of fantasy RPG elements - hit points, magic potions, weapons and armor, spellcasting etc.

You have a choice of 2 adventurers to take into the dungeon: Red Lotus (female) and Chaindog (male). Your choice won't change the play of the game, but obviously changes who you're going to be watching, guiding and listening to the death screams of for months to come. Red Lotus is wearing some amazingly skimpy black 'mistress' outfit ('clothing' is too generous a word), but fortunately everything else about her behaviour suggest she didn't graduate from the EIDOS bimbo academy (unlike Lara Croft...) Things like the way she cuts heads off and emits guttural warcries.

The game concept comes from the eponymous Fighting Fantasy novel. If you've never encountered Fighting Fantasy, it's a 'choose your own adventure' novel with a dice-rolling and roleplaying element. They were a real phenomenon for many years (and are favourites of mine) and spawned a thousand clones and their own spin-offs. DTD was a critical favourite. The ideas, atmospheres, monsters, and of course the traps, have come intact from the book. Anything cerebral has not - the game is gothic hack and slash, puzzling, and survival.

The core storyline of the book launches the game. The title dungeon is the location for a competition for hardened adventurers held by Baron Sukumvit. You play an adventurer who has taken up the challenge, and now must hack and puzzle your way thru 30-something very severe levels to ultimately overcome one very mean Red Dragon, Melkor, and win fabulous riches. Oh, and you'll be freeing the town of Fang from the Baron's grip.

It starts out reasonably easy, with basic switch-finding/door-opening puzzles to deal with, and only a handful of enemies ever attacking at once. Controls are of the action-adventure/survival horror kind - left and right to turn your character, forward and back to start walking. The camera chases you about and mostly does a decent job of showing the perspective you want. You can also run, leap and climb up and down. Before too many levels have passed, you will begin your baptism by fire: Pits, spikes and crushers, monster ambushes, arrows and spears launched from the walls, deadly falls. It's savage, it's dark, and you have no map. You have a supply of chalk with which to make marks on the walls etc.. an atmospheric innovation, but not a really useful one. I find that to beat these hard levels, you must grow to learn them to the extent that the chalk marks are gonna be redundant anyway!

Graphics aren't spectacular. I got this game early in my PSX experience, and have since seen how much nicer a game can look. People and objects are sometimes jagged and the textures aren't really inspiring. The majority are stone and wood, with the banners of your enemies hung about and furniture scattered. Still, it works. The atmosphere is successfully created (lucky the dungeon didn't have to be too well lit). Probably the most important factor overcoming any graphical shortcomings is the scale of the levels. There are tiny tunnels, but there are also huge rooms with openings on multiple floors where you can look up and all around and sense the enormity of the world around you. The levels themselves are huge too. Overall... it's a big game.

Combat is juicy. To me it's the most important ingredient in DTD, and you will get major thrills out of the bloodsoaked medieval chopping that goes on here. Your basic weapon is the sword. With the X button and directional pad you can send your character into a series of stabs, slashes, whirls and leaps which will decapitate goblins, send limbs flying (yes you can see them flying) and spurt blood on all 4 walls (yes, you can then hang around and watch the blood dripping, if you're as sick as I am). Some timing and parrying skills are required, as is judgement of the best kind of attack to use in the circumstances. It's exciting and very satisfying. Your character is a good fighter, but you're not superhuman. If you get outnumbered and surrounded, you'll need to get a bigger boat, uh, I mean, bigger weapons.

Let's stop here for a moment and consider the awesome number and variety of foes you will get to face in DTD. In 'Resident Evil', to make a comparison, we're pretty happy to have maybe 10 different kinds of monsters to fight with. In DTD, there are about 45 entirely individual monsters to deal with. And that's not 45 variations on a theme. Here are some examples -

Imps, the basic enemy soldier, are as tall as your waist. They giggle and chuckle (think Beavis and Butthead and you're there), move in erratic dashes and stab you with little knives. Compare these guys to Warrior Priestesses. They're your size, they're fanatical and somersault and scream on their way into battle. Medusae slither around, trying to smack you from out of your range with long ball and chains. Hive insects can be heard buzzing from a great distance, but attack with frightening suddenness, closing your range in the time it takes to blink. There are gigantic enemies too, who for a change, really are gigantic! 'Automatons' (animated robots) who are 3 stories tall and brandish flamethrowers. Rats that fill a tunnel. A giant hand. Dragons that occupy a whole level. Spiders who spit poison. The list goes on. It's got to be the best lineup of enemies in any similar game I own, or have played, and they really are different to one another.

The game comes with an EXCELLENT 70 page booklet entitled 'The Bestiary', describing all the monsters in detail, suggesting strategies and weaknesses, and with great illustrations too. More games should have genuinely interesting and attractive accompanying documentation like this.

How to deal with all these monsters? There is an equally impressive array of weapons, both melee and missile, normal and magical. There are categories of magic, from black to red to white. Early firearms feature here, as do different kinds of blades which are more or less effective against different enemies. There are 6 missile, 7 melee weapons, and 8 offensive spells, plus 8 more special items which will do all kinds of things - give you psychotic strength or speed, protect you from magic or dragonsbreath, make you invisible etc etc. You will need to command them all. Some of the firearms will make you smile and think of Doom, such as the 'Infernal Device' which is a rocket launcher at heart.

Ok, so that's a lot to think about! But the game is so long you will have time to deal with each element as you are introduced to it.

Well, you also need to negotiate the deathtraps. They can be arbitrary. Remember, this is Deathtrap Dungeon, built by a sadistic baron. He's rarely going to warn you that the door is about to lock and that the room will fill with fiery death. The surprises are often cruel - that is the idea. You may bang your head. But the save points are well chosen. Before a really nasty enemy or trap, there will generally be a save point. It's not one of these games that will force you to do lots of really hard work, And kill a boss, before it will let you save. So if you keep that in mind, and get into the cruel spirit of the game, you will enjoy the heightened sense of danger. You'll need to like it, for few games are as dangerous as this one! If you don't like the idea of this (and it's somewhat atypical game design) - you will not like this game one bit.

Sonically, it's a fairly blunt game. Basic sound effects are all solid enough, your own screams and grunts, your footsteps, and the sword shreddings of combat - but the enemies' sounds aren't as varied as the enemies themselves. The majority are of a fairly guttural quality, and won't key you in to the presence of a particular enemy, with a few exceptions.

The music is never very sophisticated either. In a way this doesn't worry me - droning, slightly unremarkable music is suitable for levels of this length. You will spend a lot of time exploring, and more involving music might distract. Though the 'charging battle' music is just downright annoying. It's the supernatural sound effects that are the best - the sounds made by your spells when you launch them, or the pulsing of a save game area. Maybe these needed to be a bit more focused. You can often hear the pulsing from too far away for it to be useful in tracking the source of the sound down.

So the looks and sounds of DTD are a bit ragged. If you demand the 'highest tech' graphics and sounds, that might put you off. But basically, DTD has got supreme and very challenging gameplay. It has huge levels, tons of combat action and blood, tons of enemies, tons of spells and tons of weapons. It can keep you busy for months. If you can complete it, you can feel pretty macho and brag about it, as I know for a fact that many many gamers give up. The game has an unpopular reputation in that respect. Many players even make it through all the levels, only to give up on the last battle in the game, with the red dragon Melkor. Yes, Melkor can be that hard. Hence, I suggest the masochistic streak in your personality. DTD is always hard, but never ridiculous. So you will feel an amazing sense of toughness and achievement if you can best it.

In my final score for DTD, I subtract a couple of points basically for the slight rawness of the technical qualities of the game. Everything else about the game is huge, numerous, and tough, and completely absorbing. I think Deathtrap Dungeon is a great fantasy adventure game. Just remember that it requires a certain kind of hardcore mentality to see it through.

Deathtrap Dungeon - 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/19/00, Updated 02/22/01


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