SPRAWL Review – Gnarly Guns, Grim Governments

SPRAWL begins with a big robot dude calling you a bitch, shooting you in the face with a shotgun and you falling out of a third-story apartment. The first thing you do is wall run, and the first piece of weaponry you get are two heavy pistols. An instantaneous hook, strong first impressions, gorgeous environments, and an insane choir/industrial/electronic soundtrack; and it only gets better from there.

There is no one single draw to SPRAWL, it excels in many different areas. It is crude and brutal in a compelling way, enemies explode when you shoot their jetpacks or shotgun them from up close. The movement is exceptional, allowing for up to three jumps provided you made contact with a wall in-between each. The bullet time encourages precision and timing, allowing for cinematic shots accentuated by the incredible music and lighting in this retro-futuristic aesthetic.

A robot soldier sent after the player character calling them a bitch and telling them it is time to die.
Ten words is all I need to know that I want to shoot this guy in the face.

Everything works together in a way that completely draws the player into its dark and harsh world, controlled by the rich with the help of an all-powerful AI who is now on the loose, opting to help you to give humanity a fighting chance once more. There are moments so intense that I caught myself standing up and yelling “woo” after a crazy manoeuvre. In those moments, you truly feel what the game brings to the table.

Some formulas just work, and shooter fans will find themselves right at home. The chunky sound effects of the familiar arsenal: pistols, SMGs, a shotgun, and more. All feel like a familiar tune, but coupled with the dynamic, fierce soundtrack, explosions and enemy screams, they make for an exciting symphony of violence. Though it is glorious, there is little to revel in. SPRAWL is stressful and chaotic.

Puffs of smoke coming out of the two handguns
Little details such as puffs of smoke coming out of guns or blown up enemies add a lot to the feel.

Each new mission provides less and less ammo and health, and shootouts turn into absolutely insane clashes. Getting up close is risky, some enemies can nail you in one shot, but if you deal enough damage they can be stunned and finished with a sword slash. In doing so, or killing them by shooting a weak point, will reward the player with health, bullet-time meter, and ammo for the weapon they were using. The risk-reward factor is on point, and small corridors tend to feel like rollercoasters.

It quickly becomes apparent that even though Seven, the protagonist, can achieve a lot, she chose exile for a reason. Father, the AI who picked her for the job of liberating him from the mega-corporations producing mechs and weapons, mentions her penchant for violence at the beginning, but quickly turns into a sort of guide instead, only piping in to provide her with a way forward.

Father lowering a crane down for the player character
Thank you AI dad, I don’t know what I’d do without you.

It is a bit of a shame because the voice acting is strong, and moments where he goes on tangents, are memorable. In general, it feels like the story sort of meanders along on some levels. It is sort of silly to have Father introduce himself as this powerful being and compare himself to God, only for him to become a GPS for most of the game. I think there is something more going on there considering the secret achievements, but I only managed to find a few, so I might be missing out.

Seven does not talk much, but the gameplay and the way Father describes her manage to shape her character succinctly. An ex-military experiment, she focuses a lot on precision and movement rather than violence. What is described as her favorite, the shotgun, is an incredible utility tool. Every shot is followed by a long pump animation, which motivates constant movement and peek strats, and the recoil is so strong that it can extend jumps or can be used to start them as it pushes Seven back significantly.

A shot of the city the player starts in
The environments are detailed and the lighting is top-notch.

It is by far my favorite gun in the game, but all the weapons feel great to use. Sometimes they feel a bit less punchy than they should, but with the bullet-time and nearly instant weapon-switching, all is fixed. Pulling off quick switch-ups during wall runs just to have an enemy explode into a puff of smoke after a perfect shot with the last bits of ammo creates moments that rival high points of the entire genre.

Unfortunately, there is one aspect that soured me on the experience significantly: the bosses. They are little more than giant, flying bullet sponges who rarely offer a challenge provided you keep moving and aim for weak spots. They are also visually underwhelming. After a selection of great-looking enemy models, it is so underwhelming to just spam shots into a flying box.

An enemy's head getting blown off with a handgun
Seeing an enemy’s head exploding never gets old in any game ever.

Especially since the game does such a great job introducing regular enemies. There’s a recognizable color to them. The glowing yellow eyes of shotgun troops are instantly recognizable in the darkness, and so are the blue cloaks of SMG troops. In levels, the path forward is always marked by red, and armor stations shine bright blue, yellow, or purple. The game does a great job at making things on the battlefield stand out, so for the bosses to not pop at all is criminal.

Though these encounters take the game down a notch, SPRAWL’s levels are more than enough to stand out. The exciting moments outweigh the forgettable boss battles, the soundtrack will soon enter my listening rotation, and the part of the brain responsible for storing all my shooter highlights (they are very cool) has been more than satisfied. I would also love to see more from the two-dev team over at MAETH. I think they tapped into something special here that can be expanded upon further.

Mateusz played SPRAWL on PC with a review code. SPRAWL is available on PC via Steam and Epic Games Store.

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