Since VR has released, there have been several genres that have dominated the game space. We have our shooters, our melee combat based adventures, our rhythm games, and our racing games. So what’s the genre that’s missing? What is the one type of game that has been wildly popular over the last decade that has yet to gain traction in VR? The Souls-like! Despite seeming like a great genre to work for VR, there have been such a tiny amount of games to give it a shot. Until you Fall is a good example, but other than that, the landscape is barren of this type of game.
Enter Crawling of the Dead. Though rough around the edges, it is an engaging and thoroughly creepy VR experience that gives you a nice workout as well. The premise is pretty unique, which is nice to see from a small development team looking to make your mark. How it works is you’re being narrated during your actions, having someone talk about your deeds as you do them sort of like the Stanley Parable or for a movie reference, Stranger than fiction. What are these deeds you ask? Well, despite its’ somewhat plain style, there’s a little more depth than you would expect from this game. You comb floor after floor of procedurally generated dungeons as a story plays out the deeper you delve. Gameplay consists of melee combat that focuses less on fantastical swordplay like Skyrim and more on the realistic stylings of Blade and Sorcery. While the dungeons aren’t much to look at, the variety of how they spawn keeps the experience fresh, and the lack of music, while initially disappointing, adds a ton of tension and fear to the proceedings. The enemy variety isn’t the most creative; with your goblins and skeletons and orcs, but the colorful animations and facial features of them really bring the fights to life. During battle, you can’t move much. At first, this seems incredibly restricting and a baffling design choice, but once you realize it’s put in place to utilize the playspace that you probably are going to want to have while playing this. Because of the limited mobility, it’s all about reading your enemy. Enemies will attack in combos and you better be ready to dodge or deflect the blow or you’ll bite the dust early. Physics also plays into fights as well. During battle, you can hit enemies into walls and cause them to fall down and this even works with bosses. As the game begins, things seem extremely easy and slow-paced and you’ll be mowing down enemies like they’re nothing. Shortly after the first floor is completed though, things get incredibly tough as enemies start having shields of different strengths and attacking at some pretty ferocious speeds.
Outside of the combat, you get to wander around your home base, a multi-floored cabin-like environment with a room for you to rest up and heal yourself, a room for training, and a room for crafting. The crafting is by far the most intriguing part. During your dungeon crawling, you will find blueprints throughout that give you better and better weaponry. Once you choose to return home, you head to the forge and you go through a little minigame where you actually have to build your weapons! This means throwing steel into a fire, taking a hammer to create a weapon, and smashing the steel until it’s completed. It adds a ton of immersion into the game and every game thinking about adding a crafting system into their project going forward needs to take note of this and incorporate it. This is a small development team that has clearly worked hard to deliver a tight experience that has a very unique flavor to it. It’s punishingly difficult and the progression during the game is a lot like Dark Souls in that you go back to the beginning of the level if you happen to die in battle. There is very little handholding throughout the game. It’s old school difficult, so much so that it’s hard to figure out how to use something as simple as a healing potion. It would be nice to be given at least a hint on how basic game mechanics like that work instead of having to look it up online (you drop the potion from head height so it shatters on the floor to heal you)
It’s a tough experience to describe. I think the best way to put it is to think about a song you like that you’re not certain about why you like it. The singing is the best, the music is decent at best and it’s not perfectly mixed. This is the VR videogame version of whatever that song is for you. It’s tough to put down, it pushes you to explore and find out what lies ahead on the paths untraveled. It’s not a gem, but it’s a piece of coal that has diamond light shining through it. It’s got its’ flaws, but it’s an experience that deserves your attention.
This is one of those rare VR games that pretty much requires a 5×5 playspace. The design choice to limit the movement of the player once they’re engaged in battle means if you want to attack from a different angle or do a jumping attack, you’re going to have to do it yourself. Clear the area of anything breakable nearby because you’re going to be a danger to any breakable items (or people) nearby.
I used a Fitbit to record my 30-minute workout on a Samsung Odyssey Plus, my current go-to choice for VR gaming.
Calories burned: 154
Calories burned per minute: 7
Average Heart Rate: 103
Max Heart Rate: 115
Active Minutes: 28
While you won’t burn the most calories in a VR game during your time with Crawling of the Dead, the fights are always intense and the boss battles are a mind game mixed with a physical rush that requires you to be light on your feet and quick with your attacks. Because of the physic system, you can lead enemies into tables and walls and have them fall down and this goes for bosses too. When they fall, it’s a slash as fast as you can fest to try and whittle their health bars down before they rise again. There is a lot of downtime exploring, but during that time you will be using one hand to hold a torch out in front of you constantly to light up the dark corners to see what’s going on ahead. This can be tiring after a while, but the real heart rate increases come as a goblin or skeleton comes storming out of the shadows for a fight.
Melee combat in VR has seen some highs and lows but very rarely does a game respect your actual strength. That’s the best thing about Crawling of the Dead. Damage tracked above an enemy’s head and if you’re thinking about doing the old school poke and wag with the VR controller to survive, forget about that. If you want to win here, you’re going to have to swing like you mean it. Armor has pieces to be broken apart before weak points can be exposed and shields need to be slashed apart as well to open enemies up for slicing. You will feel your arms burn after some intense fights and dual-wielding is also an option at the cost of losing the light created from your torch.
You wouldn’t think that your legs would be too involved in this affair, but if you have the suggested 5×5 playspace, then you’re going to be getting quite the legs workout. Once you enter combat, the enemies will respond to whatever position you decide to start your attack from, so it’s a good idea to get creative here. Those are just optional moves you can pull off though when it comes to the enemies that attack you, you don’t have the option. See, the goblins, skeletons, bandits, and bosses of the dungeons love to follow their vicious overhead swipes with lower leg swipe. The reason you’re going to need to do a quick jump here is because if you deflect an attack, you have such a small space of time to dodge the next one that you’re better off jumping. The same goes for crouching when they do their high swipes against you. If you don’t have the space available, you can still have a stationary experience, though you will be missing out on the full experience.
Core and Balance- 7/10
If you’re going to buy into a fully immersive experience, then you will get a solid core muscle workout out of the Crawling of the Dead. Though the gameplay is primarily sword fighting, if you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to hit specific angles on certain enemies and that involves a little bit of ab work. In addition to this, your hard swings will cause a lot of torque in your body and after several fights, you’re going to feel it. The holding of a torch also requires some light core stretching occasionally and you usually need to at least start most dungeon floors this way so you don’t get lost. In terms of balance, it’s pretty easy to lose your balance if you’re in a dark room without a torch. Getting surprised by a goblin caused me to be startled more than a few times and those moments led to a brief state of disorientation.
Time Perception- 8/10
Crawling of the Dead is a very specific kind of experience. If you enjoy brutally challenging gameplay that gives you no shortcuts and occasionally disrespects your time as you trudge the same area over and over again, you’re going to love Crawling of the Dead. Time however seems to stand still as you creep slowly down the halls looking for your next discovery of your next weapon blueprint. Though there isn’t much to look at graphically, there is a pervasive sense of wonder and discovery that’s on display which is something that drives you forth, regardless of whether the darkness swallows you or not. It is easy to hop in for a quick game as you can save your progress each time you head home or head further down into the dungeon. It’s also easy to lose yourself in the game and forget what time it is as you bolster your arsenal and creep further down into the depths.
If there’s one thing the procedurally generated game is good for, it’s replayability. This means that each time you play a level, whether it’s your first time or your one-hundredth time, you will experience a different layout and different enemy placement. Though the game doesn’t fully take advantage of the procedurally generated levels(due to limited budget most likely) it’s refreshing and much in the same way Until You Fall draws you in with its’ randomized enemy placement, Crawling of the Dead satisfies that craving of unpredictability mixed with fear of the unknown that can push you to try just one more crawl through the dungeon.
Fitness Scalability- 7/10
There are no difficulty sliders from what I experienced, but depending on what you do with the controls (teleporting or normal locomotion), the game can be more physically involved or more of a passive experience. If you choose to engage in using your space to the fullest capability, you will find yourself having a pretty solid workout that will burn some calories, but not quite enough to make you feel like you just had a full workout. It’s unclear if there will be difficulty modes added in the future. Much like Dark Souls, there is one difficulty in this game. Punishingly hard.
Lack of Nausea- 8/10
The experience was pretty easy going on my stomach and I felt little to no dizziness playing with full locomotion. If you choose the teleporting and snap turning option, I’m not sure what to tell you, it’s the most sickening option in VR despite being designed to alleviate that very condition. With normal locomotion it’s smooth sailing, teleporting will be a bit bumpy.
Social Competition- 0/10
There is no multiplayer component or any kind in Crawling of the Dead. It’s designed as a single-player experience and there are no plans for multiplayer in the future.
VR FIT Score- 7/10
Crawling of the Dead is a creative dungeon crawler that brings the creepy exploration of Dark Souls to life in VR. It uses some inventive systems to keep you pushing forward while causing you to sweat from its’ combat as well as it’s moody and dark atmosphere. It’s a pretty lengthy adventure as well clocking in at 20 hours.
The graphics are pretty basic and there is a bit of jank to it that doesn’t really ever go away. The levels are pretty repetitive and although they are randomly generated, there’s only so many ways you can place a stony looking corridor. Enemies also are pretty plain looking and there is not a ton of variety there.
Crawling of the Dead is available for $24.99 on Steam