SPRAWL by MAETH
The indie game space has seen quite the influx of shooters over the last few years, thanks in no small part to the revival of so-called “boomer shooters.” It seems there’s no end of love for the games of the ’90s.
SPRAWL, the debut game from developers MAETH, is a bit of an outlier here. While visually it faithfully recreates the technology of early 2000s shooters like Quake 3 and Unreal, its gameplay is largely modern.
Truthfully, there’s far more of Titanfall and the 2016 reboot of DOOM here than one might expect from a glance at any of its screenshots. The question is, does it combine these influences into something worthwhile?
SPRAWL’s plot and setting leave few doubts as to the designers’ love of cyberpunk. Playing as an abandoned combat cyborg revived by a mysterious AI, you shoot your way through neon-tinged dystopian cityscapes while accompanied by music full of electronic beats and chilling choirs.
I’m frankly shocked lead character Seven’s name wasn’t just made some variation of “Alita” or “Kusanagi.”
Joking aside, while it’s not the most original, SPRAWL pulls its homage off by absolutely dripping with atmosphere. Good art design goes a long way, and the developers at MAETH seem to understand this better than many.
It also helps that the music and voice acting remain consistently strong throughout the game.
Far more integral to SPRAWL though is its gameplay, which is easily its strong suit. While Seven’s arsenal is fairly standard by shooter standards, the game manages to make each weapon genuinely satisfying to use and integral to the combat. It has one of the best shotguns in recent shooter history, and reducing enemies to pulp with it never stopped getting a grin from me.
What really sells the gameplay, though, are the aforementioned elements SPRAWL borrows from other titles. Tifanfall-style wall-running is a significant part of the game, allowing Seven to navigate environments, zip around enemies, and discover secrets.
Also, it both uses and expands upon the DOOM reboot’s push-forward gameplay. Enemies can be executed via Seven’s katana when reduced to no health, but this can actually also be accomplished by killing enemies via shots to their weak points.
Doing so causes enemies to drop extra health, ammo, and energy for the game’s Max Payne-style triggerable bullet-time ability, and combining all of these elements into each combat encounter keeps things consistently interesting.
While SPRAWL gets a lot more right than it does wrong, there are some hiccups to it that prevent it from being a perfect package.
For starters, while the wall-running is exhilarating, it also often feels more fiddly than it should. It’s not much of an issue during standard combat scenarios, but when the game emphasizes platforming and vertical exploration, there were several times I didn’t make it to a platform that felt like I should have.
SPRAWL also unfortunately suffers from a common problem amongst shooters, which is that it feels like you’ve experienced all of the game’s tricks well before it actually ends. By the time you’ve reached the last of the game’s three chapters, it doesn’t have much left in the way of surprises, which was pretty disappointing.
Even with these issues, SPRAWL is an easy recommendation for shooter fans, especially those who might not be as beholden to the ’90s nostalgia common amongst modern indie shooters. I’m not sure you’ll finish it, but you’ll have a blast for however long you stick with it.
SPRAWL is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for SPRAWL below: