The military regime Junta has overtaken this dystopian cyberpunk world, and you — SEVEN, a special ops super soldier — will fight through waves and waves of foes that stand in your way as you try to reach SPIRE. Can you escape the walled city?
SPRAWL is a boomer shooter with semi-pixelated graphics set in a 3D space in a cyberpunk dystopia. Guided by a voice inside of your head named FATHER, you will control a disgraced special ops soldier that is being betrayed by her own organisation. While the story may not be entirely clear in-game at times (as the narrative fails to tell you what really brought about the destruction of the city), your goal is very simple: kill everyone and survive. What more could you need in a retro-inspired shooter?
After being urged to survive by FATHER and guided through various areas, you will slowly regain your powers: the most important, of course, is the Icarus cybernetic implant that gives SEVEN the capability to walk on walls and jump off of them twice. With this skill, you are given the capability to platform through the world as you make your way across various hazardous levels, alongside using them to your advantage in order to defeat your foes.
The first use is the most unique to the franchise — platforming sections are included in SPRAWL, keeping you sharp and ensuring you continue improving your Icarus knowledge. The platforming sections aren't omnipresent and never overstay their welcome, as instead, these short-and-sweet moments just give you a bit of a breather from the fast-paced shooting whilst still ensuring you feel like a badass through traversal. Careful platforming and exploration can also net you a slew of ammo and armour that will ensure you can survive tough fights, so it was always enjoyable to just run around.
Meanwhile, Icarus excels the most in its battle-focused implementations. While you are fighting against waves and more of enemies intent on murder, you will be able to use the world around you as a means to escape and reposition yourself favourably. Gaining the high ground and shooting enemies from above made hitting their weak spots easy, and it never stopped being exhilarating and just plain-out fun.
The Icarus cybernetic enhancement also gives you one additional benefit: the capability to slow down time (or, in-game terms: bullet time). With the press of a button, you can highlight enemy weak spots and slow them down significantly at the cost of your Adrenaline bar (though we'll talk a bit more about that in a minute).
SPRAWL shines in its combat and ensures that you never feel weak. In fact, at every turn of the corner, it closely mirrors the adrenaline-pumping exhilaration that classics like DOOM created back in the day, all the while not forgetting to remain a unique, modern game. The commentary from FATHER reminding you that no one else could do what you do, all the while performing epic feats in combat, made me feel cooler than I have in videogames in a bit.
You are rewarded for "proper" combat as well, which is a definite plus. While damage to the head is not a one-hit kill, it does enhance your damage dealt and even gives you a bonus of items (additional Adrenaline and health) for killing foes by exploiting their weakness. This was only further capitalised on whenever you hit their weakest spot, where some enemies instead have a jetpack in their back that you could (and should!) attempt to shoot, which works as an instant kill and rewards you with an explosion of goodies.
By properly using a mixture of real-time fighting and bullet time, I was able to keep my Adrenaline bar filled quite a bit, meaning that slowing down time when it was necessary was always a possibility. Although the game might be a bit too generous with its supply of Adrenaline, being able to use bullet time often just ensured I could make better plays that made me feel cool, even if it made some encounters relatively easy at times.
That said, however, difficulty has a bit of a spike in the third (final) chapter of the game. Whilst all of the others have a relatively steady increase in the challenge as it introduces new enemies and guns, the final chapter is a no holds barred test of your skill, which came a bit too soon for my comfort. The enemy quantity grew exponentially, and that meant that hitting the weak spots became a tall order without becoming a sitting duck, especially whenever trying to hit their jetpacks.
SPRAWL rewards skilful play but doesn't leave its boomer shooter roots behind, and that's a feat. You are encouraged to use your bullet time to hit weak spots and use the right weapons against the right enemies, but it manages to retain its fast-paced gunplay action that is typical of the genre without forsaking strategy. It does supply you with a vast amount of ammunition to ensure that you aren't running low, but once again, you don't have so much that it turns it into a brainless shoot-'em-up that doesn't require strategy; a bittersweet feeling for veterans of the genre that might miss the mindless fun other titles provide but still want a modern upgrade.
Truth be told, I didn't think I'd like SPRAWL nearly as much as I did, and I was very pleasantly surprised (and pleased) with it. Although I've dabbled in boomer shooters and loved my time with all of them, this one has wowed me the most of the ones I have tried. It looks a bit bad, is quite short, and doesn't have a gratifying difficulty curve, but it makes up for all of that with the unique Icarus approach and ensures that — above all else — you feel like you are a protagonist worthy of the character's notorious history.
SPRAWL (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
If you don't mind the relatively ugly graphics at times and are interested in trying out a boomer shooter that encourages a bit more strategy, then SPRAWL might just be the perfect title for you.