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Cryptmaster Review (PC)

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Cryptmaster Promotional Art

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Well, as it turned out, words did hurt me; I echoed the words of an intangible riddle, only to receive the cold shoulder of the monotone keeper who, rather annoyingly, held the keys to the next doorway in a gloomy and unfamiliar cavern of shadow and grit. It was somewhere around then, in the opaque corridors of the grammar-centric puzzler, Cryptmaster, that I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t possess the skills or knowledge to breach the next barricade. Naturally, I had just the two options: use my voice to spit out mindless jargon until the lock cracked under sheer boredom and frustration, or scrape my head along the keyboard until something—anything was able to register and send me along my way. In the end, I did both. Go figure.

In case you’ve yet to put two and two together, Cryptmaster is a mind-bending first-person puzzle game—a title in which you, the weary traveler, must explore the tainted ruins of a grammarian-led underworld. But, there’s a catch: you don’t carry any weapons, nor do you rely on combos or armor to carry you through the bulk of the biomes; on the contrary, you use your words to progress—a system that, while not overly perplexing, can cause quite the commotion in your overarching psyche. That’s right — words, of all things, are your bread and butter, and so, if you enjoy the idea of mulling over a game of Scrabble on a cold winter’s eve, then you’ll probably love just about everything that make up this journey.

Still not convinced? Well then, let’s go ahead and break it up into a few additional pieces. Care to join us as we embrace the crypt?

A Typist’s Recurring Nightmare

Enemy pondering over an hourglass (Cryptmaster)

Cryptmaster is a typing game at heart, and so, in an ideal world, you will need some level of experience in the art of either writing, or, failing that, some basic understanding of how to untangle letters to make words that, you know, make sense. Set in a cel-shaded network of bleak corridors and chambers, the game transports you to the inner circle of its world—a place in which countless doors stand between you and the exit. Unsurprisingly, the only way to escape through said doors is to pay close attention to the items in your surroundings, and essentially eliminate the need to mindlessly enter illogical solutions into a slider of some sort. And, that’s sort of what the game is: analyzing certain set pieces in the environment, and wracking your brain for the answers that, with any luck, might just cause you to open up a new portal.

In Cryptmaster, you might find a rather large box, at which point you will be presented with a six-letter dial. In order to open said box, you must not only listen to the keeper—a shadowy curator of knowledge who offers advice and insights into the contraption—but observe your surroundings. What does the box resemble? How heavy is the box? Are there any distinctive features that make it unique? To shed a little more light on this particular puzzle, we had to play twenty questions with ourselves—a process that eventually led us to locate the answer. Sure enough, it took some time to decipher the combination, but ‘WEIGHT’, of all things, was the answer that coerced us to continue forth toward the next checkpoint.

Keep Your Dictionary

Mutated spider enemy encounter (Cryptmaster)

Of course, there’s a little more to the game than simply typing out words and progressing through various doorways and what have you. There’s a story, too; it essentially depicts four players’ ascension to the surface—a task that involves having to play the spirit guides for the titular Cryptmaster, whose sole purpose is to activate a Soul Stone and resurrect the dead for the sake of terrorizing humanity. Needless to say that, as said guides, you must make several decisions along your journey, all of which culminate in some form of moral climax between the living and the dead. It’s a simple premise, and hardly one that’s memorable, to say the least. Having said that, it was never the story that enticed me; it was the stellar dialogue, quirky art style, and innovative text-based gameplay that made me want to carve deeper into its world.

Cryptmaster doesn’t sport any vibrant colors or fluorescent themes; in fact, it paints itself as something a little more macabre and drab, in the form that, setting-wise, everything is built around charcoal-smothered textures and noir-like voids. It’s an appropriate setting, too, as the game willingly centers itself around not only the underbelly of a soulless city, but a dark and oddly sinister presence that has the vocabulary to make your blood curdle and your bones shatter. This isn’t to say that it’s a natural-born horror game, mind you — because it isn’t that, like, at all. However, there is a rather peculiar uncertainty about how it portrays its core components; it’s dark, and it’s evidently creepy, but it certainly isn’t a “scary” RPG by any stretch. And so, if it’s a text-based horror that you’re on the market for, then you might be slightly disappointed.

Commence the Grind

Player traversing ominous hallway (Cryptmaster)

As it turns out, there is a bit of a grind in this RPG. Granted, it isn’t anything majorly taxing, but it is worth pointing out that, in order to make some basic level of progress in the main quest, you must also be willing to divert the course and complete other side jobs and “fetch” quests. And when I say fetch quests, I’m mainly referring to the stolen letters that stitch themselves into the overarching narrative. To cut a long story short, both you and the three other soulless husks have lost all of your memories since passing over to the underworld, and surprise surprise, the only way for you to regain said memories is to play a good old-fashioned game of Hangman with the devil. How do you go about collecting these fragments? Why, by completing puzzles and earning letters, of course!

Don’t get me wrong, there are several “boss” battles in the game, but seeing as vocabulary is your vanilla weapon of choice, the only thing that you can do, really, is unlock commands, such as STAB, or HIT, by—you guessed it—earning tiles from completing the various lock boxes and what have you. As each of the four protagonists have their own chosen play styles, too, this means having to accrue the appropriate moves for each character; for example, one character may prefer to use witty musical crescendos to inflict damage on their opponents, whereas another may prefer to use some blade-like melee weapon, and so on and so forth.

Verdict

Enemy encounter (Cryptmaster)

If you’re the sort of gamer who enjoys hawking over lettered tiles and aligning them in the correct order for several hours, then I have no doubt that you’ll probably enjoy a solid portion of what Cryptmaster has to share with you. It isn’t the best story-driven game out there, but it certainly elevates a niche concept that has all the hallmark qualities of a good old-fashioned guessing game. Sure, it’s a little bit on the lengthy side, and it does frequently rely on your ability to persist with the tasks without offering much by way of lending out a helping hand every once in a while. But, again, there’s clearly a beauty to it; it possesses a tremendous amount of depth and quality features, with its unique and often unsettling dialogue being one of the standout aspects of the bunch, for sure.

To answer the question, is Cryptmaster worth the time and effort? Honestly, it depends, as it certainly isn’t a game that’ll tick every set of boxes out there. With that said, if games like Wordle or Words With Friends make up your go-to back pocket goodies, then you’ll probably find the likes of this one a great alternative — or at least as an excuse to flex your inner linguist skills, anyway. Is it a good RPG? Eh — it isn’t the worst one we’ve seen in recent years, but it also isn’t one that we’d recommend to fledgling die-hards of the genre, either. Suffice it to say, though, that if you enjoy typing (or mashing your head against a keyboard, perhaps), then you’re as good as golden, and definitely in perfectly safe hands with this unruly little number.

Cryptmaster Review (PC)

ODDLY EN_E_TA_N_NG

Cryptmaster brings a certain sense of oddness to a whimsical and weirdly complex realm of typos and grammarian-obsessed behavior — and it does it remarkably well, all things considered. It’s certainly a niche genre, I’ll say that much, but if you have an undying love for typing games like Wordle, then you’ll probably get a good kick out of this one.

Jord is acting Team Leader at gaming.net. If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.