Review – SPRAWL

As a wise man named DJ Khaled once said, “another one”. Upon hearing about SPRAWL, I nearly wanted to roll my eyes and just say that this was going to be yet another retro-styled first-person shooter (or “boomer shooter”, a term I loathe), the sixth or seventh game in the style I’d play this year. I am glad I was wrong, however. SPRAWL is, without a doubt, influenced by old-school shooters, but this is no mere DOOM or Quake clone. There’s more to this weird little game than meets the eye, resulting in one of the more unique shooters I’ve played this year.

SPRAWL adrenaline

Hold down the Adrenaline button in order to highlight your enemy’s weak spots. Then just blast them off.

You know the moment when I realized this was more than just a meathead FPS with blood, gore, metal, and bullets? It was a few seconds into it, once I was greeted with a choir singing a creepy tune in a bizarre, but very familiar tone. Then I started looking at the environment around me. At that moment, it all clicked: “dude, I’m playing a Ghost in the Shell game”. It was that kind of choir song played in the beginning of the movie. The same cyberpunk environment. Gritty futuristic visuals, thoughts about humanity and AI, a violent government hunting you down. This was no mere edgelord shooter about mowing down big boobed hellspawn with a tommy gun.

I also noticed that the level design isn’t exactly like an old-school shooter. The levels aren’t labyrinths. They are fairly linear, or with just a few branching paths here and there. There are lots of platforming puzzles due to the fact you can perform a limited amount of wall hops, and there are secrets to unveil, but for the most part, it’s way less open than other retro-styled shooters. That’s not a bad thing, mind you: given how SPRAWL is story-heavy and divided in chapters, being a bit more linear isn’t a detriment. Combat-heavy areas are still immense. You are not going to fight inside tight corridors like in Call of Duty.

SPRAWL combat

A good shooter lets you turn each enemy into a power-up piñata.

The meat of the experience revolves around movement and combat. As previously mentioned, wall hopping is a huge part of SPRAWL‘s level design, letting you jump over ledges and reach new areas with ease. You can also do that to avoid certain confrontations. Then again, why would you want to do that when the combat is oh so delicious? This is, by and large, your standard meathead shooter (no iron sights, no reloading, yadda yadda yadda), but with a twist: bullet time.

This is not the same kind of bullet time seen in Max Payne or Enter the Matrix (shut up, I love that piece of crap), but you get the gist. By pressing the right button on the mouse, you can temporarily slow down everyone around you. Furthermore, you can also highlight your enemy’s weak spots, such as a foe’s head or a backpack conveniently filled to the brim with flammable liquids. It also allows you to dodge their attacks with a bit more precision. Furthermore, offing a foe whilst in this zen-like state often grants you an increased amount of pickups, including more adrenaline, which can be used to further keep you on bullet time.

SPRAWL effects

It looks vaguely retro, but its post-processing effects look quite modern.

There aren’t that many weapons for you to handle, but that wasn’t an issue. In fact, I mostly stuck to the initial pair of pistols given to me right at the beginning of the game, as precision shooting counted more than just mindlessly mowing down everything in sight during most combat situations. Ammo isn’t exactly scarce, but it’s really easy to empty out your clip when not in slow-motion, thus carefully aiming and shooting at a foe’s head felt more appropriate. It also felt cool as hell.

SPRAWL‘s presentation is quite weird at first glance, but it’s really cool nonetheless. Its visuals are off-putting at first: it goes for occasionally low-poly and old-school textured assets, but in a very modern environment. I still don’t know if the emphasis was to make it look like it was part of a specific era of shooters (in this case, the early 2000s) or if it was a technical decision in order to make the game run at ludicrous framerates.

SPRAWL easter eggs

Damn you, SPRAWL. You tickled my FOMO and made me use my phone’s QR code scanner…

The lighting and post-processing effects, however, all felt very modern. It was a weird game to pay attention to at first, but I can’t deny that SPRAWL features a strong sense of art direction. I cannot call it lazy, that’s for certain. Weirdly enough, I don’t think that SPRAWL was trying to appeal towards a nostalgic crowd, despite the visuals. You are moving so quickly that things start becoming a gigantic blur after a while.

The main star of the show, however, is the game’s sound department. It’s not just because of the Ghost in the Shell-esque choirs, even though they were a big part as to why I fell for the game almost instantly. The soundtrack is also comprised of fast-paced, in-your-face electronic music, the kind of stuff that fits like a glove during an action setpiece in a cyberpunk setting. There’s also quite a lot of voice acting coming from “the voice inside your head”, and it’s also pretty good. There wasn’t a lot to complain about the sound department as a whole. SPRAWL didn’t try to waste my time with loud metal for the sake of it, or overly loud sound effects. Everything was there for a reason.

SPRAWL shotgun

Shotguns need to pack one hell of a punch. This one does. Oh boy, it sure does.

I didn’t expect a lot from SPRAWL due to the sheer excessive amount of retro-styled shooters being released right now, but I’m glad I gave this one a shot. This isn’t trying to be mere nostalgia bait or an ultraviolent shooter for the sake of it. It’s well-written, it’s well-designed, it’s smart, and it sounds incredible. It was a perfect mixture of slightly retro visuals thrown into a futuristic, Ghost in the Shell-esque setting, with all the post-processing effects and gimmicks featured in a more modern game, and juicy combat sections which will please both adrenaline junkies and those looking for a more methodical take on the genre.


Graphics: 7.5

Somewhat retro visuals meshed with realistic lighting effects. Some decisions felt a bit off to be honest, but the art direction was indeed strong.

Gameplay: 8.5

Fast-paced retro shooting with an added emphasis on movement and bullet time. Not particularly groundbreaking, but innovative (and responsive) enough.

Sound: 9.5

At times, it sounds like your typical (and good) fast-paced cyberpunk action piece. Other times, it blasts you with a Ghost in the Shell-esque choir that put chills down my spine. The voice acting was also pretty good. All in all, the sound department was a surefire standout.

Fun Factor: 8.5

In a saturated sea of retro-styled first-person shooters, SPRAWL stands out by not trying to solely feel nostalgic. Its Ghost in the Shell-esque setting and bullet time-based gameplay were some of its main highlights.

Final Verdict: 8.5

SPRAWL is available now on PC.

Reviewed on Intel i7-12700H, 16GB RAM, RTX 3060 6GB.

A copy of SPRAWL was provided by the publisher.