Climbing to the top of a cliff face is the Crux of the matter.
I am not one for climbing. Aside from the fact that I lack the physical aptitude to do anything close to clambering up a rockface, I’m terrified of heights. So going into Crux: The Great Outdoors, a game themed entirely around climbing cliffs, I didn’t really know what to expect. Thankfully, there’s very little knowledge required, as this is really more of a quick thinking puzzle game rather than some sort of climbing simulator.
Crux: The Great Outdoors is a port of a mobile game released in 2022, and sequel to the similarly themed mobile game Crux. Taking place over a number of stages, your goal in any given level is to use the available hand and foot holds to climb to the top of a cliff face. There’s no plot, you’re just climbing because you like to, which is fine, as this is really a puzzle game with rock climbing theming.
The mechanics of the puzzles do lean into the theme quite nicely though, as you control your hands and feet independently of each other. Playing on keyboard, WASD control your feet, whilst the arrow keys move your hands. You don’t need to worry about which hand or foot gets moved, as your character just places which one is best suited for the direction you want to go in.
So far, so simple, and indeed so chill. You very quickly find out that you can only hold on to certain handholds for so long, meaning you need to move and plan quickly. Suddenly, this is a fast paced puzzle game, as you need to work out how to get to the next checkpoint and make split second decisions. The size of each hold dictates how fast you need to be, with small ones meaning you need to get your hands off it immediately, medium ones allowing you to make one foot movement if you’re fast enough, and large ones allowing you two.
It’s simultaneously an elegantly simple system and a frustrating one, as it doesn’t have an enormous number of systems, but at the same time you need to plan ahead without necessarily having the time to do so. It’s deceptively challenging thanks to that lovely, pastel, zen aesthetic belying the genuinely difficult puzzles beneath. Whether you’ll like Crux: The Great Outdoors or not really comes down to what you expect from it, so buyer beware in that regard.
There are ways to mitigate the difficulty, as you can pan around the map before you start moving, and you can make use of checkpoints along the way should you fall off. You get fewer stars for finishing in under a certain number of moves if you use the checkpoints, but you’ll at least get to the end. Those stars are how you unlock additional areas though, so you may find yourself replaying the odd level to pick up additional ones.
Some of those later levels are really quite tough too. Not only are they longer, but you also get additional mechanics to contend with, such as jumping to skip over hand holds or holds that can only be approached from certain directions. There’s no denying that this is a stiff challenge, especially if you plan on getting three stars on every stage.
I personally did enjoy this, as the challenging puzzles were enjoyable to overcome, even if it wasn’t quite the game I was expecting, so from a game standpoint I see this as a good game. What I didn’t like so much was the fact that this pre-release version I played is a pretty lazy PC port from mobile. Dialogue boxes ask you to tap to proceed. Panning around the levels has you dragging the screen around like you’re using your finger on a screen. Most egregious of all though, is the complete absence of a quit button to close the game necessitating an alt+F4 to quit out. I’m no developer, but I can’t imagine putting a quit button in would be a huge ask.
Ignoring that though, Crux: The Great Outdoors is a pretty solid puzzle game, just don’t go in expecting a nice relaxed game to while away a little time as you unwind. You’re in for a solid, albeit enjoyable challenge. The simplistic, but delightful art style certainly adds to the game’s appeal even if they do feel a little deceptive. I could easily see someone falling for this one.
Crux: The Great Outdoors is available now on PC.