Claustrophobia: The Downward Struggle is a roguelike dungeon crawler with retro graphics. Roguelike, if you're not familiar, is a sub-genre of RPGs, typically characterized by randomized levels, permadeath, and turn-based movement and combat, though some modern games have given the sub-genre a twist. The Binding of Isaac is roguelike in every sense except it's not turn-based, giving it a more arcade feel. Dungeons of Dredmor is a true turn-based roguelike, except it does provide you the option to turn off permadeath (but where's the fun in that?). There's a reason I mention both those games: I've put 150+ hours into Isaac and 50+ hours into Dredmor. Yes, over the past year, I've found a lot of enjoyment from roguelikes, so maybe my intrigue over Claustrophobia is a bit biased.
Still, there's a lot to love here. First there is obviously the randomization of dungeons, enemies, and gear, making each experience unique and, along with multiple difficulties, providing high replay value. It also promises a clean integrated interface with all relevant character information shown on screen at once. This is important to note because it's the one knock I have against Dredmor – the interface can get rather cluttered as you explore more of the map, making it difficult to keep your character sheet and inventory screen open at all times. Taking a cue from Isaac, boss rooms called "Lairs" will be marked by golden doors, so you can plan accordingly. Unlike Dredmor, where you can stumble upon a "Monster Zoo" or named enemy and, to put it mildly, be screwed – not that either system is better or worse than the other.
All that being said, what sets Claustrophobia apart are its combat system and skill tree, though both seem to be evolving over time, as the game is still in development. Each character can have six skills equipped at any given time, selected via the QWERTY keys. Enemies can also have up to six skills, though most will have fewer. Originally, your first two skills would be determined by your weapon class, your next two by your chosen character, and your last two by your skill tree, which could change or improve as you level up. However, with the unveiling of the new skill tree, it seems that system has changed, with skills and passive abilities no longer being bound by your weapon. Now, upon leveling up or finding "Skill Tomes", you gain points to spend in a singular branching skill tree, allowing you to mix and match from Strength, Agility, and Intelligence trees. The Strength and Agility trees have been completed, while the Intelligence tree is still a work in progress.
While there is still a lot of work to be done on the game, an alpha version will be released on Desura in the first week of January, which will include one randomly generated level, 15 enemy types plus one boss, over 100 pieces of loot, and the aforementioned Strength and Agility trees. Developer The Indie Forge is promising major post-launch patches that will keep adding content, and will be launching a forum to gather feedback. Lastly, it should be noted that the game features five levels of zoom, so don't worry if you think the game looks too "small" in the video and screenshots. If you've never played a roguelike, go pick up Isaac or Dredmor while you wait for this and discover how frustrating and addictive they can be.