Reviews

Crimson Alliance – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 800MSP or 1200MSP
Singleplayer: Yes
Online Co-op: Yes 2-4 players
Local Co-op: Ye, but no split screen.

(Thank you to Certain Affinity for providing a copy of Crimson Alliance for review)

What do you get when you’ve got a wizard, a warrior and a rogue all in one place? A fantasy hack and slash adventure, of course! Except the warrior is a mercenary and the rogue is an assassin, which all amounts to the same thing, really.The wizard is still just a wizard, so as not to confuse people, presumably. But while we once had a terrifying shortage of isometric dungeon crawling games on Xbox, this is no longer such a big problem, and that means Crimson Alliance has to work hard to prove itself.

But before we delve into this review and hack some monsters up, it’s important to explain that Crimson Alliance has a rather unique pricing scheme; the initial download of the game is completely free and will allow gamers use of any of the games three characters and access to the first three levels of the game, or fifteen minutes of online co-op action. Should you find that only one character interests you, you can pay 800MSP to unlock that character and the rest of the game. If you fancy playing as all three, you can pay 1200MSP and gain access to all of them.

Once you’ve figured out how much cash you’re willing to shell out of Crimson Alliance and get into the game proper, you’re greeted with some rather striking still-screens that tells the tale of the city of Byzan, it’s fall and the rise of the Soul Siren, who is, quite obviously, really evil. Somehow involved in all of this is a mysterious wizard who’s managed to recruit himself a merc and an assassin. The initial flash of story is actually quite interesting, if incredibly generic, so it’s a shame that it practically disappears afterwards. Sure, you’ll see it occasionally resurface, but it takes a back seat to Crimson Alliances love of killing enemies. However, a nice touch comes in the form of being able to check out each characters back story before picking which one you want to play as.

The three characters available to play as behave pretty much as you’d expect. The big mercenary warrior is probably the simplest to pick up and play as he comes with a light and heavy attack, a shield bash for stunning enemies and a dash move mapped to A. Finally, his shield lets him take plenty of punishment, but only from a single direction.  The wizard, as you may have suspected, is the long-range option in the game. His teleport allows him to stay out of harms way as he hurls fireballs at the enemy, stuns them with a lighting strike of freezes them. He and the mercenary work togeth very well in co-op (I’m getting to that), with the wizard freezing targets and the merc shield bashing them into walls. The final character, the assassin, is all about speed. Her dash is nice and speedy, and her dagger lets you backstab pesky foes. The characters are a well-balanced bunch, offering nicely differing play styles, and yet the game oddly offers four-play co-op despite having just three character classes, so two unlucky gamers will be playing as the same class.

Despite claims that Crimson Alliance is an action RPG, you can forget about finding deep character customisation, skill trees, character developement of practically all the hallmarks of an RPG in the game, instead it chooses to focus heavily on the “action” part of its description, favouring hitting varying enemies with swords.

The game follows the fairly simple dungeon crawling template; progress through the level using the games isometric view, killing enemies as you go. On occasion you’ll find a chest containing a new piece of equipment for your character which is almost always better than what you’re wearing. This isn’t a loot based dungeon crawler, though, as chest are pretty rare in the world of Crimson Alliance and they are the soul provider of loot mid-level, aside from gold scattered around, but happily most of the new gear at least has some pretty nice effects that buff your stats nicely and can come in plenty of flavours, such as a new staff for the Wizard that lets him hurl multiple fireballs at any one time. In many respects the equipment is the levelling up mechanic of Crimson Alliance, with each piece offering different stat buffs and effects.

All this gear is handled through a simple pop-up menu that’s easy to navigate, and it doesn’t even pause the game so your co-op chums don’t have to swear at you every time you find a shiny new sword and want to try it out.

Alongside your main equipment you can also find handy items to pick up on your travels, such as throwing axes, deployable turrets and healing stations. These all get mapped to the D-pad and can be used at anytime.

In between levels you can also visit the traveling merchants to spend all that hard-earned gold that you gained by finding the secret locations and slaying enemies. It’s here that you’ll usually find the best of the gear, often a huge prices. But if you can’t be arsed with all that gold hunting and still want the best gear, the game allows you to “cheat” by paying 80 Microsoft Points to get 40,000 gold to spend on whatever the hell you want.

Combat in Crimson Alliance is a simple affair, but it does actually require some careful thought on how best to tack each mob of enemies as they tend to change considerably throughout the game. While the pesky buggers may have been meek in the first level, later they’ll start chasing you down, while the archers will start targeting explosive barrels to take you down. Bigger, badder enemies are also introduced as you progress, always demanding a slight change in your tactics. But while your varying attacks do require a little bit of skill to use correctly, it still feels more like a button masher.

Each different character also comes with a unique Ultimate Attack, unlocked by collecting items dotted around the levels, which is charged up by, you guessed it, killing things. As you may imagine from anything called an Ultimate Attack, it’s pretty devestating.

But the leaderboards do help keep combat a little more interesting, because as you fight for your life and kill enemies a multiplier in the top right of the screen will slowly go up, but should you get hit it will go down. This combat score combines with other points awarded for speed and how many secret areas you found to create your total score which goes up on the leaderboards. The levels can all be completed fairly quickly, making for a perfect game for score hunters to go back replay each level, especially as they can do so with all the equipment they’ve looted from later levels. Getting the highest multiplier (it stops at 8x) actually does require a fair amount of skill, and even a little planning.

If the lobby screen that prompts you to invite other players into the game wasn’t enough of a hint, the level design will certainly slap you around and inform you that Crimson Alliance is heavily emphasising the four-player co-op play, sometimes even at the detriment of the singleplayer experience. As you venture around each well-designed level, you’ll encounter puzzles to be solved so you can get some nice loot, but the game will helpfully inform you that these puzzles will most likely require a second player, and sure enough they do. In fact, almost all of them do.

The co-op doesn’t add much in the way of new gameplay, but it does add a few helpful combo-styled attacks to your groups arsenal. Primarily, the Wizards freeze and the merc’s shield bash which can send the frozen enemies sliding into a wall. In fact, this combination is so powerful that the most successful co-op build will be two wizards and two mercs, allowing you simply plow through almost everything. However, it should be noted that the co-op aspect of the game was lag free, meaning plenty of hours happily spent killing things with your friends. The fact that co-op doesn’t add a whole new range of features isn’t that important, because the real point is that any hack and slash game becomes instantly more fun if you’ve got friends to hit things with too. Suddenly the constant button mashing becomes far more amusing when you’ve got three friends running around, all trying to keep that score multiplier as high as possible. In short; killing shit is always more fun with friends.

So, what we have here is a game that is incredibly hard to recommend to anyone who plans on playing it solo, unless they happen to really like leaderboards. It’s a fairly standard dungeon crawling game, but one that feels very simplistic in how it plays, though it could be argued that its streamlined gameplay is a good thing, but for this gamer it’s not. However, get some friends together and you’ve got a pretty enjoyable, if still simple, romp through dungeons while arguing whose sword is cooler. Obviously, mine is.

The Good:
+ Co-op!
+ Leaderboards!
+ Buying a lovely sword that sets people on fire.

The Bad:
– Solo play is…..dull.
– Simplistic gameplay.
– That the story feels wasted.

The scores:

Graphics: 7.5
Cartoony and bright make a welcome change, and the environments look pretty good.

Sound: 6.5
Iffy voice acting and some rather sad sound effects (I’m looking at you deployable turret) don’t make this an audio treat.

Story: 6
The initial setup for the story is interesting, but then it fades into the background, never to be seen again.

Gameplay: 7
Hack, slash and grab the occasional bit of loot. More fun with friends.

Lifespan: 7.5
The campaign may last you around four hours. It’s getting the high-scores and co-op that will keep some coming back.

Overall: 7
Summary: A competent, enjoyable but simple dungeon crawler. Like all games of its type I have no doubt that it will find a hardcore audience, but for solo players there isn’t much here to recommend Still, the hacking is entertaining, and loot is always a good thing.

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