The hack and slash field is slowly gaining momentum. With Torchlight II and Diablo III on the horizon and the original Torchlight and Dungeon Siege III occupying a lot of gamer’s time, the genre is definitely going strong. Microsoft hopes to capitalize on this with their latest Xbox Live Arcade effort from developer Certain Affinity called Crimson Alliance. This top-down slasher borrows from some of the veterans but offers up very little when it comes to customization and character progression. While it may turn off some, the game is still a blast to play, especially when you find three friends to go at it with.
Now a lot of people will be familiar with the game because it is actually the promotion from XBLA’s Summer of Arcade. Anyone who bought all the titles will end up getting Crimson Alliance for free. With that said, it also has another unique aspect about it. This is the first title to offer up tiered pricing schemes to fit gamers on multiple levels. You can download the game in its entirety, sort of like a demo. Then, you can either opt to purchase one of the three classes, or all three in one package. Each one runs 800 points or you can snag all three for 1200. It’s an interesting idea, and one that will work for gamers that usually only want to play as one class.
There are three classes in the game, and each one plays just a little bit differently. You have Moonshade the Assassin who relies on speed and has a stun attack to disperse foes. Then you have Direwolf, a wizard with amnesia who focuses on ranged attacks, and finally the tank, Gnox, who relies on pure power and defense. It really just depends on which type of play you prefer, as there really isn’t a whole lot of progression to any one character. You can equip new weapons and armor, but the focus here is strictly on action. Thankfully, it is actually good.
As I mentioned, the game takes place from a top-down perspective. The camera is static, and when you go behind walls, you get that transparent effect. I really wish I had camera control, but I suppose the developers had things they simply didn’t want me to see, and I did get used to it. The combat is simple. All of the face buttons map to various attacks as well as a special move. Tapping the bumper allows you to unleash a special attack once your meter is full. The game is all about combos and learning how to take out each enemy. Once you have that down, the rest is an exercise in rinse and repeat. I found myself only being able to handle 2-3 levels at a time, but still having a blast all around.
Of course, the game is best played with other people, and you can get your multiplayer on Xbox Live or simply from the couch with up to three of your friends. There are various puzzles scattered around the world that require at least two players to complete. While this is definitely disappointing for those flying solo, the weapons and gear you get actually make playing through with partners worth it. Still, you will eventually have access to these items towards the end of the game, or if you opt to purchase in-game gold with real world money.
It is readily apparent that this game is a test for Microsoft and a new pricing structure. With various ways to purchase the game and, of course, in-game currency purchased with real money, they are testing the waters to see how it fares. Honestly, I never felt the need to buy gold in the game because you can earn decent amounts by performing better on each level. This is half the fun of these games, and I guess if you can jump straight to the payoff, that is fine. Besides, the old mantra continues to hold true here: you don’t HAVE to buy it.
Crimson Alliance never tries to be something it is not, and I actually enjoyed that part of it. The game is not as deep as other games like it, and the levels are fairly straightforward. The combat is smooth and the visuals are actually pretty good. The story is hit and miss with some rather amateur voice work and a typically clichéd story. Still, I had a great time with the game and recommend everyone at least give the demo a whirl. If you can live without the immense customization and progression that most of these games pack in you, will find something more akin to a modern day Gauntlet, and to be honest, sometimes that is all we really need.
Review copy provided by publisher.