I’m not sure why, but the Action-RPG genre never seems to wear thin on me. Even after playing them for over 20 years now (the earliest of which goes back to my NES days in the late 1980’s), I still love them just as much now as I ever have. We’ve seen the genre evolve, with Blizzard’s Diablo setting the bar in such a way that it’s now synonymous with it, no different than Coke is to cola or Kleenex is to tissues. It’s been over 10 years since Diablo took to store shelves and just about every Action-RPG released since then gets compared to it, being dubbed (often times unfairly) Diablo-clones.
This brings me to the latest game from Certain Affinity, a developer that may not have the “household name” status as others such as Bungie, Valve or Treyarch have. But, if you have played games from any of the latter, odds are you have enjoyed some of Certain Affinity’s work. Sure, they put out Age of Booty, in my opinion one of the more under-appreciated XBLA titles, but they are probably most known for their work on maps for Halo 2 (Hang ‘Em High? Yeah, that’s them), World at War, Halo Reach, Black Ops, and they even had a part in bringing Left 4 Dead the 360. They have worked hand-in-hand with 343 Industries on such little known projects as Halo Waypoint and the upcoming Halo CE Anniversary. So needless to say, the odds are good that you have already seen what these guys can do.
There is evil afoot...
Crimson Alliance is a bit of a departure for them though, eschewing the well-worn FPS territory that Certain Affinity have been treading and venturing into the Diablo-dominated Action-RPG realm. Although, this is one of those cases where it isn’t a fair comparison. Sure, it fits in the genre, but it isn’t a Diablo-clone, nor does it try to be. Crimson Alliance is much too streamlined, dumping convoluted character attributes and skill trees to let the focus be where it needs to be: the action.
Unfortunately, that sort of works against it as well. Those looking for a rich, involving experience may feel a little let down. There’s three character classes (Mercenary, Assassin, Wizard) and the abilities for each are already pre-set for you. Upgrades are weapon based, with each new one adding to one of the four ability attributes. Heart pieces are scattered across the environment, not unlike the Zelda franchise, which will boost your character’s health. And...that’s about it as far as stat manipulation is concerned. There is no leveling or experience, going instead the more arcade route with a point system, score multipliers and leaderboards. Again, keeping the focus on the action instead of level grinding or loot hoarding. With that said, there are things to pick up, the majority of which comes in the form of gold to be spent in shops on new gear. Additionally, there are four “consumables”, assigned conveniently to the D-Pad, in the form of a health-spewing tower, a mini-turret, throwing axes, and monster bait. Pro-Tip: Don’t underestimate your ability to pick up boxes and barrels. It is NOT a tacked on move. Proper use of the TNT barrels along with the consumables will be critical later in the game, especially in the higher difficulty settings.
No, you go ahead, I’ll just "supervise" from here...
The story doesn’t help things out much either, which turned out to be a bit of a missed opportunity if you ask me. Essentially the three heroes are traveling across the land of Byzan, each for their own reasons, and en route they eventually discover the evil Soul Siren has risen again. Naturally, they stop must carry on together and stop her. The tale, told via still-framed, water-colored cut scenes, is highlighted by the banter between the three personalities. Sadly, it’s under-utilized, and instead, the story ends up being a bit flat, coming off more as a means to push the action from one stage to the next instead of the other way around. There’s some interesting groubwork here though, so hopefully in the sequel we get things fleshed out a bit more.
The visuals ranked in with plenty of detail and a measure of subtlety as the environments transition from one to the next. The journey will take the heroes across the desert, through cities and even a castle. As you play though, you’ll notice little things here and there, showing the change as things shift from one landscape to the next. A nice variety of foes, each with their own distinct look, will challenge the heroes including Wargs, Ninjas, Gulyabani, Skeletons, necromancers, zombies and many more. The score, on the other hand, is virtually non-existent, letting the grunts, groans and the swing of the weapons fill out the audio. That’s a bit of a oddity as well, since the genre tends to be known for it’s sweeping musical soundtracks.
Hmmm...damn GPS didn’t say anything about THIS...
I’d be remiss not to at least note the somewhat different pricing structure Certain Affinity has put together for this release. Those of you who focus entirely on a single class will be able to save a couple of bucks. Are you the kind of player who just wants to tank his/her way through the baddies, always leaving the magic and ranged heroes in the garage? Then the 800 MP ($10) single-class option is for you. Alternatively, should you want all three classes, 1200 MP ($15) will net you the whole shebang.
Regardless of the minor quibbles I have, Crimson Alliance still offers plenty of good times. While the story could have been highlighted a bit better and the “RPG” side of things is thin at best, the action is constant and there are loads of hidden cashes of gold along with puzzles requiring more than one player to solve. Featuring both local and online, 4-player co-op spread across 13 story-based stages and a handful of survival-like challenge rooms, players will have plenty to be busy with for their $15. Throw in the point scoring and the leaderboards and the competitive edge will bump the replay value. It won’t quite scratch the Diablo or Torchlight itches, something I suspect only their respective upcoming sequels will accomplish, but it will provide some good old fashioned hack-n-slash adventuring. So if you are a fan of the genre, there’s no reason not to give this one a spin. Just be sure to come in looking for more of the “Action” and less of the “RPG”.
Release date : 2011-09-07
Publisher : Microsoft Game Studios
Developer : Certain Affinity
Gameplay : Action-RPG
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