Okay okay, let’s just get this out of the way first and we can all move on to matters more important. Yes Crimson Alliance is similar to Diablo and yes, it will potentially conjure up images of old time Gauntlet in your mind’s eye, particularly while playing in co-op mode and, if you’re anything like me it’ll also make you rue the day you spent forty quid on Dungeon Siege III.
Now let us continue, because next up is an equally important bit of information. Crimson Alliance is best served in the company of friends. That’s not to say the lone wolves among us won’t reap great reward from time spent with the game, not even close, as this is a game that has much to give, more that taking to the dungeons of Crimson Alliance partied up is where the magic truly happens.
But let’s for now go back to page one and lay some foundations under this review.
The story being told by Crimson Alliance is hardly ground breaking, sticking closely to the well-worn fantasy clichés as it does. It features a demon going by the name of the Soul Siren, some whole heartedly acted main characters, and a whole worlds worth of flickering candlelight and dank dungeon walls. It sounds exactly as you’d expect but, refreshingly, Certain Affinity’s game doesn’t need a strong storyline. Let the players write their own adventures, let your imaginations roam free as, along with a few friends you take the Wizard, the Mercenary and the Assassin on the dungeon crawl and treasure hunt of a lifetime.
If you’ve ever played, or even been in the vicinity of a top down action/rpg game at any point in your gaming life then it’s probably fair to say you’ve got a pretty good idea already of what to expect from Crimson Alliance. It’s also probably fair to say you’d be bang on in your gameplay expectations, the only thing that you might not be expecting is just how damned fun and playable this game is.
Everything is just so smooth and natural, the controls seem pretty much perfect and within seconds you’ll be casting spells and swinging blades as if you were born to do so.
Each move is mapped to one of the main four buttons, right trigger blocks, right shoulder uses special weapon and the all-powerful left shoulder brings out the ultimate power move, it’s blissfully simple and means you can spend your time concentrating on the action as opposed to what button does what, there’ll be no pulling out the map just as the whites of the enemies eyes scream into view with Crimson Alliance.
The action is classic dungeon crawl, head into an area, eliminate the baddies, collect the loot and hit the road. Scattered throughout each good sized level are hidden secret areas stacked up with that rpg mainstay, gold coins. To be honest these secret areas are by and large fairly obvious to spot and it’s very difficult to become lost within the walls of the dungeons on offer here, a good thing in my opinion, let’s face it backtracking is a scourge of many a video game. The enemies slowly build in number and difficulty as the levels progress while in some areas the exit is barred until every monster is felled. It all adds up to a nice meaty challenge and a game that should last you a good six plus hours, which let’s face it, in this day and age is longer than certain retail games will offer before the end credits.
The three classes available are all equally fun to play. I found it difficult to pick a favourite, but if pressed would plump for the Wizard. Being able to keep the enemies at a distance with the power of magic is always preferable to getting eye to eye with bad guys. Wimpy, I know.
The Mercenary is the muscle bound sword swinger of the crew, while the Assassin uses speed and guile to dispose of the enemies. Each is well balanced and it’s a great credit to the games creators that each class feels important, there’s no glaringly obvious weaker role here.
The classic rpg levelling up we know and….tolerate, is absent within Crimson Alliance, replaced instead with opportunities to gain strength and power with the purchase of better and stronger weapons and armour. This also gives you the chance to spend some of that hard earned…stolen gold you’re hauling about. Before long you’ll be carrying the tools and know how to rain a hail of death upon the monsters of this world. It’s another example of making things simple but again it works brilliantly and allows the player to spend more time hacking, slashing and casting than staring at stat screens.
Graphically Crimson Alliance looks great. The cartoony style really suits the game beautifully, bright colours have a real vividness against the darker overall feel, the lighting from candles and burning torches is wonderfully atmospheric, the rooms and corridors all look authentically gloomy and the animation on the characters is smoother than a well poured Guinness. The opening scene sees you standing upon a ledge about to head into the first dungeon, fires rage, sparks illuminate the black sky and a building crumbles in the background, it’s both truly stunning and a great beginning.
As I mentioned earlier it’s in co-op play that this game really comes alive, if it’s a good thing in single player then in co-op it’s one of the best things to happen to the Xbox LIVE Arcade in…..well, forever really.
Up to four players can team up and take to the action, the main aim being to try and gold star the level before moving on. One of the main ways of achieving the gold seal of approval is by building the multiplier as high as possible, and that’s much easier said than done. One solitary hit on any player is all it takes to start the descent of the multiplier and believe me, when the action gets frantic on screen it’s incredibly easy to be on the end of a sucker punch. Multiplier frustrations aside though the co-op aspect is a total joy to play, it runs like a dream, rewards teamwork (at least in as much as it makes progression speedier,) and is a non stop action fest of the highest top down calibre.
The only thing left to say is ‘what are you waiting for?’ Go and buy this game now, it’s a rich and rewarding experience, is great in single player and a completely momentous experience in co-op. In a genre that had largely been overlooked on this generations consoles, but has recently made something of a comeback, right now Crimson Alliance is a jewel in the dungeon crawler crown, a crown that will probably have been looted by the end of this review.
To close I’d say it seems funny that during a time when traditionally the video game universe goes into hibernation and great games are few and far between, the arcades have delivered one of the best runs of genuinely top class titles ever seen. Crimson Alliance continues this run and more than that, it may even be the icing on the summer arcade extravaganza.