Reviewed: September 12, 2011
Released: September 7, 2011
The Summer of Arcade has come to a close and the big guns are quickly approaching in a few weeks. That gives you just enough time to dive into some good old fashioned RPG combat with the release of my new favorite fascination, Crimson Alliance for Xbox Live Arcade. For those of you that shelled out for all the Summer of Arcade titles, you got an early look at a very simple co-op RPG that features Gauntlet style hack and slash combat. Certain Affinity, the developer, involved with several multiplayer map packs for the Halo and Call of Duty franchises, has brought us a single player and coop dungeon crawler experience that tells a tale of betrayal, adventure and a dose of humorous dialogue that is the XBLA title to own this summer. |
There is one thing to get out of the way before I begin. To dispel any rumors, Crimson Alliance is not free or free to play. What the folks at Certain Affinity have done is actually quite ingenious. Unlike most Arcade titles, according to Certain Affinity’s own Tom Potter, their newest release is both a full game and a trial copy all in one. Players have access to the three main characters and the first three levels as well as a timed multiplayer experience (15 minutes) of the whole game. If you want to continue with all your saved progress you can purchase individual classes for 800 Microsoft points or all three for 1200. If other studios follow their lead this could be the rebirth of Shareware.
The story follows three survivors in the fallen Byzan, a seaside empire, in ruin and shrouded in evil by the hand of the gulyabani and remnants of a cult that worshipped the princess turned power mad Soul Siren. The three survivors, wizard Direwolf, assassin Moonshade and mercenary Gnox all have their issues but together they fight their way deeper into Byzan as the Crimson Alliance. You can choose any or all of these characters to experience the story in three vastly different play styles.
For players that prefer to go toe to toe with their enemies, the mercenary is the one to choose. This melee powerhouse uses a shield and sword to dish out punishment using two basic attacks, normal and heavy, and dash ability to move around quicker. The mercenary also features a pretty cool whirlwind ultimate move once you unlock the ability to use it. It takes out tougher enemies like a hot knife to butter.
You can’t have a dungeon crawler without a wizard, so if you like the ability to hit enemies from afar then Direwolf is the way to go. Utilizing a staff and orb you can freeze enemies in their tracks, electrocute and stun or roast them with fireballs. The wizard is probably the toughest to start out with but once you get better weapons you can absolutely decimate enemies. The lighting bolt ultimate is definitely a force to be reckoned with. The ability to use your block at the same time as your freeze and fire attacks is immensely useful.
The last class, and my personal favorite, Moonshade the Assassin, combines the best of ranged and melee based combat while using a dagger and sword. The assassin can get overwhelmed with large mobs but features a few abilities that prove particularly useful to thin out the ranks. The Stun Dash teamed up with the Dagger Throw can stop enemies in their tracks and allow you to pick them off quickly. The stun dash also hits several targets in rapid succession as long as enemies are close to each other. You can also do some serious damage when you activate her ultimate attack, which slows down time allowing you to zip around and take out a bunch of enemies before it wears out. The Assassin is good solo but also functions really well in co-op mode with its stuns
. As I mentioned, Crimson Alliance is a very simple action-RPG. To gain health you need to find the heart pieces throughout the levels. Combat stats are increased by picking up gear and weapons found in chests or purchasing in the shops. Like a lot of the dungeon crawlers out there some weapons and armor have special attributes such as poison damage or enemy specific bonus damage. Some equipment will supplement your health as well, which can come in handy. One of my favorite armor pieces for the Assassin, Gadget Master, has the chance to drop active turrets when they die. This is very useful when you’re in the various locked arenas.
Single player is fun, but Crimson Alliance is awesome with friends. You can play with up to 3 other people locally or over Xbox Live. Combining all the different attacks and abilities together can be devastating and awesome at the same time. It’s good idea to have a microphone when playing with other players over Live as communication is very important. Since the action is contained on a single screen you can’t just go in four different directions and hope to accomplish anything. If a player gets trapped off-screen the game does feature a character teleport function.
Like most dungeon crawlers, Crimson Alliance also handles the pickups situation quite well. In Crimson Alliance all gold and health jars are split evenly among all players. This does away with most of the involved bickering that I’ve ran into in the past where greedy players will run around grabbing all the loot while everyone else does all the work. I also like the way that once collectibles have been picked up they are faded out, and you can see a total for each level found on the world map.
Communication does come in handy when going for the various achievements. Some can be done alone but the medal and collection achievements are best done with others. As you play each level you are graded on combat, exploration and time. That means you or a team have to search everywhere for the hidden items and locations, fight and keep your combat multiplier up and do all of that as fast as possible to garner a gold medal or higher for the aptly named “Go for the Gold” achievement. It also helps to play with others to come up with those few hidden treasures, heart pieces or soul anchors. There is also one “special” achievement that may require a few hands to make it happen.
The single and co-op action of Crimson Alliance is fantastic but does the graphics hold up amidst the chaos and destruction. The answer is simply…yes. Featuring a cel-shade environment and characters, Crimson Alliance looks as good as it plays. The levels are extremely well designed and many of the hidden locations could be missed by cleverly placed scenery. The weapons designs are all pretty slick and the elemental effects on the magically enhanced items are rather cool. I loved some of the weapons that they threw in such as a meat shield and zombie arms as well. The story is revealed to the player via still animations, which fit the dark nature of Crimson Alliance’s theme while keeping with the cel-shade graphics.
The sound effects and voice acting featured in Crimson Alliance are really good and I liked how you could sometimes tell which enemies were around the bend before you even saw them coming. The sound effects with every explosion, weapon's clank and magic cast sound crisp and clear. More so I enjoyed the banter that you hear between the three alliance members, especially at the end of the game. It’s priceless.
Crimson Alliance is a title that begs to be enjoyed multiple times with friends or solo but there is one more feature that I found quite cool. Contained in every shop there is a micro transaction system for those who can’t seem to scrape together the gold during normal play for that have-to-have armor. From personal experience it would require multiple sessions to afford some of the better gear, so being able to purchase 40k of in-game gold for 80 Microsoft points is an awesome feature.
Summer of Arcade had some good titles this year but the real gem for me was Crimson Alliance. It’s simple, addictive, and a good old-fashioned modern dungeon crawler. The combat is engaging, the levels are beautiful and full of hidden locations to explore and it’s a lot of fun to play over Xbox Live. If you’re looking for an awesome co-op experience then Crimson Alliance is a must have.