Crimson Alliance Review
Well kids, it looks like this holiday season is gonna be a blockbuster, game release-speaking, and in the rush to snag the Gears of War 3s, the Assassin's Creed Revelations and the Arkham Cities, we're bound to overlook some pretty good “little” games. One of those that most definitely shouldn't be lost in the holiday shopping stampede is Crimson Alliance, the new sword-and-sorcery RPG brought to us by Austin developer, Certain Affinity.
Any orthographic dungeon crawler is destined to be compared to Diablo so let's get that comparison over with, shall we? Crimson Alliance is a Diablo-like fantasy game that feels in some ways, like the love child of 2009's Trine and last year's Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Trine comes to mind because of the game’s trio of typically unlikely allies—a mercenary, an assassin and a wizard—cooperatively bent on a (somewhat inexplicable) task to confront a female supervillain called the Soul Siren. While there's nothing overly creative in this context or character conception, there is some good, chaotic multiplayer fun to be had and a high level of visual polish to enjoy. Crimson Alliance makes clear from the start, that it's meant to be enjoyed with friends and it’s a game that definitely benefits from being played that way.
Alone, each character is fairly effective; the assassin is quick and cutting, the merc slower but more powerful and the wizard a caster of three different elemental attacks. All three can stun enemies and all three have a dash that can take them quickly out of harm's way so separately, they're fun to play. Thanks to frequent checkpoints, they can also get through any situation solo without too much fuss, but the game only truly comes into its own when played with friends locally or online. The game supports up to four players (which is kinda weird since there are only three classes) and when a group of four gets rolling through a dungeon, freezing and bashing and knife-throwing together, things get surprisingly entertaining.
I mentioned a relationship to Trine that’s obvious in the game’s heroic triumvirate but the relationship is also apparent in its occasional approach to puzzle-ry. Here also is found its similarity to Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Once in a while, our heroes come across puzzles requiring them to coordinate their efforts to trip switches or hit spinning triggers. If you play through alone you'll be disappointed upon encountering these since unlike Guardian of Light, there is no way a single player can solve them. This is definitely a downer, but the good news is, there's still plenty of hidden treasure for one player to find. Throughout each level are anywhere from one to nine hidden rooms containing piles of gold and chests with useful gear and even more loot (and secret maps that unlock special challenge levels) can be found behind special class-specific doors. Gold can also be gained in the usual ways—killing enemies and bashing crates—and as usual, it's important to collect as much as you can for use in the various item shops.
Of course, if you're not great at sniffing out hidden gold, you have the option of buying a giant chest of it in the item shop with real world money in the real world Xbox store. While this is definitely an option, replayable levels make it unnecessary unless you're actively avoiding loot caches or hold the Guinness record for Most Impatient Gamer on Earth. Loot collecting and multiplayer hack-n-slashing are what Crimson Alliance does well. Its Indian-infused musical tracks are not too shabby either and add the appropriate level of exoticism and mystery to the atmosphere. What could use some work however, are its story, dialog and voice acting.
The story's such a run-of-the-mill fantasy chestnut, it should be roasting over a fire. The idea of a wizard bewitched by a sexy female upstart is ripped right from the Arthurian tale of the May/December romance between Merlin and Nimue. The three main characters fare no better and are uninteresting retreads of the most familiar of cheesy fantasy archetypes. What makes things worse are the combination of awkward, anachronistic dialog and forced voice acting that sounds, even in the middle of a wind-blown landscape, as if it was recorded in a carpet-covered room. This low-budget sound solution magnifies the chintziness of the game's core concept and undermines what's actually a fairly solid (if simple) action RPG.
Crimson Alliance’s main failures are its story and characters--serious issues for an RPG. Still, this is a modest little $15 XBLA game and it probably isn’t fair or appropriate to compare it to something like Dragon Age. So let’s just end by saying that for what it is and what it costs, Crimson Alliance offers some good-looking, undemanding fun and with its class-specific gameplay and multiplayer modes, a respectable amount of replayability. We’ll just ignore the schlocky dialog and focus on racking up kills and stacking up gold. Because really, isn't that what we play dungeon crawlers for anyway?