Game Rant’s Jeff Schille reviews Crimson Alliance.
Poised as a follow up to Microsoft’s fantastic Summer of Arcade games (and free to gamers who bought all of them), Crimson Alliance arrives as an approachable take on the dungeon-crawling, loot-driven, action-RPG. But does the game, developed by Certain Affinity (Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo: Reach Defiant Map Pack), deserve to keep company with such well-received titles as Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and Bastion? Read on for our full review of Crimson Alliance.
A young princess takes the throne of her slain father, with only the magus Zampara to advise her. Over time, corrupted by dark magic, the princess becomes the fearsome Soul Siren, feasting on the spirits of her worshipers. With that, the stage set for both Crimson Alliance and the ruined city of Byzan, into which our heroes — a Mercenary, a Wizard, and an Assassin — must journey.
Crimson Alliance’s story is told through lightly animated motion comic panels, complete with voice-overs for the three heroes. The approach is not without charm, as many of the still images are nicely evocative of the game’s tone. But overall, the presentation comes off as underwhelming, even compared to aesthetically similar material, like the latest trailer for inFamous 2: Festival of Blood.
Harder to overlook is Crimson Alliance’s earnest, straight-faced approach to fantasy storytelling, which results in humorless, overwrought dialogue like this gem from the Wizard: “That horn has terrible power. And the Hierophant intends to use it. But. He does not yet know how.” The voice actors do little to elevate the material.
Story aside, how does Crimson Alliance play? There has been something of an explosion of loot-driven action-RPGs this year, including Square Enix’s Dungeon Siege III, Gameloft’s PSN title Dungeon Hunter, and the Xbox Live Arcade port of the excellent Torchlight. Crimson Alliance stands apart from all those games, more by virtue of what it omits than what it includes.
Designed for maximum playability by the widest possible audience, Crimson Alliance does away with many classic dungeon-crawling staples. There is no skill tree for player attributes. In fact, player characters don’t gain levels in any traditional sense. Stats are based entirely on equipment, and the abilities of each character are constant throughout the game. Enemies don’t drop weapons or armor, and though there are merchants, there is no need to sell unused equipment. Taken all together, these decisions fashion Crimson Alliance into a game much more akin to Gauntlet than Diablo. Up to four players can take part, on or offline.
Along with the streamlined interface, Crimson Alliance offers approachability in its battles. The pace of combat is palpably slower than in similar titles, and for much of the experience, extraordinarily easy. Though difficulty does advance modestly throughout the course of the adventure, things never get truly tough, and experienced gamers may simply find themselves too bored by Crimson Alliance’s opening levels to continue.
That would be a shame, as level design is the real star of the game. Dense and twisting, full of secret areas to tempt players off the main path, but constructed so that characters are funneled ever forward, Crimson Alliance’s levels help replace some of the depth that was sacrificed by the game’s combat. Hidden rooms, power-ups, and gold litter the periphery of the screen, and finding the obscured (but generally logical) paths to those treasures simply never gets old.
As the Crimson Alliance screenshots can attest, levels are well rendered, though the game’s graphics suffer from a lack of variety. A lot of things are made of stone in Byzan. Still, areas often convey an impressive sense of scale, and the middle of the game — when our heroes finally get out of the dungeon and into the sunlight — is a great visual break from the darkness that pervades so much of the indoor action.
The pantheon of dungeon-crawler baddies is well represented in Crimson Alliance. Skeleton Warriors? Check. The Undead? Check. Lizard Men? You know it. The onscreen action all animates well enough, with solid hit detection and copious quantities of blood. Textures are grittier than in the comparatively cartoony Torchlight.
Enjoyable as Crimson Alliance can be though, issues of both a design and technical nature occasionally hold the game back. The frame rate, usually smooth, occasionally chugs — often for no obvious reason. Level geometry can be also be problematic, as when I suddenly fell through the floor in the heat of the final boss battle. Furthermore, the logic of including only three playable classes in a game that supports four players (and very little character customization) is difficult to parse.
Then there are the stores. Items for sale in the game’s many stores are priced completely out of proportion to the money players are likely to earn in-level. As such, a kiosk is available in each location, allowing gamers to buy in-game currency with Microsoft Points. Though players can find perfectly adequate equipment hidden throughout the game, the audacity of this particular cash-grab is difficult to ignore.
Despite these setbacks, Crimson Alliance delivers largely as promised. Thanks to its pared-down feature-set and easily mastered battles, the game works quite well as an introduction to dungeon-crawling RPGs. That said, longtime fans of the genre might not find enough depth or challenge to make a purchase for solo play worthwhile. Entertaining, but not essential.
Crimson Alliance is available now from the Xbox Live Arcade. The full game, with all three classes unlocked, retails for 1200 MS Points. Single class versions of the game are also available for 800 MS points each.
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