Save the World From the Punkrockopalypse! – Charlie Murder Review for Xbox 360
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Jealousy is a terrible feeling. When it gets really bad, it can lead people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t even consider when in a calmer frame of mind. In Charlie Murder, from Ska Studios, jealousy brings about the end of the world, thanks to an unholy pact signed by Paul, best friend of the titular Charlie. The events leading up to the coming of the end of days are fairly straightforward, and may in fact prove familiar to some, even if the final results may be a little out of sync with what most people’s actions would be. Charlie and Paul were best friends, with promises of being in a band together. Instead, Charlie betrays Paul, and his band becomes incredibly famous, all while Paul is left playing open-mic nights in his local bar. Seeing Charlie’s band on TV drives Paul into a guitar-smashing rage, and it is from here that Charlie Murder’s story begins to take shape.
If you’re old enough to have played games such as Streets of Rage or the original Golden Axe, you’ll have a good idea of what sort of gameplay is on offer within Charlie Murder. For more recent gamers, the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World game is probably a more relevant comparison, but regardless, the formula is much the same. Working their way from left to right, players use a combination of punches, kicks, and grabs to fight waves of enemies, with the ability to pick up weapons and items from within the various environments. What’s different in Charlie Murder is that RPG elements are worked into the game, with characters being able to level up, which unlocks new abilities and increased stats, and also being able to equip various items of clothing which provide further boosts to particular traits.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Charlie Murder is within its visuals. Much of the game looks hand-drawn, as if a web comic has come to life. What’s more, with Charlie Murder (Charlie’s band) being a rock outfit, it makes sense that Charlie Murder has a certain grimy feel to it, from the clothes that characters can be equipped with, to the dingy environments such as bars and concert venues that the game takes players through, and of course, the grungy background music. Even the RPG elements, though basic, are presented in a slightly different way than players may be used to. Experience is replaced with followers, and although it works in much the same way, it’s cool being able to look on Charlie’s phone to see how popular his social networking accounts are, rather than looking at a rather staid bar which could have been copied from any number of RPGs.
The visuals within Charlie Murder are enhanced by the various environments that players will journey through during their time with the game. Starting on city streets, Charlie ventures through movie theatres, graveyards, sewers and even a theme park during the early stages of the game alone, and each has their own distinct feel and unique aesthetic. However, for the first hour or so of the game, it can be pretty difficult for players to work out where they’re supposed to go next, particularly on the world map, and the narrative throws players in at the deep end, with no real context as to what’s happening or why. Charlie Murder isn’t a particularly welcoming game to those unfamiliar with the beat ‘em up genre, and though most things do become clear after spending some time with the game, the initial experience can be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated.
Combat within the game is a rather simple affair, although this can lead to a feeling that some fights are based more on luck than the degree of player skill involved. The X and Y buttons perform punches or swing weapons, while the B button performs a grab. Combinations of holding the Right Trigger and pressing a face button allow for the use of various powers, which can be unlocked by buying Tattoos from the various parlours located within the world. There are plenty of weapons within levels to be used as well, ranging from garbage cans and severed heads to guns and twin-headed axes. The one downside to combat comes from the 2D perspective used to view the action, as characters and enemies are able to move between the foreground and background of the action. Character models are 2D also, so it can be quite difficult to see if your attack will make contact with the enemy or not, which can be an issue when using firearms, or surrounded by a group of enemies all in different positions.
It’s already been mentioned that using Charlie’s phone to check followers was a neat touch to convey experience levels, but that’s not all that his phone is used for. Scattered throughout the game are QR codes, which can be scanned using the in-game phone. These can unlock anything from money, to extra followers, to additional pieces of clothing, and even tattoos. It’s a nice modern change from the usual hidden packages formula, and ensures that players keep their eyes open at all times. The modernity is matched by the equipment on offer, which ranges from hats and gloves to t-shirts, hoodies and wristbands. It all fits very nicely within the game’s rock aesthetic, and again, it’s refreshing to see something different being offered on the RPG scene.
Charlie Murder is a game that doesn’t really mix with the formula of RPGs or beat ‘em ups too much, but instead changes up the way in which the genres are presented by bringing some of their otherwise outdated tropes into the modern day. As such, this isn’t going to be a ground-breaking experience for those who’ve played similar titles before, but it might still be fresh enough to keep a smile on your face from beginning to end. With the inclusion of 4-player local co-op, Charlie Murder is a perfect game to pull out when you’ve got friends over, even if it does suffer from a couple of minor frustrations. Get a few cheap beers in, put some grunge on the stereo, and kick back, Charlie Murder will show you the dangers of fame and fortune, as well as the sheer power of a fully united rock’n’roll band.
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