Crimson Alliance Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
For gamers who are into fantasy action RPGs, Certain Affinity has the perfect game for you! Crimson Alliance is the final title to be released in the Xbox Live Summer of Arcade, and boy, is it a cherry-topper to an excellent suite of games! The game has a lot to offer, especially as a downloadable title. If you enjoy dungeon crawlers like Diablo or Torchlight, Crimson Alliance is a definite must-have for your collection.
Byzan, a once thriving empire, fell to ruins when the evil princess Asturi took the throne. Power hungry, she seduced the court’s magus, Zampara, to learn the forbidden dark arts, and imprisoned him once she’d gleaned all of his knowledge. Using her newfound abilities, she rose to unimaginable heights and unleashed chaos upon the world. Asturi became known as the Soul Siren, as she consumed souls to remain young and beautiful. Reigning for centuries, the Soul Siren ruled with terror and death. How or why her reign ended, we’re not told, but it’s said that the Soul Siren’s cult continue to await her return. Crimson Alliance follows an unlikely trio of travellers making their way to the Crimson Empire. What the fates have in store for the three companions, well, you’ll just have to play and see!
The game’s set-up emphasizes multiplayer or cooperative play (up to four players online or locally), but it can be tackled solo as well. Gamers can choose to play as any of the three characters: the Assassin, Mercenary (Warrior type), or Wizard. There isn’t much by way of character customization, as the only things you can really change are their names and their clothing colours. Stats are also preset and will increase as you level up or through equipping certain weapons or armour. Though I generally like to personalize my characters, I enjoyed the fact that I could just pick a character and jump into the game immediately, rather than spending precious minutes to mull over a multitude of character options.
Crimson Alliance starts in baby-steps, letting players explore their surroundings and get accustomed to the controls. The tutorials are spoon-fed to you from shadowy, Death-like avatars, and consist of a pop-up screen that gives basic instructions (like A = dash) that can be read within a minute. As you learn more about the game mechanisms, the stage starts filling in with additional items (such as chests). Furthermore, the loading screens alternate the tutorials as a refresher course. These are the types of teachings that I enjoy, where it’s left to the player to either read or learn by doing.
Like many console dungeon crawlers, Crimson Alliance consists of a series of interconnected levels (not specific missions), that must be fought through sequentially. Although the game lacks a mini-map, the stages are small and easy enough to navigate without it. However, the mini-map would’ve been helpful for directional orientation and to see if there are any areas that you missed. The game certainly encourages you to check out every nook and cranny, as there are ‘secret areas’ in each level that yield plenty of loot and gold. Also, certain levels have class-specific doors, as well as puzzles that require at least two people to complete (in order to get to some of the secret areas).
The game heavily focuses on battle and looting, with character interaction and story falling by the wayside. Combat is simple to pick up, with the character’s skills mapped to the four primary coloured buttons. Each character has a stun, dash, and a ranged and a melee attack. Additionally, there is an ultimate attack which needs to be unlocked (by collecting Soul Anchors throughout the levels) and then charged up before use. The more enemies you kill without sustaining damage yourself, the quicker you wrack up your score multiplier, which also charges up your special power. While the game could’ve degenerated into simple exploration with button-mashing, it actually forces you to strategize, as your health doesn’t automatically regenerate. When you’re left at the mercy of Lady Luck, hoping to find pots of healing or that a fallen foe will yield a bit of health, you quickly learn to think ahead – especially when there are never-ending hordes of the Soul Siren`s minions crawling out of the woodwork.
Thankfully, there are also special items that can be used when you find yourself backed into a corner with only a sliver of health left. An exploding axe spreads fire damage to your enemies, while a deployable turret guns down foes within the vicinity. Alternatively, there is the monster bait which distracts your opponents, and the Healing Totem can be a literal life-saver, feeding you endless health for a limited amount of time. This makes for an engaging experience that helps immerse the player into a world of demons and magic.
As mentioned, there’s a lot of looting to be had in Crimson Alliance. Smash your way through crates and vases, and perhaps you’ll find a few hidden coins. Peek in every corner and you might come across a secret area filled with a King’s ransom in gold, possibly Soul Anchors or Heart pieces to gain additional health or, even rarer, Challenge Maps to get more treasures. Unlike other RPGs, the loot comes in the form of special items, weapons and armour only. The enemies don’t drop objects to pick up and sell, nor are they loaded with gold. Thus, there are only caravans littered through the world map where you can buy items, but there isn’t a merchant to sell things to. Additionally, these shops allow players to buy in-game gold by spending Microsoft points.
Since the game concentrates on combat and looting, at the end of each level players are scored on their progress. The rating consists of battle, secret areas found, and the time it took to complete the level. Players are awarded either a bronze, silver or gold medal, each yielding a certain amount of gold as the prize. Furthermore, it shows you if you`ve found all of the Soul Anchors or Health level-ups. The information given to you adds to the replayablity, as you can go back and re-try each level again, if you’re looking to get a better score or collect all the special items.
Another fun feature is that friends can jump into the game at any time. If you’re further ahead and have newcomers, you can choose to either continue your story with them or revisit the earlier stages to help your companions level up. Fair warning though, you might not want to play the advanced stages with a starter character in tow, as you’re pitting someone who’s essentially defenseless against advanced foes.
The multiplayer mode is fair, as the camera doesn’t only focus on Player 1; it seemed that whoever was moving around the most became more of a focal point. Other gameplay mechanics are reasonable, such as healing pots will heal both characters – regardless of who breaks them, and once a character reaches the check-point it drags the other players there too. Additionally, a welcome aspect of multiplayer is that you can revive fallen allies by pulling the Left Trigger (which also helps replenishes their health bar after being resurrected). Having friends along for the ride is all in good fun, especially since you can tackle the two-player puzzles which yield a chest for each character along with gold.
The controls in Crimson Alliance are pretty intuitive and straightforward, making the tutorials almost unnecessary. Through a quick trial and error, players can see what moves are attributed to which buttons, triggers or bumpers. For the more obscure items, such as opening up inventory or using special items, the developers included permanent hints (e.g. RB next to the special items, all of which are mapped to the D-pad). These visual cues also help make the game easy to pick up and play, even for first-timers just jumping into the game.
Visually, Crimson Alliance is nothing special, with the typical rendered graphics. However, what really jumps out is the level design: Each setting looks different, giving you a glimpse of the depths you’ll need to travel as you make your way through a given level. Also, the developers added a lot of detail to the backgrounds, like giant skulls engraved on the stone floors and bloody handprints on the walls, that takes the sinister theme to a new level. I didn’t notice any short-comings, other than some minor graphical glitches. Similar to the settings, the character models for the enemies are varied enough that you never feel like you’re fighting against the same monsters over and over. The bosses can be differentiated by glowing, coloured auras, and their sizes are much bigger than the usual minions.
The game is played using a fixed birds-eye view, which can be frustrating at times, since you can never see beyond where you’re currently at. I found that I would be physically craning my neck, as if I could look beyond the camera’s focus in the game. It gets irritating when you can hear the Wargs growling somewhere, or you see grenades being lobbed at you, but without a direct visual on the monsters. Yet, this stationary view seems to also add to the suspense, because at the same time you never know what you’re walking into.
Also adding to the atmosphere are the ominous music and realistic sound effects. Certain Affinity definitely knows how to build up the tension and raise your adrenaline levels, with the tribal drums thumping indicating that enemies are near, or the eerie music as you slowly make your way through seemingly deserted grounds. It’s during these times that you realize that when you’re exploring truly empty areas there really isn’t any music playing in the background. The sound effects also play a part, giving cues for enemies such as: the threatening growls when the beasts are near or the rapid-fire machine guns blasting at you. Similarly, you’re conditioned to feel a sense of dread and cringe when you hear the battle cries of the Gulyabani Leaders or Shamans (as you learn that there’s never just one in the later levels) or the sizzle of magical fire balls hurtling towards you.
The voice acting takes a backseat to music and sound effects, since the cutscenes are few and far between. The actors do a decent job, with the Mercenary sounding appropriately tough and no-nonsense, the Wizard sounding wizened and at times contemplative as he tries to piece together his past, and the Assassin’s sassy attitude evident in her entertaining quips. The only gripe here is that the characters’ in-game sound effects can get annoying at times. For example, the Assassin will have the same cry when she dashes, which gets repetitive if you use dash as often as I do. Thankfully though, you can turn these sounds off.
Overall, Crimson Alliance is the perfect game to play if you’re addicted to raiding and fighting hordes of enemies. Though you can play solo, it’s recommended to have at least one friend, so that you can get to more goodies (and have a helping hand when you’re being attacked by endless droves of monsters). It’s a game that you can pick up and play if you have 20 minutes to spare, but be warned: the time will fly by as you become immersed in the dark world that the Soul Siren has created!
Final score: 4.0 /5.0
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