Well, where is the red?
Crimson Alliance has been on my watch list for some time now, and with good reason. Every tiny video and press snippet has promised a fun and tactical action-RPG experience that relies on a mix of brains and brute force. Now Crimson Alliance is here with a fresh take on the hack-slash dungeon-bash genre and it's a good one.
As true to our word, we don't do spoilers. Suffice it to say you're going to take on the role of one of 3 interesting characters, who for their own reasons are travelling together to make sense of what's going on. Vague? Yes, go play the game for the story!
Crimson Alliance takes the grind out of typical XP driven dungeon hack-slash games and replaces it with, fast, furious and fun mechanics that mean you're not constantly trying to juggle your points into various D&D related stats. You have various attacks, slash, heavy, stun and thrown. These are split into powers across the 3 classes, mercenary (fighter), assassin and wizard. They are all modified in some way by the weapons/armour that you equip (through the inventory accessed by the back button).
So for example the sword in the assassin's left hand might improve her stun rating, but remove bonus health. But the dagger in her right hand gives you a whole lot of slash and a couple of bonus health, whilst the armour gives you some more attributes. Each time you hit a milestone with these attributes, you get a bonus attached to that. Many of the weapons are magic and have their own special powers too, such as fire or poison.
Each class feels unique and has a tactical value to the overall group; we'll talk about co-op later on down the line though.
The Mercenary gives you: Slash (a normal attack), a Heavy attack, a Shield bash/stun and he can dodge (like all the classes).
The Wizard can throw a ball of magic fire, cast a freeze spell, and do an area effect lightning storm that stuns his opponents - he also teleports as a dodge.
The Assassin is nimble; she can attack with dual slashes, stun her opponents with a quick-fire rapid move that hits more than one target at once and throw daggers, great range from higher ground. She also dodges quickly and effortlessly.
All classes can block with the right trigger, though the wizard's shield only lasts a short time compared to the other two martial classes. You can also use the left trigger to pick up various objects in the game world and throw them at enemies, using the face buttons to throw. Explosive barrels and other tricks can make short work of enemies that cluster in groups.
All characters can pick up and use deployable/consumable items, such as turrets, healing totems and throwing axes. There are hidden secret areas to find and a class specific door in many of the levels laden with gold and extra items. All of the levels are hand built as well, so don't go thinking that this is Torchlight with its random dungeons, this is all crafted by a group of level designers and each item is placed individually.
The levels are laden with gold and gold of course gets you more cool toys, toys that can be brought from the weapon smith (accessible between many of the levels). If you lack the funds, you can always pay 80msp to buy 40,000 gold. This can be repeated as many times as you desire for each character. It's a sneaky micro-transaction style trick but if people want to pay for their in game gold, who are we to say otherwise?
Crimson Alliance takes the hardship out of the controls, out of the gameplay and out of the whole genre - for instance your inventory is accessed by the back button and is easy to navigate, swap weapons and equip armour. It is a really smartly designed game and the gameplay, solo or otherwise is rewarding and tight. It lets you concentrate on fighting the good fight and using tactics to take down the many enemies, as well as the boss fights, which aren't easy even on the easiest setting. Pump it up to Ridonkulus and you'll be in for the fight of your life!
There are leaderboards and medals to attain, getting a solid number of hits in battle increases your combat multiplier, and taking damage decreases it. If you can manage to get an 8x combo then you'll rack in the points and reach a coveted platinum medal.
There are checkpoint saves in place and the game saves between levels.
There's something delightfully retro yet modern about these graphics, the characters and level designs are excellently done and they bring a sense of atmosphere to the table. Developer: Certain Affinity has done a wonderful job on making the graphical side of this XBLA pop with a great palette and some really solid framerates even when the action gets insanely populated by spells and flying bodies.
Once again, there's a great sense of character to these animations and the design. They have given the 3 core classes their own combat styles, movement and idle animations. The combat animations are solid and tie in nicely with the physics of the game.
There are impact physics and there are great combat physics, with each blow actually feeling connected to the creature and damage in question. Some bigger monsters will actually hurl the character around with their massive attacks and take some serious damage before they get put down. Explosions are nice and satisfying leaving bits of enemies lying around at the end.
The AI isn't as simple as you might think, there's a lot going on here and Crimson Alliance's AI is some of the best monster AI we've come across so far in this genre, since each monster acts differently and some of them have a real sense of personality. They also know how to flank and how to ignore the mercenary with his shield raised, to come after the weaker wizard or assassin.
The sound for the game compliments the on screen action nicely, the sizzles of fireballs with the clash of steel against the surprised shrieks of the enemies works rather well. There are some nice spot sounds for the dungeons and once again, Certain Affinity know their audio mixing and volume levels.
A nice score accompanies the game, with some stirring music and some great thematic pieces.
The voice acting is decent enough with the recognisable tones of a few veteran voice actors in there. Especially for the wizard Direwolf, see if you can work out who that is.
It is fantasy, it's got some clichés but it's also pretty smartly written and there's a good bit of humour now and then.
Yes, it supports local play for up to 4 players. It also supports Xbox Live and most importantly supports a mix of local and Xbox Live play. So you can have two people on Live and one as a guest on either console playing away with the Live players. The players can also revive each other if they go down.
Crimson Alliance is a breath of fresh air, a great XBLA title and probably one of the best of this year's Summer of Arcade games. If you loved Gauntlet and feel like a fantasy hack and slash with a little more brain and brawn...this is the game for you.
One interesting point of note is that you can buy one character if you don't plan on playing the rest. So you don't need to buy all 3 character class packs. This can work out cheaper for the gamer who wants to spend their time honing just one class and pick the others up as they go along (800msp each). Since the core game is free... yep... free...
So if you're only going to play the wizard, you can get the game for 800 points.
Otherwise, the all class pack with cost you 1200.
It is worth it.