Developer: Certain Affinity
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: T
Release Date: September 7 (XBLA)
The word clone is thrown about a lot lately, and usually in a negative context. But just as there is a place for clones in the future history of the human race (if William Gibson is to be believed,) the term is not always indicative of a bad game doing bad things. Take Crimson Alliance for example; a Diablo clone that takes the Action RPG Dungeon Crawler to new and innovative places, and in the process manages to give clones a good name.
The devil is in the details
The visual style in this game is all at once accessible and interesting. The art style seems to lean heavily upon predecessors to the genre. Both Torchlight and Diablo influences can immediately be seen in both the character design and the environments. I was particularly impressed with the high level of sprite detail that could be seen on the characters. Normally games using small sprites in the isometric top-down view will dial down the level of detail on the character models since most of it cannot be readily seen. Crimson Alliance characters are dialed up rather, and you can clearly see the changes from one piece of armor to another.
Detail was not thrown about for details’ sake in this game however. Take how they managed the cut scenes for instance. Here you are given paintings that look like they were straight from the concept artist’s sketchbook, and the voice actors simply read their parts as the images pan. The effect reads less like a game and more like a moving storybook, and allows for some great voice acting moments in the dialog.
Smart decisions smartly executed
Gameplay is really where Crimson Alliance shines. The controls are intuitive, and the UI is a wonder of simplistic design. I love it when I play a game and find myself saying “well that’s a smart decision.” I found myself saying this a lot in this game. The entire game seems to be designed with two players in mind, although you can play up to four people at one time. Every puzzle in the game was designed for two people, and when we tried to complete them in a solo run they were much harder. Menus are also designed for two players, with inventory and character panes opening up on both sides of the screen. The same level of attention is given to item shops and chest drops. Each of the three classes has special areas that only they can unlock, adding to the impetus to play the game with a friend, and replay it with different class combinations.
And speaking of class combinations, the combat in Crimson Alliance uses the best of class combo abilities to create a frenetic fast-paced feel that is both challenging and fun. We quickly learned playing through the game that certain abilities from one class chain together with another class’ and produce wildly fun results. When my mage freezes an enemy, the warrior can then fling him into the air with one massive blow. Good times were had by all once we figured this little gem out.
Three characters enter, only one gets to speak
The story in Crimson Alliance starts off interesting, if a little clichéd. Two unknown mercenaries who enjoy quipping a little too much get hired on by a mysterious wizard, and the three of them journey into a city for some unknown purpose. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the writers were only interested in telling one character’s story. It reminded me of when I used to play knights versus ogres with my father. He would be able to create voices for all the ogres on his side of the battle, but I would eventually resort to only being able to keep track of one toy – usually the pretty knight lady with the blond hair.
Plot in Crimson Alliance gets more and more contrived as the game progresses, and with each step of their journey you find more out about the mysterious wizard -- but that doesn’t mean you understand him any better. The worst offense of the story in my opinion is that the other two characters, interesting people in their own right, are relegated to quips and one-liners and have no bearing on the story at all. They were hired on for their muscle it seems, and the story wanted to make sure they knew their place. You learn nothing about these two, and at the end of the game you know as much about them as you did when the game loaded.
A floor clean enough to eat off of
Story failings aside, there seem to be no foundational faults in the game. Crimson Alliance played smoothly, with the only bugs to be seen the ones that were crawling out of the woodwork to eat us. I was impressed by how perfectly the game ran, knowing that similar downloadable titles tend to suffer from glitches and bugs. It seems Certain Affinity did their due diligence in turning out a properly tested product. If only more games took bug testing this seriously.