Thursday, September 15, 2011

Crimson Alliance Review

Last week we did an impressions article of Crimson Alliance, showing many of the basic aspects of the game and information about the three classes. Before I start diving head first into this review, let's get some basic details about Crimson Alliance out in the open.

Basic Information
Developer:  Certain Affinity 
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade 
Price Tag: 1200, or 800, Microsoft Points
Release Date: September 7th, 2011

First off, this is a short game. One run through the campaign will likely last four or five hours, but that doesn't mean that Crimson Alliance will only last you four of five hours. There are three classes to learn, each of which have their own equipment to acquire, secrets to find and abilities to master. The main reason to play Crimson Alliance is for it's hack and slash cooperative play, the kind of coop that should remind people of some great old hack and slash games, the kind that were simple, yet difficult, addictive and fun. You can play this game alone, but it's very hard to recommend Crimson Alliance if you don't plan to play with at least one other person. You can play cooperatively with up to four players, with duplicating classes (since there are three classes) and if you find normal too easy with four players, then you ramp up the difficulty either hard, immortal or ridonkulus. Yup, points to certain affinity for having their hardest difficult named ridonkulus. Ridonkulus and immortals difficulties almost seem impossible without four people, but it also depends on your gear and what level you are attempting. Each level in this game gives you a ranking at the end of a level, based on a score multiplier, something that  is increased by killing enemies and not being hit, and when you get ranked you will receive a bronze, silver, gold or platinum award, each of which will reward you with a hefty amount of gold. It does give you a incentive to try to get through a level with precise and careful actions, but gold is used to purchase gear and items from merchant caravans scattered throughout the map. 

Gear and Abilites
The way they handled gear and abilities in Crimson Alliance is pleasantly different than most other rpgs. Upon starting this game you would expect to see experience every time you kill a enemy, but they just drop money, instead abilities are linked solely to equipment. In Crimson Alliance each piece of gear, whether it's armor or one of your weapons, has specific attributes attached to it and on top of that there are unique pieces of gear that can have special abilities attached to them as well, abilities like electrocute or leech. Each class has their own attributes and each attribute is part of an ability. For example, the Mercenary has shield bash (B), heavy attack (Y), light attack (X) and dash (A). Each of these buttons are attributes, except for dash, (the fourth attribute is health) and each time you get a piece of gear it will tell you what it increases or decreases with each ability. You also collect health throughout the game, each level usually will have two to four pieces of health that you can collect. Health pieces and amulets, for your characters special ability, are littered throughout every level, except for challenge levels, and they are often hidden in the secret areas of each level. Both your health and special ability will increase through finding these pieces, while every time you go up a level of either you will then be required to collect more of each to unlock more health or the next level of your special ability, of which there are three levels. Collecting gear and ability upgrades is one of the best reasons to keep playing after a play through, or a great reason to go back and play a different character. Of course when starting a new character it's also very fun to see how different each class is, especially playing the Mage after doing a play through with the Mercenary or Assassin.  
My main character in poor resolution

I am quite fond of the gameplay in Crimson Alliance, especially since it does a great job of misleading you and making you think that it's just four simple buttons, but surprisingly there is more to it than that. It is a hack and slash game, but one that requires you to think intelligently in order to get the best awards on levels. On anything harder than normal, you have to really work with your teammates by strategically planning the use of items, abilities, explosive barrels and poison vases. In the beginning of the game each class seems to have similar abilities, a strong attack, a light fast attack and a stun attack, but once you get farther into the game and actually see each class in class, then you can easily tell that the three classes are quite difference. In my experience Assassins are masters of throwing knives, they do tons of damage, Mercenaries are great at fighting multiple smaller enemies at once, without getting hit, and Mages have strong versatile spells, but they are fragile ranged only casters. My one complaint about gameplay is that when you have four players on the screen, and many enemies, it's get very chaotic and hard to follow. Like I said previously, secrets are all over every main level and I appreciate that they varied the difficulty of secrets, some being quite hidden and others being fairly obvious as long as you take the time to explore. Each level also has class specific secrets, they can only be opened by a specific class and they always provide gear of some kind, but they are often difficult to find, except for the Mercenary specific ones. The Mercenary specific show themselves as big cracks in the wall that only he can break, but the Mage and Assassin secrets look just like normal walls except they have symbols scrolled on the walls, symbols that are very hard to see until you are right next to it. Secrets, can be hard to find, but if you are a good explorer then you will find many of them. Not only do secrets provide you with gear or gold, but they also count for the ranking of each level and add a significant amount of points to your score. 
One of my ingame screenshots

Crimson Alliance- The Aqueducts Gameplay 

Last Comments
Crimson Alliance is a good game with a great price. It may be a little repetitive, of course, but the three different classes, various enemies and different stages make this game flow smoothly. Generally, this is one of those games that you play with your friends and just go from level to level, unconcerned with the time and that is a rare quality these days. I wish the campaign was longer or had more to do for players once they ran through all of the levels, but the different difficulties make the experience of each level quite different and attempting to get better awards for each level is fairly enticing. The hardest difficulties are frustratingly hard, but the kind of hard that makes you want to keep trying until you can beat it, that is unless you are too weak to last five minutes, then you should probably lower your difficulty or find more players. Crimson Alliance can only be recommend to players who like hack and slash games, or rpgs, and while you can play this single player it is greatly more enjoyable with other players. Gameplay is unique, yet familiar, and is enticing to all types of players, whether you want to be hardcore and go for platinum medals on the ridonkulus difficulty, or take it easy and just play through the game casually on the normal difficulty. This was the last XBLA game of the summer and Crimson Alliance made it end well. If you are slightly interested then you should at least check out the free trial/demo on XBLA. Here is the breakdown and final score, thanks for reading. 

Score Breakdown
Presentation - 8.5 (menu's are smooth, some great level design, but not consistently great, drops in frame rate bring this score down) 
Graphics - 9 (character design is done well, levels can look fantastic, high level of graphics, and effects, for a XBLA game) 
Sound - 8 (voice acting is well done as is the sound effects for monsters, but  the music isn't anything memorable)
Gameplay - 9 (addicting, simple, hard to master, various play types, works very well for the game) 
Length of Play - 8.5 (three classes, rankings, online and offline co-op, 4 hour campaign)

Violent Score: 9 (out of 10) -Crimson Alliance may have shortcomings, but it is excellent addition to XBLA and there hasn't been any great cooperative games of this genre in years.

-Written by Sean Cargle 


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