Bastion. From Dust. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Fruit Ninja. Toy Soldiers: Cold War. Xbox Live’s ‘2011 Summer of Arcade’ boasted one of the strongest line-ups in the program’s history, and the fun didn’t even end with the conclusion of the series. If you bought all five titles Microsoft offered you a final game for free entitled Crimson Alliance. Crimson Alliance is an isometric-RPG with an emphasis on co-op play. Focusing on the fictional Kingdom of Byzan and the struggles of three warriors to free the capital city from the throes of supernatural oppression, Crimson Alliance offers players the chance to murder hundreds of orcs, mercenaries and zombies, and collect piles of loot along the way. Now that the game is available for purchase, is it worth your hard-earned money?
THE HOLY TRINITY
Lookin’ Good – Crimson Alliance doesn’t initially strike you as a graphics powerhouse, with its still animation cutscenes, and fairly blocky character models. Even the first few levels left me a little underwhelmed, as you plod through a ruined fantastical city, which seemed almost like a mirror of plenty that I’ve seen before in similar games. It’s not until about a third of the way through the game that you start to appreciate the little touches, such as the cel-shaded environments and the extra details which make the world feel alive, such as ogre-slaves and giant, waving tentacles. Whilst Crimson Alliance isn’t going to win any awards for visuals, it does have a clean and fresh presentation which won’t hurt your eyes.
An Epic Quest of Epic Epicness – If you like your games to last, then Crimson Alliance is a worthwhile purchase. With three different characters to play through the game (Assassin, Wizard, Mercenary), each with their own skill set, abilities and collectibles, you have a lot to do. And with each character playing differently, the game doesn’t feel like you’re repeating yourself. Plus, there is a ton of stuff to collect and unlock, such as heart containers, treasures, power-ups, challenge maps, and plenty of secret areas to discover.
LET THE CRIMSON FLOW
Booooooring – Even though there is a lot to see and do, there isn’t much exposition as to why you’re doing it, aside from the clichéd ‘Find and Kill the Bad Guy’ storyline. Even the characters are hugely unoriginal, with an old-man wizard, sassy female assassin, and nonchalant black mercenary who happens to be huge. Whilst you do get some back story for the characters and there are hints at a potential sequel, the rest of the narrative is largely cut-and-paste.
Does Not Compute – When I play games, I’m not the type to really push boundaries in an attempt to ‘break’ the game, or to see if I can get to places where I’m not supposed to go. Therefore, it was surprising to encounter a number of bugs in Crimson Alliance, even whilst playing “normally.” From glitching characters in cutscenes, to gold appearing far away from accessible areas, even to the sound cutting out entirely in the second half of the climactic battle, I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps the game could have done with a little more quality testing before release. None of the glitches were game-breaking, but definitely immersion-ruining.
Crimson Alliance has a strong focus on co-op play, and it shows, particularly in the fact that a number of puzzles in the game can’t be solved by any less than two people, and that high-scores can’t be attained without assistance. It works well as a single-player experience, but co-op is something to bear in mind if you want to fully experience what the game has to offer. Saying that, even playing by yourself, Crimson Alliance contains a ton of content, encourages replays, and is generally a fun romp through a fantastical city, destroying enemies and scenery as you go. With perhaps a little more innovation, in terms of both design and narrative, this game could be one of the best on Xbox Live, but instead, it will have to remain a solid and enjoyable, yet unremarkable experience.