It is not often you find a game that offers simple, accessible gameplay yet at the same time a wealth of challenges to those who seek it (beyond simply choosing a harder difficulty). Crimson Alliance by Certain Affinity in an XBLA co-op game that refreshingly offers more.
At its heart, Crimson Alliance is a hack-and-slash dungeon game reminiscent of Diablo 2. But from the moment you start you can build upon the kill-all-the-things aspect and search for secret areas, coordinate attacks with your team, use objects around you to your advantage and partake in puzzle solving.
Developer: Certain Affinity
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade (Xbox 360)
Genre: Action RPG
Price: 1200 Microsoft points (full game with 3 character) OR 800 points (full game with 1 character)
Release: September 7th 2011
One of the first things you will notice about the game is the way it looks; The world of Crimson Alliance is a mixture of colours, with the golden glow of candles set upon skulls, the blue shades of weird ghost things that give you instructions, the poisonous green hiss of exploding vials. They all meld together to create this magic world filled with eerie dark corners as well as bright and open courtyards. The enemies too come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There is certainly no feeling of same enemy / different colour shirt here, as even within the same species of beast you’ll find tiny minions, annoying archers, big club-wielding butchers and huge, magically shielded shamans.
Another visual aspect of the game worth noting is the layers of the world. Walking over a bridge, you see deep caverns with enemies mining below, or you’ll be in the midst of battle and notice archers shooting at you from a walkway above. There’s a great sense of depth, but despite the layers new players will never get lost. There are only a few directions to take, whether it’s straight into battle or down another path to see if it contains a sneaky entry point or a secret gold location. This isn’t to say the hidden treasures and chests are easy to find, there are many areas that can only be discovered by walking behind a mountain pass, under a bridge, or through a side door with a curtain obscuring the path behind. There are generally hints to these areas, but you have to keep an eye out for them or you’ll unknowingly continue on by.
The story involves a soul-sucking ex-princess and the destruction of a once beautiful land, but follows three individuals with no particular affection for each other wandering in the same direction; the Wizard Direwolf, the Assassin Moonshade, and the Mercenary Gnox. Players can choose to play as any character, so you can work with the full group of three (plus a duplicate) or just have a pile of Mercenaries smashing stuff up if you so choose.
Characters can be named and their colours customised at the beginning of the game (hmmm… assassin in black, or bright pink & orange?) as well as developed over time with armour, weapon, ability upgrades and more. You can also make multiple characters and develop them in different areas, although your total gold and stats are linked to each character rather than your profile.
The gameplay is simple in that each character has a dash move, block and 3 main attacks: close, ranged (a heavy attack for the mercenary) and one that also stuns. This means that it’s easy enough for anyone to pick up the controller and trundle along stabbing enemies by themselves or in a group. In addition to developing these attacks with items bought or found, you can enhance a special attack by finding hidden Soul Anchors or using items you find in the dungeons like throwing axes, turrets, healing totems and bait. Players are also able to take advantage of the environment by sneaking around enemies, taking the high ground and using objects that can be thrown, rolled, or set alight to explode to dispatch of enemy groups.
Crimson Alliance can be played solo, with friends or online. If you’re playing solo it will take some serious effort to clear the hard levels and challenges, but it is highly satisfying to destroy a sea of enemies by successfully using the environment, your abilities and items to your advantage. This game is designed for co-op play however, so it is worth teaming up and taking advantage of your teammate’s abilities; Having the wizard freeze a large enemy, an Assassin stun a swarm, the Mercenary going in for damage, and your fourth man laying turrets and setting barrels alight. The only downside on the multi-member gameplay is that because it is not split screen, it can get a bit jumpy if all your characters are dashing around the screen at once (we’re an impatient bunch you see) but this doesn’t impede the action. Also if you have any individuals attempting to wander off to find secrets, or when you’re finding secrets, the wanderer will get jumped back to the group; so no lone wolves here.
In your adventuring you can also come across puzzles that reward you with secret areas, items and gold. These generally require two or more people to activate switches, or just the one if you’re pro. There are also treasure chest areas that can only be accessed by certain character types, so it’s worth teaming up and trying out the different characters to see what’s out there and help the team.
A feature of the game specifically designed to make it easier for people to pick up and play is the purchase system. When you buy Crimson Alliance, you can either buy the full game for 1200 Microsoft points, or just buy the game with one character type for 800 Microsoft points. To me this sounded odd to begin with, but the reasoning behind it actually is pretty sound. Rather than paying for a game with 3 characters you might not even use, you only have to spend money on what you do want to use. Many people tend to have preferred gameplay styles, generally along the lines of a tank /rogue /caster, so if you are never going to play as a tank (the Mercenary) then you don’t have to pay for it. For causal gamers, they can simple buy the pack for the character type they like best and give it a try. If they like it and want to try the other characters, or have more options available when their friends play, then it’s as easy as buying the extra characters. Basically you only have to pay for %100 of the game if you want to play %100 of the game.
The pay feature also comes up at the items store where the option of purchasing 40,000 gold in game (that’s quite a bit of money) for only 80 Microsoft points. While I can understand that people may cry foul of having the option to buy in-game currency, however as players only ever have access to certain shops at each stage of the game, it is only possible to buy items appropriate for your level. Not to mention that because you are always playing with, not against other players then it can only act to help others who need it. For those who want to earn their money through killing and searching for secret treasure locations, the in-game gold purchase is irrelevant. For those who just want to get through the game or assist their ‘alt’ character, then they’re welcome to buy gold as needed.
All in all this is a thoroughly enjoyable co-op game, a nice throw-back to the dungeon crawlers of days gone by. It is easy to pick up, but has enough to keep even the hardcore gamers interested and challenged. Whether you like to hack, slash and burn, or like me you enjoy spending time wandering every corner in search of gold and secrets, then this game will certainly keep you entertained. I highly recommend getting some friends together and wandering the dungeons in a group, or jumping online to find folks to do battle with. The more, the merrier.
Crimson Alliance is available on Xbox Live Arcade from September 7th at 1200 Microsoft points for the game with all three characters, or 800 with one character. It is also available as a free bonus for those who purchase the 2011 Summer of Arcade bundle which also contains Bastion, From Dust, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Fruit Ninja Kinect and Toy Soldiers (We’ll have more reviews on these soon).
8 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.