Reviewing games for a living essentially means playing ultra-violent video games all day whilst surrounded by a harem of women of ill repute. As such, reviewers often tend to be quite good at gaming. So, it comes as a bit of a shock to the ego when a reviewer fails miserably at a game – an Xbox Live one at that.
And so, ladies and gentleman, let us introduce you to The Baconing, a fairly bonkers brawl-‘em-up that promises to relive the halcyon days of those Atari-or-whatever-it-was games you admired from a distance, but never actually played. It has an arcade look and feel that screams ‘PICK UP ‘N’ PLAY ME’. Yet anyone attempting this shall be banging their head against the proverbial wall within minutes, as the tried and tested ‘jump right in and see what happens’ approach means being mercilessly chewed up and spat out, again… And again… And again.
You assume the role of professional rent-a-hero DeathSpank whose propensity to wear too many magical thongs at once (stay with us), causes a chain reaction of ‘thongly energy’ that threatens to destroy the planet, or something. To right this wrong, DeathSpank must go on a quest to unleash the power of the ‘Bacon Fires’ on an evil, giant version of himself. In case you hadn’t already noticed, it’s all a tad odd.
The plot is exceptionally – or annoyingly depending on your perspective – wacky and self-aware, and on the surface at least, gameplay essentially involves whacking scores of nasty monsters with an axe in a 3D top-down view.
Yet, while the steep learning curve is initially off-putting and frustrating (I died 20x in the first 5 minutes of playing), once conquered, it gradually reveals that rare thing, an action game with a surprising amount of depth. It slowly dawns that the noble tactic of charging in and smashing stuff up will not work, and actually looking at the controls page (an oddity in a modern game) might actually help. Once checked, you’ll find that adopting a more cautious strategy of blocking, taking cover, and chucking grenades from a distance before finishing enemies off close range proves more fruitful.
Once a more considered tactic is adopted, the game opens up into a rather addictive experience. Despite the superficial bash-‘em-up aesthetics, combat has a credible amount of tactical subtlety, forcing players to assess how they approach each type of enemy, rather than run into each fight blindly. Weapons and items can also be mapped to pretty much any button too, with most weapons having multiple attacks.
The game’s graphics are pretty neat too; DeathSpank bulkily plods across a cell-shaded rotating world filled with tongue-in-cheek characters [The returning Wise Cow is a favourite - Ed]. Action is fast moving, and the ability to upgrade specific armour and weaponry provides some borderline RPG-level depth for tweaking and combining weapons. A great local Co-Op mode not also adds some extra longevity to the game, but also adds the shark-shaped character: ‘Bob From Marketing’ who shouts business jargon at enemies; “SYNERGY!!!”
On-screen brawls of 20+ characters without any slowdown are impressive too, although it becomes tricky to make out exactly what is going on when locked in close combat with multiple foes. Despite the speed, such confrontations quickly become a mess of indistinguishable polygons as poor as a Transformers movie.
So should you invest in The Baconing? Well, yes. While the steep difficulty curve threatens to discourage all but the most hardened players, there is welcome depth to the action. Hothead Games does a great job of varying the hack-and-slash gameplay with genuinely entertaining acting. True, the plot seems to have been dreamed up after a night on the sauce, but the witty dialogue and varied gameplay is absolutely stock full of ideas.