Marlow Briggs and The Mask of Death
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on PC
Catchy title right? Well no, but don’t be too hasty to judge this little hidden gem of an Xbox Live Arcade game which was released last week to little or no fanfare. Developed by Zootfly and published by 505 Games, Marlow Briggs is that rare little game that strives to rip off a famous franchise, knows full well it is doing so, does not take itself at all seriously and is hell bent on the player simply having fun. A God of War clone with a smattering of Darksidersthat knows it’s a God of War clone, knows its premise is ridiculous, knows full well it’s over the top and borderline stupid - as a result it plays up to all the silliness, focusing on the minute to minute gameplay with its tongue firmly in its cheek. A risky play for sure but hats off to the team at Zootfly, for less than a tenner what we have here is a raucous four to five hour campaign which rips off the bigger franchises really, really well.
The story is utter nonsense seeing you, the hero, Marlow Briggs meeting up with your girlfriend as she works on an archaeological dig. The dig is being run by the bad guy from Big Trouble in Little China and he is after some elusive codex which will make him uber powerful (obviously), in turn allowing him to take over the world - muhahahaha. Naturally as Marlow’s lovely girlfriend smells a rat she wants off the project, things turn south pretty quickly resulting in the end of our hero...or is it? Resurrected by an ancient Mayan ‘The Mask of Death’ who hasn’t had anyone to speak to for two thousand years, Marlow is back in the game and the setup is complete for for him to embark on an adventure to save his beloved along with a cocky, mouthy sidekick and random ancient magical weaponry and super powers.
The opening thirty minutes or so are equal parts funny as they are utterly bonkers, quite literally everything explodes as you progress through the early stages. It’s Michael Bay at its finest but as mentioned earlier, the beauty of Marlow Briggs is that it knows that this kind of entertainment is stupid, leave your brain at the door type stuff, and revels in it. Considering that this is a budget XBLA title the game actually looks really nice for the most part - sure it isn’t perfect by any stretch but the environments, especially outdoors, are of good quality and the animations when in combat are often quite dazzling. The outdoor environments sport a rich colour palette with lush forest as the backdrop and it really works.
Being a straight up God of War clone sees the gameplay following some very simple rules; heavy on quick-paced combat, some light platforming, simple puzzle solving, a smattering of climbing and finally a mixture of set piece on rails sections like manning a gun placement to shoot down an awful lot of helicopters. Mixing up the gameplay along with the bombastic nature of the early stages of the game certainly keeps you on your toes and you will soon forget you are playing a budget XBLA title. The combat completely makes Marlow Briggs - such an easy thing to get wrong - and whilst there are moments when your screen is so chock full of enemies, all coming at you from different angles, that you will wish that the combat animations didn’t have to complete entirely before being able to move on, this really is the only gripe when it comes to the combat system. Animations are over the top, meaty in feel and when confronted with an area full of varying enemies the game really excels.
Naturally as the game has combat at its core your arsenal can be upgraded using the game’s equivalent of currency throughout the game. As you progress there are many, many opportunities to pick up currency and some is also received when defeating an enemy, often alongside a health or mana boost. As you progress new weapons unlock and using said currency these can be upgraded three-fold improving damage and the drops provided by killing enemies. As well as the four weapon types there are also four very big area of effect spells that can be cast and these are also upgraded in exactly the same fashion. There spells are summoned using mana, again this is collected throughout the entire experience easily enough and can be used for one of these huge AoE spells or simply throwing magic daggers. Only really as you reach the end of the game do you need to call upon these mighty spells, for example flame storm, and weapons-wise there are very few occasions where you will feel the need to switch from your favourite. As a result whilst these mechanics are nice all they really serve to do is change the way in which the action looks on the screen and they don’t heavily influence whether or not the player will progress.
To complete the God of War combat set Marlow is equipped with a nice block and repel move along with a perfectly functional dodge mechanic.The latter is really the go to option, as with the game Marlow is ripping off here, not least of all because most enemies will seek to surround you in numbers so blocking in one direction will only get you so far.
To recap, we have a very capable God of War clone complete with all the mechanics, some excellent cinematics, all created admirably on a budget and it doesn’t half look bad either. The sound could only really be described as adequate but this is made up for by the completely cheesy (but it knows it) voice acting - which includes the Mask of Death mocking you every time you make a mistake, a nice touch and yet another example of the games self awareness and sense of humour.
All isn’t perfect though unfortunately and Marlow is let down by some of its features, not least of all some of the set piece sections. These on rail sections are far more about learning how to complete them than they are a test of skill and throughout the entire four to five hour adventure they are arguably the only thing that will make you want to throw a pad at the TV. Some of these sections are lovely to look at and very cinematic, again considering this isn’t a $100m game that is some achievement - sadly though they end up just annoying the hell out of you and you just want to get passed them and back to the lovely, brutal combat.
Technically also, and perhaps is to be expected, the game isn’t perfect. Moving from section to section can sometimes be glitchy resulting in a “what happened then” feeling. Sound dropouts happen and often as the screen is so crowded you were relying on sound rather than visual cues to tell if you were hitting anything, so that can be a little annoying. There have also been reports of game breaking issues due to way in which the game auto saves - effectively it snapshots pretty much as you down the last enemy in the area, usually a mini boss or several and should that final kill animation take you over a ledge to your death then you will be re-spawned mid animation forever - game breaker. That said on our play through we experienced no such issues.
Marlow Briggs isn’t perfect but for all its faults it is important to always keep things in perspective. This is a budget XBLA game that nails the God of War template and more importantly nails the combat almost perfectly, has a wicked sense of humour and is giving you four to five hours of this for a tenner - put all of this together and Marlow Briggs becomes a game worthy of your attention. Released without fanfare and unnoticed by the majority, Marlow Briggs is a little XBLA gem.