The Baconing Review
Sony PlayStation 3Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC
It's called The Baconing, the third game in the DeathSpank series drops the series moniker entirely, purposefully distancing itself from previous games DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice and DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue.
What could this mean? A radical re-invention for the series? A new main character now that head writer and DeathSpank creator Ron Gilbert has left Hothead Games for pastures new and twice as fine? In a word: no. If ever a sequel were more of the same then this is it. Which means if you've played either of the first two games, you'll know if this is worth your while or not. Here's our comprehensive change list: new sci-fi setting, addition of a knockback to the block ability and greater emphasis on ranged combat.
So that leaves me with those of you that have never played a DeathSpank game before and are wondering what the hell these bizarrely named games are. The concept is a cross between Diablo combat and Monkey Island puzzles. The reality is that the combat is hugely over-emphasized and not actually that much like Diablo at all. Put simply: the combat sucks.
You have four buttons, each linked to a different weapon and a block button. The issue is that there's too much going on too quickly. With good timing you can perform "perfect blocks" that help boost a meter that lets you do special attacks when full. The reality is that this is entirely a matter of luck if you're fighting any more than one enemy at once. You can't watch for three different enemies telegraphing attacks, and even if you can, you can't deflect one without getting hit by the other in the meantime.
One of the game's greatest strengths is it's amazing pop-up book cartoon art-style, yet it's also a huge weakness. There's a reason combat focused games like God of War and Bayonetta have such clearly defined, perfectly animated lithe and nimble characters: so that you can see what's going on. DeathSpank's art style is wonderful but turns battles into dumb luck. As such: you will die. A lot. The game makes up for this by making the death penalty minimal: a bit of backtracking and eating some food to get back to full health and you're right back in. The game will kill you three times in three minutes and you won't really mind, though certain sections of the game spike horribly in difficulty and getting killed twenty times in twenty minutes is somehow a lot more annoying. Whether this in any better in the co-op mode I couldn't say, as it's local co-op only and I didn't fancy the withering look I'd receive had I asked my girlfriend if she'd like to play DeathSpank.
There's no escaping the fact that the combat is the core mechanic of the game and it's just badly done, which should make this a bad game, plain and simple. But then there's everything else.
We've touched on the amazing art style, there's also Diablo-style loot management, though for armour sets you'll likely just turn on the option that automatically equips the best stuff, given that the only differences are that a new pieces of armour has five more health than the last one and has a look that fits in better with that section of the game. It's a great system for constantly changing the hero's appearance (again, the art is awesome) but it's not really a ludic system. The weapons have more variety though, and there's a few cases where you need to choose weapons of the right element to combat certain tough enemies.
The adventure-game style puzzles are fun though rarely challenging, but the whole setting and story, while bizarre, are wonderful. The voice-acting is over-the-top but is meant to be, and I really wish that there was a way to turn off subtitles as so much of the humour is based around the ridiculous over-the-top theatrics of the actors, which is spoiled somewhat when you've already read-ahead the lines they're saying. Somehow all of this combines to make the game somewhat compulsive. The game's six areas each take between one and two hours to finish, each with it's own sub-plot and setting, so it's nicely split up in to episodic chunks.
And around two-thirds of the way through, something weird happens. The game seems to realise that the combat it's leaned upon entirely for the first six hours of the game is fairly unfulfilling, and so gives you a gun that basically kills pretty much anything in one powered-up shot. And suddenly you die a lot less. And spend a lot more time exploring, talking and solving puzzles that finally become slightly interesting. Barnacle Lake sees you navigating a series of islands to find an over-ripe fruit and while the combat is still there, it no longer feels like the focus of the game.
Then you get to the last level, Valhalla Heights, a retirement home for gods in which you have to solve a murder. At which point the game's designers almost drop the combat entirely. It feels like it's there only as an adjunct to the story and the puzzle-solving and it's brilliant.
The Baconing likes to make a lot of meta-references to other games in the genres it apes, poking fun at the somewhat silly conventions they have while trying not to copy them itself, so I guess it's fitting that it flips the tradition of having the best bit of a game at the start, and instead leaves it until the last couple of hours to get really good. I can't hand-on-heart recommend this game as some of the earlier levels left me in fits of rage over how unfair the combat was, but I'm certainly intrigued to see where Hothead Games take the series next.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 11:05:11