The plot for this Xbox Live Arcade action-RPG release isn’t going to blow your mind like Inception might have, but as a package, Crimson Alliance puts together a tested formula with some quality traits that make it worth playing at least once. The clue was in the title, you should bring an alliance to this one if you want to really enjoy it.

The creators of this hack-‘n-slash are Certain Affinity who are sporting CVs with titles including Halo, Left 4 Dead, Wing Commander and Call of Duty. With that sort of experience behind them, we could expect a great game. Is that what Crimson Alliance is? It depends on your expectations of an XBLA action-RPG. 

I wish I had a rope to climb walls.

The aim of the game is to kill a range of enemies with or without some teammates by traversing through a fair number of pre-created levels (unlike the randomly generated levels Torchlight delivered) until you reach the final boss. Then do it again trying to max out your score. You get to keep all your character upgrades so when you finish the game, you can increase the difficulty level, which ups the potential score you can get, and eventually receive the coveted gold medals. Your score is a sum of the speed at which you completed the level, your exploration of the level and your attack multiplier. The attack multiplier (which goes from 1x to 8x) is much like your Guitar Hero multiplier: hit a whole bunch of enemies in a row and it goes up, slowly, but get hit just once and it will drop an entire level. To  score big, you’re going need to max out this multiplier by coming up with a strategy that minimizes hits. In keeping with the true arcade genre, the game is very pick-up-and-playable but to get all the achievements, you need to develop some skill.

The character leveling is limited to your weapons and armour which have a combined effect on your overall health and attack hit points. As you get further into the game, you unlock more powerful items. A slight twist to this title is it’s incorporation of the relatively untried and untested payment scheme. The game is initially a free-to-play demo but to experience the full game you either hand over 800 Microsoft Points and get one character (the wizard), or 1200 Microsoft Points for all three. It includes micro-transactions, allowing you to buy some gold to buy better weapons and armour.  This will only get you so far however, because even with all the best armour and weapons, your score is still grossly affected by the multiplier that sits nicely in the corner of your eye.

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If you get all three characters you can choose either “the powerful wizard, Direwolf; the battle-hardened mercenary, Gnox; or the mysterious assassin, Moonshade”. Initially it may seem like each is played with a different style, but the formula is actually the same across the board. You have two attacks, a dash and a shield-bash to stun your enemies. Granted there is a variation because the wizard is for long-range attack, the merc for melee and the assassin is a combination of both. Also each character has a unique “ultimate power” attack, which is charged up by killing enough enemies. The differences are so small I wouldn’t put in the extra 400 Microsoft points, not unless I was serious about unlocking all the achievements.

Unleash the fury!

The outstanding feature (and by outstanding, I’m mean relative to other features in this title) is the co-op play (online or offline), of up to four players. The game is geared for this since certain puzzles found along your quest can only be completed with at least two people. When you do go for the co-op play, having a varied alliance goes a long way to maxing out the points multiplier. For casual gamers, the co-op is lots of fun and speeds up the game significantly.

As for the enemies you encounter, I was impressed with the variety of characters you get to meet along the way – with no less than 22 monsters ranging from legless un-dead to packs of wolf-like beasts and skeletons that carry around a severed head. Another cool trait is the ability to pick up objects and throw them at enemies. This was especially useful when playing as the mercenary who has no ranged attack. Along with your standard weapons, there are also pick-ups like an exploding axe and a healing totem and these items become key in surviving the brutal onslaught on the higher difficulty levels.

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Some Enemies

It’s an XBLA game, so no long winded, visually magnificent cut-scenes are expected, but the sub-par voice acting and formulaic script certainly imply this section of the development was near the bottom of the pile when it came to handling the budget. It is listed as an RPG and personally I like my RPG story-line to have some depth to it. You won’t get that here. There’s barely enough to make you want to know how it all pans out. That said, the action part of the game lives up to its name and it certainly wasn’t horrible to finish. Twice.

Cut-scenes, average.

 Scoring

Gameplay: 7/10

True arcade style, so anyone can pick-up-and-play but experienced gamers would get bored quite quickly unless they’re very keen on topping leaderboards.

Design and Presentation: 6/10

Cut-scenes were poor. In-game detail wasn’t an eye-sore, but the general visual effects never had any wow-factor to them.

Value: 6/10

It isn’t overly repeatable, especially since the levels are all pre-designed. With only 4 hours of semi-original gameplay, I don’t think the 1200 Microsoft Points is great value so it was a good idea offering the cheaper package.

Overall: 6.5/10

Not a bad button-smasher and it won’t leave you feeling like you’ve been hard done by if you embrace the co-op and develop a strategy. Save this one for when there’s a lull in the gaming market.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

Last Updated: September 12, 2011

Crimson Alliance
Summary
6.5

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