Thursday, July 29, 2010

DeathSpank Review

DeathSpank is not like many other games. It has charm, wit, and a great ability to make you feel like a hero to the downtrodden. It unfortunately also has an ability to make you feel like one of the downtrodden that you are supposed to be downtroddening or something like that.

From the second you start playing it is easy to see where Ron Gilbert's (Monkey Island) influence takes root. The jokes are familiar yet fresh and there is even one in there about Monkey Island. To say that the game is aware of itself would be speaking lightly as you are constantly greeted by jokes about game mechanics and common RPG terms.

The game is an RPG, heart and soul, from the loot to the constant questing. The game is a real time RPG with solid mechanics, good inventory systems (an auto-grinder would have been nice), and a hefty amount of content. It also takes a teeny slice from the adventure game pie but that lies in a few puzzles and the dialogue options.

The dialogue remains fantastic throughout the game but toward the end of the experience it all begins to feel samey, boring, and washed out. Jokes at the end of game would have been funny at the beginning of your experience but when you are nearing the end of a ten hour experience you have - in so many ways - heard it all before.

The same thing happens with the gameplay. It is fun to begin but toward the end it feels like rinse and repeat. Despite the constant loot you will find that you stick with the same weapons throughout the game. You might switch to new weapons 4 or 5 times in the game throughout. The runestones change it up a bit (mostly just for the cool aesthetics) but they are by no means necessary so you might never use them at all. The game may also have plenty of loot but you will rarely find that you are ever maintaining your inventory (though toward the end of the game you will constantly be grinding things that you do not want in order to make room for the things you need).

Despite all of the caveats, I played through the game in two long gameplay sessions and watched time melt away after I did - short, simple and sweet - quest after quest. The game is built for short gameplay bursts and it may have done the game a greater service to play it like this because after the first long gameplay session I felt like I had no reason (other than to finish it off) to go back. The story is okay, and once you have heard some of the jokes none of the others will catch you off guard.

Something that did catch me off guard was that this was also the first game in a long series of games played through where I found the music boring and less inspired than the rest of what the game had to offer.

Everything about the DeathSpank experience (sounds like an exotic ride) screams - from the Enchanted Forest to the Demon Mines - of polish, careful thought and crafty design. I remember several times throughout my playthrough stopping to marvel at just how well everything worked though DeathSpank, the game, is much like Deathspank, the character; he means well but the outcome is not always what was intended. Buy this game if you are a fan of Monkey Island or Diablo as the hype has suggested (or for an easy 200 gamerscore) - the rest may be able to wait for DeathSpank 2.

3.5 out of 5

Review based on the retail XBLA code paid for by the reviewer.