The Baconing – the PS3 Attitude review
An egotistical lead character, lots of zany randomness, uber-colourful environments and whack-a-mole gameplay — the DeathSpank series definitely sits in the “love/hate” category, and The Baconing is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste. The simple rule is, avoid this if you didn’t fancy the last two games or if you cringe at the thought of random humour. Otherwise read on.
DeathSpank is an undeniably unique, and therefore worthy, PSN franchise. There are few Diablo styled adventures on the PS3, and fewer with a colourful palette and a sense of humour. It’s certainly a refreshing alternative to the dark and morbid fantasy that usually dominates the genre.
However, we are on our third iteration in just over a year, and the format is starting to feel a little over familiar. It doesn’t help that there have been few changes since last summer. The combat has received some minor tweaks, but it largely feels the same, the quests haven’t changed much either. It’s important to remember that these aren’t bite-sizes adventures. They are substantial, and DeathSpank fans have dedicated over 20 hours to this format, and the prospect of spending another 10 hours bashing monsters in the same way must be less appealing to fans as it has been in the past.
This, of course, isn’t an issue for newcomers, who are discovering DeathSpank’s quirks for the first time. While it ties in with the larger DeathSpank story, it’s a very frivolous story and there’s no need to feel apprehensive about jumping in cold. In fact, the DeathSpank prefix has even been dropped from the title, which indicates a focus on drawing in new fans, as opposed to satisfying existing ones.
DeathSpank hasn’t changed much from his last adventures either. He’s still an odd cross between Johnny Bravo and Bruce Campbell, still loud with a tendency to make obvious puns, but his dialogue still draws plenty of laughs from us.
The Baconing begins where the last game left off, with DeathSpank bored and feeling curious, having vanquished all evil and discovered all six Thongs of Justice. He has a sudden inclination to wear all six Thongs of Justice, and in doing so he creates AntiSpank, an evil mirror of himself. AntiSpank brings untold evil into Spanktopia and it’s up to DeathSpank to save the day, and our hero must travel across the continent in search of bacon fires — the only flames hot enough to destroy thongs. As we said, the plot is frivolous.
It’s juvenile humour, but the dialogue is snappy and consistently good. We appreciate that the delivery will grate on some, but if you do find the acting a little overbearing, you can always turn the voices down in the menu and treat it as you would an old-fashioned RPG.
The Baconing is an action RPG, similar to Diablo, albeit far simpler and more cheerful. You control DeathSpank from a high isometric view and bash anything that moves using a variety of weapons, including axes, swords, crossbows, hammers, elemental weapons and more. You have eight slots — four d-pad buttons and four face buttons — and you have the freedom to fill them with whichever weapon or item you wish. This allows you to have a variety of weapons on-hand during a single fight, and you can be creative with your combinations.
Sadly, it doesn’t result in as deep an action RPG experience as you would hope. Tactics aren’t essential and most players will get by button bashing as long as they have their highest ranked weapons equipped. Some complexity is added if you alternate your weapon choices in attack to charge a multiplier. Nevertheless, it’s still basically the same basic gameplay as before.
Hothead Games has made some sensible tweaks, however, including giving DeathSpank the ability to charge his shield. A charged shield can be used to bash and stun enemies. This is very useful when surrounded by several foes. A charged shield can also be used to reflect arrows, which is both useful and fun. The ability to charge ranged attacks, to do more damage, has also been included. While the changes add a new tactical layer (if you want it), and are appreciated, they don’t revolutionise the feel of the gameplay as much as we hoped they would.
The most satisfying aspect of the combat has never been the actual combat anyway. The knowledge that your enemy is going to drop lots of loot has always been more fun. Treasure hunting has always been one of the surprising treats in DeathSpank games, and it’s still as satisfying in The Baconing.
This partly down to The Baconing having an incredible number of weapons and items. You always feel as though you’re upgrading and acquiring new and exciting things. Selecting your new weapon, scrapping your old one for money and finding the best load-out is a game in itself. Sure, it’s a bad sign when inventory management is one of the best things about a game, but it really is strangely compelling.
Even just learning the names of the weapons and items is fun. They all have creative titles, such as “World Smasher the Bestest” and “Rotary Saw of Slicing”. They all look unique too, although the high view doesn’t always allow you to appreciate their designs. It’s easy at least to see DeathSpank’s amusing amour choices. From warrior golfer to Irish mobster, DeathSpank is always dressed to impress.
It is a light-hearted game in every way, and that comes across in its quests. These are split into two categories, which are “Important Things I Need to do” and “Unimportant Things I need to do”. The latter, while unimportant, are certainly worth doing. As well as rewarding you with some of the best equipment in the game, they tend to be the more amusing quests. For example, one has you evicting Genesha from his mansion on request of his sleazy landlord.
Sadly, more often than not, the actual processes of the quests are disappointingly bland. The ideas are great — such as fixing slot machines for Irish mob bosses and offering a clone of an ex-husband to a wife in return for her two-headed dog — but the reality is all you’re doing is fighting through some monsters to press the action button on an object or speaking to key characters in a logical order. So, either fetching things or hunting something. Ocassionally there will be a simple puzzle.
If the interest doesn’t come from the actual puzzles themselves, it at least comes from the various characters you meet and the wonderful locations you visit. Meeting an old-aged Zeus and Thor, who bicker at the luxury Valhalla Heights golf resort is very amusing, as is sailing around Barnacle Lake speaking to the barnacle-possessed natives and dancing to the maniacal tune of the eccentric AI, Z.I.M.O.N.
The locations are also very easy on the eye, but DeathSpank fans, of course, already know this. They have sunk in over 20 hours exploring wonderfully designed locations and speaking to quirky characters while listening to the random humour. Only you can say if you’re up for more of the same.
DeathSpank told us in an exclusive interview that this is his “finest hour”. He’s probably right, but when one has so many fine hours within 15 months, you stop appreciating the things that made those hours special. It’ll be interesting to see what newcomers think. They’ve never visited Spanktopia, indulged in the snappy dialogue of its inhabitants or whacked a leprechaun, and certainly haven’t lived until you’ve done that.