Crimson Alliance is another Xbox Live Arcade game that, like the recent Renegade Ops, draws upon 1980s arcade coin-ops for inspiration; in this case namely the classic hack and slash fantasy game, Gauntlet.
Crimson Alliance is a fantasy RPG (an RPG in the loosest sense) developed by the folks at Certain Affinity, whom you may not have heard of, although you’ve probably enjoyed their work. Certain Affinity have produced Xbox 360 content for Call of Duty: World at War, Left 4 Dead, Black Ops, Halo Reach and the upcoming Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Impressive stuff, indeed.
The plot of Crimson Alliance is fairly standard fantasy guff that simply serves to grant players a reason to slice their way through hordes of nasties. In a nutshell, the land of Byzan has gone to pot after Princess Asturi took the throne and became corrupted by the power she stole from her father’s sorcerer. Feeding on the souls of her people, Asturi kept herself forever young becoming known as the Soul Siren. Enter the player and trusted companions (if playing co-op) ready to save the day.
As throwaway as the plot may be, it’s stylishly told using painted illustrations with minimalistic animation effects. Whilst the dialogue may be a bit stunted, the cut scenes do at least look rather nice.
Now, Crimson Alliance uses a slightly different marketing approach than other Xbox Live Arcade games, whereby the Live Marketplace suggests that the game is free to play. Well, it is and it isn’t. The base game costs nothing, allowing players to take part in single-player and co-op multiplayer games using a trial character, but having to endure a barrage of prompts to upgrade whilst doing so. The free base game is basically a trial by another name and I’m not sure why they don’t just say so.
If you want to play the game with a full version of one of the three characters, it’ll cost you 800 MS Points or 1200 MS Points for the lot. Doesn’t sound so free now, does it? Still, I can think of plenty of worse games to spend 1200 MS Points on. Once you get over Microsoft’s rather inspired freemium pricing model, Crimson Alliance is worth every penny.
The game features three archetypal characters, which is an odd number considering that you can play the game in four-player co-op. Gnox the mercenary is all about up close and personal melee fighting, whilst the wizard, Direwolf, needs a bit of distance for his ranged spells. My favourite character is Moonshade, an assassin that offers a nice, but lethal, balance of ranged and melee attacks. If you only have 800 MS Points to buy one character, Moonshade is it if you ask me. Don’t like the character names? No worries, paying customers can customise the character names and clothing colour.
Gold collected on the characters’ travels can be used to upgrade weapons and armour at conveniently sited vendors along the way. For even more convenience players can trade real cash (via MS Points purchase) for gold to spend in the game. How’s that for a bit of unashamed, in-your-face, in-game capitalism?
The aim of the game is simple: kill the creatures and carve yourself a path through the various levels to free the land of Byzan from the Soul Siren’s grasp. It’s a button-masher’s paradise the likes of which we haven’t seen since Blizzard’s Diablo 2. The players must get the characters to move at insane speeds, madly flailing weapons and casting spells, in order for the horde of opponents to be bested. And these opponents are not just dumb goblins. Players will come up against all sorts from skeletal archers to ninjas, and everything in between. It’s the massive amount of variety in the game that’ll keep players coming back for more.
And it’s not just about creeping though murky dungeons, either. Whilst there are many well realised mines and caverns in the game, your adventure also expands into sunlight and features some of the nicest outdoor environments I’ve seen in a Live Arcade game. The various levels all feature their own distinct style and look amazing, keeping progression though the game fresh and exciting.
Crimson Alliance is another successful attempt to rekindle a bit of classic gameplay and repackage it for a modern audience. The simple yet engrossing gameplay, painless co-op multiplayer and great visuals provides a welcome slice of yesteryear amongst the balls-to-the-wall gaming blockbusters that are coming out in the run-up to Christmas.
Lasting appeal: 8