Byzan, once a proud and prosperous empire, has fallen into wreck and ruin, and right out of the annual edition of Fodor’s Magical Realms on an Amateur Adventurer’s Budget. Crows haunt the city steeples, and wild-eyed acolytes of the dread goddess-queen Soul Siren prowl the streets in furious, fevered delirium.

I’m embellishing a bit here. The fact is, Crimson Alliance’s “narrative” isn’t much more than a trashy fantasy madlib with the word “evil” somewhat overused, even by trashy fantasy madlib standards. I’m also using “standards” loosely. I guess the important part is that…

ONLY YOU, BRAVE [Please select one: WARRIOR / WIZARD / ROGUE], CAN SAVE THE WORLD.

[quote]

Underneath its drearily clichéd presentation, however, Crimson Alliance is a pretty robust little hack ‘n’ slasher, even if it’s a rather simplistic one. As one of the three classes – and with up to three friends, local or online – you’ll be button-bashing your way through a series of locations and basically murdering everything in between the entrances and exits, and robbing them of their stuff on your way. Oh honey, it’s everything they promised in the hero recruitment brochures.

The game’s a regular isometric dungeon runner, with very linear level design, and the occasional not-too-well-hidden hidden area, with an environment palette that incorporates bold varieties of “subterranean vault”, “brigand desert”, and “battered urban” in a comfortingly familiar mélange.

Combat is a straightforward business of pressing X, B, Y, and A in any order you prefer, and as quickly as possible. The actual manoeuvres differ between classes – the Assassin, for example, evades on A, slashes on X, flings daggers on B, and stuns on Y.

There are also a number of one-shot pickups, including throwing axes and turrets, that are exceedingly useful for crowd control – something that starts to matter a whole lot later in the game, as well as the wave-based challenge maps.

Where Crimson Alliance makes its most significant departure from regular action RPGs, however, is its levelling system. Or, more specifically, its lack of any real levelling system. The only way to improve your stats is to acquire better gear, which can be bought from merchants or sometimes found in chests. None of the items feel at that special, though, and it’s kind of odd that you can’t sell off your unwanted weapons and armour, especially considering that all the best gear is outrageously expensive. Of course, you can buy extra gold from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, but that seems so vulgar. And by “vulgar”, I mean “you’ve got to be shitting me, I’m not paying real cash for fake cash”.

It’s not deep, it’s not innovative, and it’s not particularly clever, but Crimson Alliance is actually quite a bit of fun to play if you don’t expect too much from it. If nothing else, it’s filling the space between now and Diablo III.

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