The Baconing Review (PC)

You’ve got to hand it to Hothead. With Blizzard dragging their heels for a decade on whether Diablo III will be out that year or not (2012… maybe?) Hothead can get three fun action-RPGs out in a single year. However, it’s hard to decide which way’s the better. By releasing three similar and decently sized games in a year, Hothead are risking player apathy. Should they have taken their time?

For those that don’t know, DeathSpank was created by Ron Gilbert (the mind that thought up The Secret of Monkey Island) and intended to be a tribute to Diablo-style action-RPGs at the same time as parodying them. The first two games had the veteran designer’s hand in them, but he’s now left Hothead to take a desk at Tim Schafer’s Double Fine (a match made in heaven since Schafer was lead writer on Monkey Island) so The Baconing is the first DeathSpank game to be released sans-Gilbert. It didn’t do The Curse of Monkey Island any harm, let’s hope the same is true here.

You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn yo- wait, we should totally get a picture of this!

I’m a fan of DeathSpank so I’m doing this review from that perspective. If you want a fresh view Alan’s got you covered with his review of the console version, but I’m inevitably going to compare it to previous games. I was debating whether to call attention to the elephant in the room right away or leave it to the very end with a “this is all very well, but…” lead in. I decided on now: the biggest problem with The Baconing is that it is utterly identical to the last two DeathSpank games. I don’t mean similar due to being the same series, I mean identical. There are a few minor improvements, but otherwise you’d be hard-pressed to tell the three games apart.

You still start at Level 1 (despite becoming all-powerful at the end of Thongs of Virtue), you hack and blast your way through thousands of enemies, you complete simple quests, there are bosses which require running away from a lot, you win, end credits. The interface is the same, the gameplay is the same, the graphics are the same, progression is the same, DeathSpank is the same.

It is utterly entirely up to you, dear reader, whether this is a bad thing. Whatever the score is at the side the game is still just as fun and almost as good as the last two games, so if you enjoyed both and are happy to do the same thing but with different locations then you should get The Baconing. I am definitely in that group and enjoyed the game despite the déjà vu.

Nevertheless improvements are merely minor: the only things I noticed was that the “Upgrade Cards” you get when levelling up are more helpful, a stun move done by blocking, and the ability to charge up ranged weapons (very useful). There are several things though that needed improving that haven’t been, such as eating (which is still just as slow and dull as before), and not being able to attack without targeting something with the mouse (which can be difficult if an enemy’s moving quickly). Maybe the console version got more improvements and Hothead thought the PC controls were perfect? Well, they’re not, but I do prefer them to a joypad.

Anyway, I’m going to stop talking to previous DeathSpankers for now. What about the newcomer who’s never spanked death before in his life? While the story continues directly on from Thongs of Virtue (well, the ending where DeathSpank didn’t kill himself) and doesn’t really explain why he’s wearing six thongs, this isn’t Mass Effect, there’s no complicated backstory, so new players should get into things fast. The question is, why would anyone want to start here? It’s far more fun to start with the first episode.

While things haven’t changed that much in terms of gameplay (left and right mouse buttons attack, space blocks, bash guys), things definitely have changed in the world. The first DeathSpank took place in an almost-typical medieval fantasy world, Thongs of Virtue is somewhere between the Wild West and World War Two, and now The Baconing is about futuristic technology clashing with orcs and dragons. DeathSpank’s world seems to be stuck in fast forward, with the technology progressing centuries in seconds while the people remain oblivious. It’s quite a fascinating idea really, and it passes without a comment.

Aren’t they all?

For The Baconing this means you’ll encounter roboticized orcs (“Cyborques”), genetically modified killer Christmas Trees, clone monstrosities, and a supercomputer named ZIMON, and you’ll take them all out with a sword, shield, crossbow, and a dragon that drops bombs. This juxtaposition (a word I don’t use nearly enough) between fantasy and future technology is certainly one of the unique highlights of The Baconing. However, it is a bit lessened if you’ve not played the previous two.

The story, what there is of it, sees a bored and powerful DeathSpank called back into heroing by the arrival of the AntiSpank. By not destroying the Thongs of Power in the last game a destructive reflection of himself has been created, bringing misery to the downtrodden rather than justice. DeathSpank must destroy the Thongs in the Great Bacon Fires (c’mon, it’s not any sillier than most action-RPGs) and take down his evil doppelganger.

It has to be said that the humorous writing has taken a noticeable step back. I found the second game very funny in places, but here it all feels a bit samey, like the joke’s too obvious. It still raised the odd laugh, but not as often as I’d like. Still, the cast of characters were just as ridiculous as always, like the Mayor who’s exceptionally proud of his massive corruption and the Jetsons-parodying Nuclear Family who literally blow up when they get cross.

Music, sound and voice acting are just as good as in previous episodes, with some very catchy new tunes and the actor playing DeathSpank really getting into the over-the-top heroics with aplomb. Graphically The Baconing retains the series’ trademark “pop-up book” art style, which most definitely doesn’t got boring. If anything it’s getting prettier. Oh, and while we’re ticking off review boxes there’s a co-op mode too, although it’s local only – so someone has to play with the joypad. Ick.

While the major problem of The Baconing is that it’s too similar to the last two and the series is now in serious danger of wearing out its welcome, it’s also not quite as good either. The worlds of the first two games felt like proper worlds with a lot of backtracking and exploring, whereas Baconing is a lot more linear and formulaic. It’s still fun and the places you go to are interesting to check out, but you never really need to go back to them of your own volition.

Well, that went well

Honestly, if you’re a fan of the games and want more, you should get it. That may be a bit of cop-out but it’s the truth, and only you can decide whether you like DeathSpank enough to play it through three times. I enjoyed The Baconing despite it being a little weaker in terms of linearity and writing, but I was never bored, frequently amused, and always wanted to turn the next corner to see what fresh craziness awaited me. If you haven’t played a DeathSpank game before, don’t start here, play the first. The graphics and gameplay haven’t changed so you won’t be missing anything.

Hothead may be pushing their luck, but there’s life in the Hero to the Downtrodden yet. If there’s another episode though there has to be a major shake-up as the series is in danger of getting boring, and no amount of left-clicking will make that particular gruesome reality monster go away.

Top Game Moment: I personally liked going to the Forbidden Zone and taking a picture of the remains of the Statue of Liberty. Damn dirty tourists.

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