The Baconing Review (PC)

The Baconing is a terrible name for a game. It could be Stephen King's The Baconing or Jamie Oliver's The Baconing; the name tells you nothing about the game you're about to play. Only a trip to Google will tell you that it's the third game in the DeathSpank series. DeathSpank is a better name for a game: we presume it will be filled with death and presumably a sense of humour, or it could be a troubling sadomasochism simulation. Luckily, it turns out to be the former.

Imagine a game where you actually pay attention when something is 'Forbidden'...
If you're on Xbox Live, PSN or Steam and want something new to play, will you bother to trawl the web for information about The Baconing? Will a single paragraph of PR gobbledegook (or in this SEO obsessed age, 'Googledegook') and a couple of low-resolution screenshots convince you to purchase it? For this humble reviewer it's a mere curiosity, but the developer and publisher have created an unnecessarily difficult scramble up Propaganda Mountain to promote their game.

For a newcomer to the series, The Baconing makes two things very difficult: figuring out what on Earth you're meant to be doing, and writing a review without resorting to meat puns. I'll struggle with the latter for the next thousand or so words, but the former is partly due to how absurd the game is. For example, here's the plot: DeathSpank, hero of the downtrodden and freelance professional narcissist, has vanquished the Thonglords and now wears their Thongs of Virtue. Having killed or maimed everything sentient and/or evil in the world, he's a bit bored. Unfortunately said thongs "were never meant to be worn between two buttocks alone" and their cosmic thongly energy creates a Godzilla-like entity called the 'Anti-Spank'. To defeat the Anti-Spank, Spank needs to travel to five remote locales and purge the thongs in the legendary Bacon Fires. Are you glad we cleared that up? I sure am.

If that last paragraph left you confused and alienated, you should probably just give up now. The Baconing is defined by its silly comedy and if you can't embrace it, you'll be left to congeal in the cold. It reminds me of Jamie Smart's bizarre comic books: you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the humour, but once you do every line will raise a chuckle. It is very much a series of chuckles, though, with few laugh-out-loud moment The other reason why it's essential to enjoy the humour is because The Baconing has little else with which to amuse. Despite the wacky characters, Monkey Island-esque dialogue options and enjoyable surf-rock soundtrack, it's essentially Diet Diablo. As I'm sure at least five people have never played Diablo, allow me to explain the fundamentals: 1. Walk into a group of monsters. 2. Beat monsters to death with something. 3. Loot corpses, occasionally returning to the village to sell your spoils. 4. Find another group of monsters. 5. Spiral into addiction. The Baconing omits steps three and five.

Surprisingly for a game that has such a unique style and witty dialogue, the main focus of the game- beating up creatures and harvesting their body parts for profit- is lacking in personality. Where *Diablo* created nigh-infinite permutations of weaponry, magic abilities and skills, here there is little variation. Weapons only differ in power: some cause poison or 'undeath' damage, but all have the same range and speed. One exception is the crossbow, which evolves from launching a single arrow to spewing volleys of pointy death bolts as you progress. Still, there's not much sense in having a choice when players will always want the biggest bludgeoning tool. Everyone gets the same weapons at the same point in time, with no random drops to be had.
My spelling is made of British English, you festering Mickey Mouse imposter
Rather than having unique armour that's fire-resistant, for example, Spank's clothing is purely aesthetic. The developers aren't blind to this fact, allowing you to automatically equip the best gear and take the chore out of managing your kit. If that's the case, what's the point in even having equipment management? It seems like the only reason an inventory exists is so someone could write clever descriptors of its contents, not because it fundamentally improves the game. Yes, it's funny to have a weapon called the Cobra of Whacking, a "poisonous snake that ate poisonous snakes its entire life", and it's funny to use that weapon to kill enemies called 'Dangerous McStereotype'. Yet these enticing humorous morsels are undermined by the traditional gamey bits that drag the experience down.

In combat, the real battle is between your eyelids and the relentless march of sleep. Dying is a slap on the wrist as Spank is returned to the nearest outhouse with a minimal cash penalty and a quick genital rearrangement (safety first, heroes). Since you spend more time selling your junk than buying new items, you'll accumulate a huge reserve of coin. The difficulty is inconsistent: some encounters are trivial, while others require multiple trips to the commode to survive. It's persistence, not skill, which wins the day. The variety of stages, combined with the excellent writing and voice acting, is just enough to keep you playing.

There are a few interesting mechanics to liven things up: Spank's shield can be used to bash enemies out of the way and temporarily stun them or reflect their projectiles. There are uninteresting elements too, like explosive barrels that can be shot to soften up enemies. Is there any game that *doesn't* feature explosive barrels these days? I've never even seen an explosive barrel in real life. What happened to a good old-fashioned inert crate?

A second player can jump in and assist Spank with extra firepower and healing powers at any time, which helps alleviate the occasional surges in difficulty. The co-op buddies are creative and hilarious: Steve rides a unicorn and throws shurikens (he's also a ninja) while Bob the hammerhead financial shark shoots laser beams from his eyes and can feast on corpses to recover Spank's health while growling about downsizing and marketing. I wish everything in The Baconing were as entertaining as these characters. That said, your friend will feel like the second wheel on a unicycle, as there's no opportunity to improve their character or customise their attacks. Had the co-operative side of the game been elaborated and elevated in importance, it would be much more worthy of your time.
Bob, feast on these corpses! I'm critically injured!

The Baconing likes to poke fun at itself- the tedious nature of its fetch quests, the ease with which Spank can be resuscitated at an outhouse- but this just highlights its flaws and doesn't justify their existence. Any developer who is intelligent enough to recognise the stagnant conventions of the genre is intelligent enough to create something better. The Baconing sags limply in a puddle of its own stale grease when it should sizzle: reheated leftovers from the previous two games, liberally seasoned with humour to mask the aging ingredients, in danger of becoming inedible.

Favourite Gaming Moment: The co-operative play is varied and those sidekicks are just too hilarious to resist. It makes a forgettable game much more enjoyable and is the only way to really enjoy The Baconing.