In the past ten years, the public view of gaming has transitioned from “a stupid kid’s hobby” to a well respected medium of storytelling and entertainment. Yet, every once in a while, a game comes along that has the potential to set us back years of progress in the quest to convince people that gaming is for adults too, while remaining hilarious and fun. For example, if the mainstream press were to get hold of The Baconing, the third and latest iteration in the DeathSpank series, it could be disastrous: the game follows DeathSpank, an antihero of sorts, who mistakenly creates a villainous robot doppelganger of himself, the AntiSpank, by wearing five magical thongs. At the same time. He must then go on a quest to destroy each of the thongs by dropping them in the five bacon fires, rendering the AntiSpank vulnerable. No, it’s not exactly elegant, but the plot is as lowbrow as the game goes; very little of the actual humor of the game relies on jokes about wearing five thongs, and a lot of it is smarter than you might expect. It plays like a Diablo-style action RPG, but it feels like what it is: DeathSpank.
What Happens in SpankTopia…
Your quest will take you through five oddly themed worlds where you must complete menial tasks to access the bacon fires. There is the Forbidden Zone, where a super computer controls the workings of the city. The Forest of Tomorrow, where the (literally) nuclear family is in danger of falling apart; Rainbow’s End, where the casino needs to find a new entertainer; Barnacle Lake, where the local tribe is in disarray; and Valhalla Heights, the retirement home of the gods and recent crime scene. As someone who has never played a DeathSpank game before, it was clear from the start that I would not understand many references to previous games. Most of the characters I met were greeted in a way that suggested them having introduced earlier, but if there were jokes that relied on knowing the characters already, I didn’t notice. With a few exceptions, every character was likable in their own unique way, whether it was because they were genuinely likable or because they put a satirical twist on an annoying archetype.
Hero to the Downtrodden
The combat is simple enough: left click for melee attack, right click for ranged attack, and space for shield. It works and feels perfect most of the time, but the game can feel clunky at times, especially in fast paced fights where you might have to get some distance between yourself and the enemy. As you hit enemies, you fill up your justice bar. When it fills to the top, you can use special weapons to execute a justice attack which can do massive damage to all enemies around you. It is a flawed system though: for one, the bar fills up way to fast. I never hesitated to use it because it would usually be full again by the next fight. For two, even if there was some reason to save it, if you’re using a special weapon you can’t. When your meter is full and you attack with a special weapon, the justice attack is performed automatically.
The itemization is too simplified for fans of customization. There are maybe 12 armor sets in the game, each zone gets two plus the one you start with and the one you fight the final boss with. The game automatically equips better armor when it is picked up, and each armor set is slightly better than the last, so there is never any reason to customize your armor. You have two sets of weapons you can customize and quickly switch between in game, and that system is a bit more customizable; some enemies, like ghosts, can only be harmed by nature weapons, so for example, maybe when you know they’re nearby, keeping a set of nature weapons on your second set to easily switch in combat. The side missions seem few and far between, though the fact that most of them get their own dedicated areas is a nice surprise. The rewards from the few there are usually useless though, as they are all replaced when you reach the next area anyway.
In one portion of the game, you get to use a boat to get around a lake. The lake is the biggest area in the game, and the boat seems to go about a quarter of your running speed. Many land sections feel a bit stretched out, but nothing like this one; it takes a good five minutes to get from one end of the lake to the other, and it doesn’t even feel like an important section. The side missions there are borderline torture as they require you to reach every one of the small islands on the lake with no quick travel hubs. Leveling up is handled a bit differently than many RPG’s. There are two sets of three hero cards, and on alternating levels you get to pick or upgrade one of those three. Among them are basic things like increased health, but there are also more unconventional things like the ability to wear armor a level or two higher than your character level. The game uses a lot of adventure game style puzzles where you need to combine and use specific items in order to progress, which is a nice throwback.
Living in a Cylindrical World
One of the coolest things about The Baconing is the cylindrical shape of the map. When you move north to a new area, signs always appear like in a pop-up book which complements the cel-shaded comic book art-style of the game. It can be a bit frustrating when moving south into an enemy inhabited area because you can’t see them until they’re close enough to hit you due to the camera angle. The map itself is difficult to use and it seems like a porting issue. You can only look at the current section of the map you’re in or the whole world map. The porting issue I spoke of affects most of the interface, the menus just weren’t built for mouse use and it feels awkward. The game itself looks great and the music goes along with the chaotic and ridiculous action of the game. Each themed area is very well done, each one has a distinct look and feel to go along with its story. The voice acting is well done for most characters, terrible fake cockney accents aside.
Is it Worth Your Money?
The Baconing is a great action RPG suffering from a little bit of consolitis. It has a bit of an immature sense of humor but it isn’t bad enough for the average person to turn away. The game’s story took about seven hours and that is where I make my biggest complaint: the game feels like an expansion pack, and I never even played the others. Emphasis on the term expansion pack, because I don’t mean that it’s as bad as Capcom DLC. I’m talking about one of the fabled expansion packs of old where an entire new story was added to the game. It’s fun, and it is a good game, but it could have been a part of the previous installment. That’s not too terrible, as the game costs $14.99, less than one of those expansion packs would have cost and for near the same length. It’s definitely a buy for fans of action RPGs and fart jokes.
The Baconing Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 8 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – No
- Bugs – A few crashes and an NPC got stuck during an important quest event
- DRM – Steamworks
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
- Control Scheme – Customizable mouse and keyboard
- Availability – Steam
- Demo – None
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