Review: Crimson Alliance

I’m missing Diablo just as much as the rest of you. When there’s a title that provides the same thrill of decimating enemies and looting their corpses, especially with a group of friends, I pay attention. Enter Crimson Alliance, an Xbox Live Arcade title that does just that. Certain Affinity has gotten the dungeon crawling genre down to a science in this co-op brawler that serves as a great weekend play with friends — especially those who might need a refresher course in grinding for glory.

Story mode is quite short (a couple of hours, depending on which difficulty you choose), but certainly sweet if not a bit simple compared to other recent, more polished options (Torchlight comes to mind.) You can’t create your own character, but are provided with three choices: the Wizard, Mercenary, or the Assassin. No matter which class you choose, you may customize your character’s outfit. The element of choice ends there, however. The rest of the game is extremely cut-and-dry, without allowing you to edit stats or even equipment aside from rudimentary item screens that dumb upgrading your damage and defense down enough for anyone to understand. In fact, there’s no real way to “level up,” per se — you’ll simply grow stronger through equipment you find or buy yourself, as well as through artifacts and the pieces of hearts you can seek out to add a heart to your HP meter (think Zelda).

But don’t count Crimson Alliance out just yet. It may be simplistic, but there is plenty of fun to be had here. Each class is outfitted with a set of special attacks and weapons only they can use. For instance, the Wizard can summon deadly lightning and other magical attacks, and the Assassin can slow time to use to her advantage. Class-specific doors are sprinkled throughout each level for each character to discover, so this makes playing with friends even more imperative — to see everything that might possibly be hidden from you.

Each time you fell an enemy you’re rewarded with a shower of gold, a consumable item, or an additional weapon for use in fending off the hordes of imp-like creatures and the bosses that accompany them. I found that the deployable turret and health totem were particularly useful, especially in situations where my lone Assassin in a single-player story campaign was utterly overwhelmed by advancing beasts and shielded soldiers. Setpieces such as exploding barrels quickly became a trusted way out of sticky situations, as you can always count on one or two to be around when you need them to thin out crowds and rack up some decent combos. Hit the barrel to light the fuse, then dash out of the way. That saved me more time (and frustration) than I can count.

Unfortunately, if you fly solo you’ll only be experiencing what feels like a sliver of the game. When you consider the fact that several areas are meant solely for additional players, namely many of the puzzles within each level, and tie in the fact that the difficulty is thwarted when you happen to have sentient players on your side, Crimson Alliance was tailor-made for experiencing with friends. Even its pricing structure is geared toward gathering up a party of players, each choosing their own class, and embarking on the journey — $10 for one character to play through the game, and $15 to experience all classes.

Crimson Alliance is a simplistic dungeon crawler that does many things right amidst the fact that you can’t sell equipment or upgrade your character any further beyond the items you pick up along your adventure, not to mention the fact that the game can be completed in a mere couple of hours. You’re also rarely deviating from a claustrophobically linear path and traveling in a straight shot from point A to point B. But in the end it’s still addictive and tons of fun, especially with friends. It’s still a good, old-fashioned grind that old-school fans of the genre can certainly appreciate, even if you’re just picking it up as a placeholder until Diablo III. Worth the Microsoft points, especially if you’re aching for some delicious co-op action.

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