Review: DeathSpank (PC)

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Trying to send up a game genre while also presenting a game that is worth playing on its own merits is challenging, but if anyone can manage it Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island fame is someone I would choose. DeathSpank is a multiplatform game that presents a unique visual style, an over-the-top hero, and a gameplay style that borrows heavily from the action-RPG genre. But how does it all work, and does it devolve into a mockery of itself?

The tale of DeathSpank is of a hero born and raised in pursuit of the coveted Artifact, his final quest! The game starts with him performing a series of simple tasks in order to get the ‘demon witch’ to help him find the artifact. Once he is ready to attain it, of course, stuff happens, and the main portion of the game gets rolling.

You are immediately struck by the visual style of the game. You are in a 3D world, but everything is drawn as 2D paper cut-outs with a very distinct visual style, as trees and outhouses and so on look like a slight breeze could blow them over.

DeathSpank could easily be subtitled ‘the quest for MacGuffins’, as Gilbert and crew elevate the useless fetch quests most games have you doing by having you perform similarly silly tasks but in a reasonably complex way. In one quest you need to get a character a Taco, but a very specific one. This means noting and remembering the exact order until you reach the traveling Taco salesperson (yes, I know), and then figuring out what is involved in completing the Taco since the Taco seller will absolutely not do one thing due to a prior lawsuit. Once you figure out what to do and gather the materials and complete the task, you can move along with the main quest.

If you read that last paragraph you will realize that the quests are actually more involved than in ArcaniA, for example. Yet the humor and general lightness keep it from ever feeling like a chore. You have a limited inventory, but also have a grinder that will convert your junk to cash. You can choose to have the game auto-equip the best armor, leaving you to just sort out your weapons. You get two sets to swap back and forth, with one weapon in each set mapped to the left and right mouse button.

Everything about DeathSpank works very well, but there are still some complaints: first off, in spite of all the wry dialogue and humor threaded throughout everything, there is little depth. You simply wisecrack your way through everything. Don’t get me wrong – there are many laugh-out-loud moments in the dialogue, but it is all about the quips. If you are looking for an engaging story, there isn’t much here – but if you are looking for well written light romp, it is here in spades!

Furthermore, this is a single player game that will last only about a dozen hours … and there is really never any reason to play again. There are no real choices that matter, nothing to change how the game plays or progresses. You just play through and can alter your inventory and some dialogue choices – but nothing with real impact.

That said, it is a budget game that is highly polished and a blast to play. For me it is a great value and highly recommended – just make sure you know what you are getting before you buy!

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Pros:
+ Lots of fun to be found at every turn
+ Core game mechanics make playing fun
+ Witty dialogue

Cons:
– Everything is shallow
– Short game with limited replayability

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available for PSN and XBLA
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Hothead Games
Release Date: 10/26/2010
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!