Review: The Baconing

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What do bacon, thongs, chickens, swords and justice have in common? Not much unless you are a hero named DeathSpank. Hothead Games’ third installment in a uniquely visual action fetch quest series strikes the balance of humor, action and lots of loot in The Baconing. The root of the story lies in the fact that after DeathSpank retrieved the Thongs of Virtue in the second title, he inadvertently created a new nemesis, The Anti-Spank, by wearing all six thongs at once. Of course being a hero who brings justice to evil do-ers, DeathSpank must travel to find Baconfire, the only thing capable of destroying each thong and weakening The Anti-Spank, allowing for the hero to save the day once more.

Makes sense, right? Sure. The Baconing is a video game so anything goes. What makes the game work is the fact that everything that doesn’t make sense some how fits with almost a sticky film of bacon grease. Swing jazz plays throughout the title, while DeathSpank battles modern Cyborques with medieval weaponry. Humor is the hallmark of the series and is the one thing that really helps keep the game from sinking. Visually, the game is presented in a 3D space with most environmental objects rendered in 2D, giving the game a distinct flair that also helps keep the game afloat.

Quests are offered up in a similar vein to that of most modern RPGs, with a quest giver standing around with a speech balloon floating over his or her head indicating they have something they need you to fetch. Collecting various pieces of golfing attire, or defeating enemies to collect fallen body parts are the norm for quests, however there are also plenty of less typically mundane quests. Specifically, obtaining an autograph from Elvis which forces him to leave his mansion (not outright named Graceland) or tricking Ganesha with a trail of peanuts, or playing a color match game with a computer named Z.I.M.O.N. Quirky quests like these help break the monotony.

Combat feels good in that you are rewarded a powered attack every time you fill up the power meter. The powered attack ranges from a spinning attack with a chainsaw, a nuclear bombardment, drill bits shooting up out of the ground or a freeze stun attack, just to name off a few. But combat also quickly becomes the same process for every encounter. In The Baconing, use of a shield has been implemented so far as you can hold down R2 to block and if you are close enough to an enemy when you let go they will be bashed by the shield, throwing them back which can allow for a ranged shot. Normal ranged shots are limitless with ammo, but if you want to fire an elemental specific bolt, that ammo will need to occupy one of your limited D-pad buttons for quick use. Successive attacks from alternating weapons build your power meter quicker than just hacking away with the same weapon. Sadly, all combat is the same. You fire off a few shots from your ranged weapon to alert the enemy, give a whack or two with alternating melee weapons, and land a finishing blow with the powered weapon. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The saving grace to the combat is the fact that the environment can help provide cover from enemies who are too stupid to strafe around a boulder, which can allow you a moment’s respite to eat some food to replenish health. While the environment typically holds a single path to any given objective, arenas of battle will also open up along a path with mounds to help block enemies. The coolest aspect of the environments is something that has remained true since the first DeathSpank was released over a year ago, and that is the rotation of the horizon to bring distant objects close as the hero walks throughout the world. A simple concept richly realized and still one of my favorite aspects in all three titles.

While humor has always been a core pillar to the DeathSpank story, most of the toilet humor has been flushed away and in its place a level of humor more akin to that found in The Simpsons has taken the throne. Wow. Two toilet puns back to back? I guess I missed the toilet humor in The Baconing so I needed to write my own! One of my favorite quips from the game comes from a door guard asking the Mayor from the original DeathSpank, “What are your political qualifications?” and the Mayor replies, “Massive corruption.” The guard politely opens the door and says, “Come on in.” This type of humor goes a lot further with me than toilet humor repeated over and over again.

Humor, visuals and a basic combat system will only carry a game for so long. Sadly, the game feels a bit too long for what it has to offer. Five thongs must be destroyed before facing the Anti-Spank. While I understand the narrative need to develop a quest or reason to destroy the thongs, some of the unimportant quests tend to almost bog down the game. The game even lists quests as unimportant, as if the developers are saying, “Yeah we know the game is a bit long, if you don’t want to be OCD about the game, just focus on the important quests.” Throughout the game, enemies will drop fortune cookies which are used to unlock hints for each quest. The problem with the fortune cookies is that each time you use one, the hint given doesn’t always help. The mini map isn’t always helpful in identifying where you need to go either, nor do the hints always indicate which part of the map is necessary to find or finish a quest.

One final aspect of the game that should be pointed out is the fact that there is multiplayer in the form of local co-op.  While the first title basically let a second person sitting on the couch run along side DeathSpank in the form of Sparkle the Wizard, The Baconing (as well as Thongs before it) allows the second player a few choices in the character they can play.  Each character has four moves that are based on attacks or healing spells through all of the games.  While it is very handy to have a second player join in on the melee and heal, the biggest problem with DeathSpank co-op is both players share the same health meter.  That isn’t a problem if both players are careful about rushing into an area swarming with enemies, but it is a quick trip to the outhouses scattered throughout the map for a quick respawn upon death.  While it would be nice to have a separate health bar for the second player, since there is a limited inventory, keeping all health maintenance and loot delegated to one player only makes sense.  Disappointingly, even with the restrictions that are in place for co-op play, online multiplayer is not an option.  Being able to drop in and out of a friend’s online game would be a nice addition in future installments.

While the final battle felt justified and certainly gave closure to the title, at the last second a mash-up of Doctor Who and Back to the Future tease a fourth installment of DeathSpank.  I can’t say that I’m surprised, but I’m not sure that there is much original content left untapped to make a worthwhile fourth journey.  One can hope that a fourth installment would add online co-op as well as the ability to replay boss battles instead of having to play the entire game over just to experience one or two really great moments.

The Baconing is a fun game, as long as it is eaten in small portions. The question, though, is once you’ve had one small taste, do you want to come back for seconds? There is nothing game breaking bad about The Baconing. Like I tell my 8 year old daughter: bacon is okay to eat, just as long as you don’t eat it for breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch and then for dinner. As a third title in the series, fans will certainly enjoy this game. All other gamers may want to demo it first.

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Pros:
+ Humorous modern cultural references
+ Lots of loot
+ Best visual presentation of all DeathSpank titles

Cons:
– Repetitive combat
– Quests are also repetitive
– No online multiplayer

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN; also available for Mac, PC and Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Hothead Games
Developer: Hothead Games
Release Date: 8/31/2011
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (local only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.