Ever since the introduction of “God of War” to the world, there have been a plethora of not only imitators but entire origin stories created just to make a game in its likeness (anyone remember the Dante´s Inferno video game.) The mixture of mythology, action and extreme amounts of blood has led to millions of buys and numerous awards. Climax Studios and Microsoft have come together to form “Bloodforge” a game with Celtic origins that haphazardly attempts to borrow from God of War in order to maybe make their own exclusive action series. The end result is a beautiful looking game that is clunky in execution.
Once player’s start-up and get into “Bloodforge” they will witness an art style similar to films like “Sin City” or “300.” The dark textures and animations really help the main draw of the game, the blood, stand out. Whether players are traversing marshes in “The Mire” or perusing through the “Land of the Dead” they will be greeted by location specific opponents, matching item containers, and god bosses who may gross out bystanders. The Mire´s boss in particular is probably the grossest of the bunch as she is a fat naked slob, with a flabby body (including saggy boobies) and nasty looking cold sores you must slash at to eventually get inside of her body and stab her heart (literally.) The only deterrent in the looks department was the long passageways getting to the next battle area; almost all of them look the same, and except for the “Forsaken Lands” level where the land builds itself as Crom walks, are largely bland and forgettable. However, the mostly wonderful brooding graphics only matter if the rest of the game is good.
Unfortunately, this is where the game begins delving into bad imitation territory and not the standout title it could have been. The first thing players will notice is the crazy camera reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden 3, which never quite knows where it wants to be. Many times you will be fighting multiple enemies at once and the fastest way to realize you´ve been hit is because your combo number will restart. The problem is, unless you have very good eyes you may not see three enemies take a swipe at you. There are also several times where the camera became stuck under the main character “Crom” or was so close to the hoard of enemies that it became difficult to see who I was striking. The main issue is the camera gets in too close to the action and unless you happen to keep a certain enemy isolated, which hardly ever happens because Crom is always fighting multiple enemies at once, the combat becomes an exercise in attrition.
The camera is a huge problem when you are attempting to evade an enemy or perhaps even fight them. Since the camera swings wildly, dodging can sometimes require extra effort because many times the camera may not follow Crom. Sometimes it shifts to the right or left of the dodge and you may not realize Crom just dodged into a slicing minion. The camera also seems to have depth perception issues. This is more of an issue in boss battles or against the bigger enemies, but it still occurs on a somewhat often basis. There are times where I know Crom was close enough that the sword or hammer swing should have connected, but the game says I whiffed instead. There are also times where I felt I was far enough away from an enemy attack and yet the enemy still grabbed me or connected with the attack anyway. This feels awkward when it happens and makes the game more of a chore than it should be. It forces you to place Crom so close to the enemy that he is ripe for an unavoidable counter attack, which is frustrating.
The other issue is the color palette. The enemies tend to match the color of the background, and in certain cases Crom matches those colors as well. This causes the characters to bleed into each other. There were a few times where I could not see Crom at all, or much less distinguish which opponent I started attacking. Although the game does have a varied amount of enemies, except for the huge fat guys, most do bleed into the background. A good example is the entire “Forsaken Lands” level. It was a troublesome affair because everything is white, gray or black. This made it almost impossible at times to see certain enemies, especially ones that were hanging in the background trying to fire at Crom from long distance. The mini boss battle, which occurs near the end of the level with the pencil and ink drawn spiders and dragon creatures made me feel like I was fighting a big blob of neatly animated stuff. It was cool to look at, but made figuring out whom to attack rather annoying. This may not be a game for the color blind folks.
As I alluded to earlier, Bloodforge takes its cues from “God of War” complete with a very similar origin story. The main character is a Celtic warrior named “Crom” who has chosen to leave the atrocities of war behind in favor of leading a calmer life with family. However, this does not last too long as one day Crom returns from hunting to find his village ablaze and wife at risk. He finds a warrior similar to himself in his living space and kills him. It is revealed that he actually killed his wife, and was made to look like someone else by some form of evil magic. Soon a masked aspiring goddess, who can also turn herself into a raven, finds Crom and tells him the gods were the ones that made him commit the dastardly deed. So, she sends Crom on a quest for vengeance, while in reality she is withholding some important information. She gives Crom the “Bloodforge,” which is a possessed gauntlet that collects blood from your opponents.
Well who can blame him for wanting to destroy everything in his path with tremendous malice and furious shouting? I certainly would not want to get in his way. Again, similar to “God of War” the main point of the game is to slice and dice every enemy, while trying to build up a nice combo at the same time. Except for a few slowdowns here and there, which mainly happen when using the slow Warhammer or when there are a lot of things happening on screen. The gameplay portion of the experience is quite fun, if you are willing to forgive the obvious wave of drones and fight zones the game throws your way. Basically what I am saying is each level is mapped out relatively the same. Crom fights through waves of enemies in these pre-determined areas of the level and has to defeat each one before advancing to the next fight zone until they reach the boss. The bosses are the crown jewel of Bloodforge, not only because they are the main reason to battle through all the mindless drones, but they are also the most interesting characters in the game aesthetically and personality wise too.
At its core the game actually plays more like a mixture of Ninja Gaiden meets God of War then a straight clone of either franchise and for fans of blood infested spectacles this game is certainly a treat, including a zoomed in kill cam. As players will have various weapons and abilities to dish out damage any way they see fit. Players receive the ability to choose between three main weapons: The Warhammer, The Greatsword and Bone Claws. Players also have a crossbow for long range attacks. Each weapon winds up being merely a matter of play style choice because they essentially deal out the same amount of damage; it just might take longer to do it with the Claws than with the Hammer. Most will probably take the Ninja Gaiden approach and just use the Sword since it is the most balanced weapon. Players can also pick up complete upgrades to each weapon in three of the worlds Crom goes through. Although, I would say it does not really feel like they do anything other than give you something new to look at. The new weapons add a few more combos, but players will not be given time to learn most of them thanks to the problems I discussed in an earlier section of this review.
Bloodforge does borrow a few more things from Ninja Gaiden to help its cause. For one, the game also employs magic spells called rune attacks in the game, which can be used with mana. These rune spells are divided into three categories and can be upgraded by turning in blood points collected throughout the adventure. One of the rune attacks has a snake bind a few of the enemies so that Crom can slice them much easier. Another one is a large hand that comes up from the ground and takes some of Crom´s opponents to the underworld without having to lift your weapon. Bloodforge also rewards the patient player with the satisfaction of grasping the battle system and learning its intricacies, because you will need to not only avoid getting hit to keep those fantastic combos alive, but also Crom himself. This means learning when is the exact moment to dodge, slash and slash more, because there are a limited amount of health pickups in the game. There is no store to buy any either, so players have to be very aware of where they are in each level. This will probably lead to many deaths in the earlier levels when players are still mastering the battle system because they may get to a boss battle with a small dose of health and be unable to heal themselves. At least the game is somewhat forgiving in this area, in that it gives Crom back 25 percent of his health after he has died the first time. That is why I said it rewards the patient player, because once you learn the art of dodging and how to deal with the various enemies, the health issue is not a problem. It did seem like Bloodforge got easier in the latter half of the game, so readers can chock that up to me learning the system or an issue on Climax´s part.
Climax also brought God of War´s “rage mode” into Bloodforge but renamed it “berserker mode” and made it almost waste of time to use as well. Instead of just making Crom an invincible beast, all berserker mode does is slow everything down to a bullet time crawl so that you might be able to chain more attacks together. However, players still have to dodge attacks because one slice from an enemy kills berserk instantly. Once I found out enemies can kill my berserk, I only used it in desperate situations during a boss battle, because otherwise with so many enemies around it becomes an unhelpful tool.
For those wondering, players cannot block in this game and have to rely on the crazy camera and a dodging mechanic that works, but sometimes stalls just enough to create its own issues. At his core, Crom is barbarian and it probably makes sense for him to dodge instead of block. Dodging also creates an element of surprise that blocking does not give you. There is nothing like dodging through a hoard of enemies only to spring up behind them and use a strong attack to watch them all take a huge stumble backwards as Crom comes at them with a wave of bloody force. However, because of the camera, the dodging mechanic can land Crom in some sticky situations. There is also an unnerving slow down that happens sometimes that can get Crom killed. This tends to happen particularly in boss battles, where evading attacks is crucial to survival.
For those gamers that do happen to completely trudge through the five hour single-player storyline (as I did) there is not much else for them to do. The game has a central hub that it takes Crom to after finishing each level. The game will then etch your gamertag into a tombstone, which represents the level Crom just finished. If a player approaches the stone it will show them the leaderboards for that level. Players can see their friend´s scores, overall scores, and there scores for blood collected in that level. If players have friends that happen to buy this game, they can then challenge them to a blood duel. A blood duel is really just an asynchronous way of having multiplayer through a leaderboard. The game does have a real form of the aforementioned type of multi-player in challenge mode. Challenge mode allows players to make their own challenges in any of the worlds a player chooses. Players can increase or decrease things like enemy damage, mana earned, and melee damage. Players can also turn off certain aspects of the game like Shift Attacks and Rune spells. Once they go through one wave of enemies players repeat the same process until all the waves are completed. Then players can ask their friends to compete in their created challenge and the player with the best score wins. Unless you like stuff like that, there really is no reason to play the game again after the first play through unless you are an achievement whore. However, if you do choose to play it again, the game does do something nice and give players the freedom to choose which level to start at.
Fans of God of War or Ninja Gaiden may want to give this a trial before plopping down $15.00 on a very short and shallow game. The gameplay is fun and is full of bloody goodness if you are willing to master its battle system and have patience to realize this is not a simple hack n slash affair. However, it is not without its glaring issues mainly the crazy camera, bleeding colors, and slowdowns when evading that may frustrate players. It is nice to see an action game use a different kind of mythology and I personally liked the story. Although I will say, there is some potential here. I just wish they would have got it right the first time around.