There’s always been a plethora of gore-laden titles for gamers to satisfy their blood-lust. From the modern granddaddy of them all God of War, with its man-child for a main character, through to the more refined and cerebral approach of Dark Souls, these titles push the right buttons for those looking for some hack and slash action. And now Climax Studios throw their own blood-soaked axe into the fray in the shape of their new Xbox Live Arcade release, Bloodforge.
Looking to take its inspiration from Celtic folklore, Bloodforge is your classic tale of loss, revenge and redemption, with lots and lots of red stuff spilt along the way. Make no bones about it, this is a game that positively revels in the macabre but crucially keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek, lest it become too po-faced and laughable.
The player controls Crom, a warrior who has wearied of the slog of battle and yearns for the simple life with his wife. What she thinks about him walking around wearing an animal skull is never discovered because she is brutally murdered. Full of loathing and loss Crom finds himself guided (or should that be manipulated…?) by Morrigan the witch who points him towards the target of his anger; the god Arawn. Thus starts a journey for vengeance that spans six or so hours.
The look of Bloodforge is slightly desaturated, giving it a distinctive, otherworldly feel that highlights the gore when the blood spilling begins. It creates a vivid contrast to the onscreen action, but crucially it works really well. It’s a pity that the locations don’t vary as much and, as the game progresses, it becomes apparent that it’s merely a case of reskinning areas. There’s no getting away from the fact that it becomes all too familiar.
The action itself is as expected for the genre, so anyone familiar with the likes of God of War or Ninja Gaiden will feel instantly at home. There’s a certain heft and crudity to how Crom moves, as he bounds from one area to another. There’s none of the swish acrobatics of a Kratos or a Ryu Hayabusa on display here, but that’s OK because Bloodforge seems determined to portray its characters as it sees fit, looking to pay homage to the genre but not trying to force round pegs into square holes for the sake of it. That’s not to say that Crom is a static target – he can duck and roll with the best of them, but it’s more about positioning him in such a way that he takes advantage of his surroundings when looking to strike the decisive blow.
Each area is littered with enemies to hack, slash and generally maim in new and interesting ways. The developers said they wanted to cater for everyone from button mashers to those looking for a more refined combat experience and it can be easy to spam mid to high level attacks if the player is so incline. But scratch beneath the surface and there is indeed a robust set of moves with which to guide Crom on his quest to drain every last drop of blood from the lands he traverses. This all adds up to a feeling of satisfaction in controlling him, learning the basics and progressing onto the more complex move sets, combining and executing them with relish.
Normally all this limb separating and bloodletting would amount to nothing more than a grim satisfaction at being more adept with a sword than your enemy, but each drop is absorbed into a gauntlet that Crom wears which can be offered up as sacrifice at temples dotted around the landscape, helping to extend the life bar and abilities at his disposal. Other buffs are also present, for example Cairns are dotted around the landscape along with Mana Shrines that offer up the ability to charge up Crom’s Rune Attacks.
After the main campaign ends, there is the additional challenge mode to contend with. This user-generated content (for example a succession of enemies) seems designed to inject a bit of competition between friends. It may not be unique but it’s a nice diversion, even if it won’t be something that’ll seal the deal in terms of actually causing people to buy Bloodforge.
It might not reinvent the genre but Bloodforge does provide a tasty slice of hack and slash, allowing the player to check their brain at the door if they so wish and mutilate and eviscerate at their leisure. If the requisite friends can be coerced into picking it up as well, the excellent player challenges will provide longevity long after Crom has satiated his thirst for revenge.