The Baconing Preview – Extra Crispy
Written Tuesday, August 09, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
DeathSpank is a well-established series on the Xbox Live Arcade, as the self-proclaimed 'Vanquisher of Evil' and 'Hero to the Downtrodden' has been the star of no less than two games within mere months of one another. And now he's back for more, but this time he's bringing home the bacon. Hothead Games will be self-publishing for the first time too, leaving EA behind for complete creative control, which is why the DeathSpank name has been dropped for The Baconing, as it's a fresh start and a brand new story for Mr. Spank.
DeathSpank and its sequel Thongs of Virtue were apparently two halves of one huge game divided, but The Baconing promises to be very much its own game, like a standalone James Bond movie that you can enjoy at face value without having played the previous instalments in the series. And with a new story comes new gameplay enhancements, as Hothead has been let off the leash to make the DeathSpank game that they always wanted to, and hopefully attract a new audience beyond the established DeathSpank fans.
“DeathSpank had good adventure gameplay, but that overall gameplay experience wasn't really up to snuff,” Hothead's Mike Inglehart tells us. “There was too much button-bashing, it was too easy and it just felt like a means to an end. It was somewhat disengaged.” That means the dev team focusing on three key areas of improvement for The Baconing: more choice in battle, new tactics and enhanced AI difficulty.
Starting out in DeathSpank's lair, where there's a 'United Thongs of Spanktopia' logo emblazoned across the floor, we pick up our hands-off demo with the beginning of The Baconing, where a bored DeathSpank has slipped on all six thongs of virtue and summoned forth the Anti-Spank, whose Galactus-inspired look makes him an imposing, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek nemesis. The idea then, is to burn five of the thongs in five of the Fires of Bacon and return order to the realm of Spanktopia. All in a day's work then.
Taking on some Elite Cyborque Troopers in our demo, DeathSpank now has a charged shield bash at his disposal, which you can hold down and release on time to deflect projectiles or push enemies back. It's skill-based mechanics – inspired by Diablo, according to Inglehart - like this that replace the button-mashing of old, and so there's less button presses and more options for tactics and strategy in combat. There's seven unique crossbows with charge attacks, a new Laser Designator weapon that can be used to call in dragon airstrikes by painting your targets and various armours to deck DeathSpank out in. The list of new stuff goes on and on, but it's the combat mechanics and revamped AI that'll be the big draw for The Baconing.
Enemies are much smarter than before too, looking to flank you, find cover and openings for attack, while ranged enemies will look around objects to draw a bead upon you. You can fill up your purple Justice Meter with repeated attacks, to eventually unleash a devastating Justice ability, but generally you'll want to approach battles without simple brute force, we're told. DeathSpank will be able to use a selection of elemental weapons like ice swords and fireballs, while collectible cards grant ability buffs. During our demo, we also get to see DeathSpank rampaging through the Forbidden Ice Zone with a pair of garden shears, as he must defeat six Adepts of the South by correctly answering their humorous riddles. Getting the response wrong events in a fight with a Chizzard Adept, which looks mercifully simple.
Later into the demo, we get to see The Baconing's new sci-fi theme coming to the fore, with a Tron-style grid overseen by a bizarre AI named Z.I.M.O.N. that demands completing increasingly tough 'Simon Says' sequences to reconnect circuits within the complex. You'll encounter more weird stuff like this throughout The Baconing's seven environments including Rainbow's End, which is a Vegas run by the leprechaun McMafia, Barnacle Lake, Valhalla Heights, which is a retirement home for Gods and the Forest of Tomorrow; a theme park where The Nuclear Family reside and DeathSpank is greeted at the entrance by the Mickey Mouse-style edible abomination, Mutoe.
“There's a lot of whacked-out stuff that happens,” says Inglehart. This is evident in some of the quests that he either shows us or details for us, including the Forest of Tomorrow's objectives for The Nuclear Family, which involve helping Betty Nuclear by bringing the husband and kids home for dinner. Doing so ends in a family spat and a nuclear explosion that unlocks the route to the next area. Obviously. At Rainbow's End meanwhile, you'll be able to do jobs for the leprechaun godfather and become a made man, having won the Ultimate Opera Championship boss battle in the process, granting you a kingly hand-sewn costume that enables you to fix the slots in the casino. Doing the same in Valhalla Heights will see DeathSpank becoming the god of orphans, although we're not quite sure exactly how that'll happen.
Although Monkey Island alumnus Ron Gilbert is no longer the Designer as he was on previous DeathSpank games, Inglehart assures us that the “same core group, writers and so on” are still at work on The Baconing and when we ask him about making the game without Gilbert, he's incredibly positive. “It gave the team the chance to flex their creative muscle,” he explains. “We relished the opportunity to be on our own.”
New character 'Bob from Marketing' – a hammerhead shark in a suit with a swordfish melee weapon and a line in marketing jargon – will be DeathSpank's new co-op buddy, joining him for drop-in/drop-out 2-player action in a story that will be roughly 8 hours long. “This will be the definitive DeathSpank experience,” says Inglehart. “It'll be the best one so far.” Based upon our first look at The Baconing in action, we can confidently report that it certainly seems this will be the case, with the same raucous DeathSpank humour, knowing cultural references and completely overhauled gameplay. And it's got bacon in it. Bacon! How can you possibly go wrong?
The Baconing will be launching on the Xbox Live Arcade on August 30th for 1200 Microsoft Points.