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Deathspank Hands-on Preview

Deathspank Hands-on Preview

Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: TBC 2010

If you didn’t keep your finger securely on the pulse of the games industry by reading bit-tech religiously every morning, noon and night, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that this game was part of an elaborate joke. A Diablo-style RPG from the man behind Monkey Island – and it’s got a name like Deathspank? Too good to be true, surely.

Except it is real, we’ve played it and it really does look to be as awesome as the pitch makes it sound – the action is just as slick as Diablo’s and the writing is sharp as you’d expect given Ron Gilbert’s back catalogue. It's a glorious blend of two genres you wouldn’t expect to mesh all that well, classic adventure and action RPG.

Of course, it’s possible to make a bit too much of Gilbert’s previous titles and the truth is that, while there are some superficial similarities, Deathspank doesn’t feel very similar to the likes of Monkey Island on close inspection. Instead, the fiction feels like it’s been directly inspired by lesser known titles; the music and art reminded us more of Doug TeNapel’s Klayman than Guybrush Threepwood or Purple Tentacle.

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En garde, young boy!

The story too feels like something a bit more Discworld-esque than we expected, with parody and irony laced through game like comedy strychnine that causes death by laughing fit. The hero of the story is the eponymous Deathspank, a man who apparently wears armour only above the waist and who compensates for his lack of wits with an inflated sense of justice and purpose. He is, in the words of one of the producers who helped show us the game, only embarking on an epic quest to save the world because somebody told him he had to and he didn’t have anything better to do.

He’s basically got to go get this magical artefact called The Magical Artefact,” we were told, “and he’s doing it because he tends to believe everything he’s told and someone happened to tell him it was his destiny. He doesn’t even know what the artefact – sorry The Artefact – does.

It’s a rather odd way to open up a game about trying to save the world, but it does at least make our jobs easier by doing away with the usual contrivances and needless reams of back-story. Deathspank is embarking on this dangerous mission because he is an idiot. No further explanation required.

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Thankfully, he's wearing the Thong of Justice

Deathspank freely admits to other conventions of the games industry too. Deathspank, like most heroes in most games, often finds himself running errands for people who should be perfectly capable of doing it themselves (or are sometimes even more capable than he is). The reason given? They can’t be bothered to do it themselves. Deathspank’s universe is, it seems, one populated by layabouts and procrastinators. The only thing that really sets Deathspank himself apart from the general populace and distinguishes him as a hero is his over-abundance of energy.

That’s energy he’s going to need too, as the types of quest he ends up running off on don’t tend to fit into the standard mould of a fantasy RPG and usually derail into bubbling bloodbaths with alarming speed and regularity. It’s Gilbert and Co. poking fun at the tropes of the games industry again and, rather than rescuing fair maidens from evil dragons, Deathspank more often than not ends up defending helpless, evil dragons from rampaging hordes of chickens.

We were pretty taken aback by that idea too, we admit. We cocked an eyebrow and looked quizzically at the producer who was hovering behind us, semi-sure that it was a spelling mistake which hadn’t been ironed out yet. We were proved wrong when a swathe of egregious egg-layers descended on us and started pecking away at our health bar. Then, as we fought our way to safety, we noticed that their were ghosts rising up from each chick we felled and that each one was leaving a pair of chicken lips behind as loot.

Ron has this theory,” said the producer behind us, “He thinks that only chickens have souls.

And that was all the explanation we got about that.