The Baconing ReviewPublisher: Hothead Games
, Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
UK Price (as reviewed): £9.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $14.99 (ex tax)
Following close on the heels of Thongs of Virtue, The Baconing begins with Ron Gilbert's Deathspank
voicing his boredom at a world where he's managed to destroy all evil and conquer all his foes. He's so bored, in fact, that one day he puts on all of the Thongs of Virtue at once, accidentally tearing open space and time and summoning forth an evil doppelganger; Anti-Spank. Overjoyed at having a new mission in life, Deathspank sets out once more to destroy the thongs and defeat his evil other half.
This might sound like a ludicrous opening based on nonsensical, puerile terms and gross humour - 'Ron Gilbert's Deathspank' being a particularly unsettling image - but that's really the core appeal of the Deathspank universe. Like Ron Gilbert's other games, The Baconing sells itself more on its tone, rather than the visionary strength of the underlying design. Underneath the tone, The Baconing is underneath is merely just a Diablo clone. But a very funny one.
Like previous Deathspank titles, The Baconing has an incredible and immediately recognisable art style, with a cartoon aesthetic that combines 3D characters with 2D scenery on a rolling background. This might sound rather shoddy, but it gives the game a charming appearance, like a budget film set.
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While all the locations and characters are stylish and unique, however, the same can't be said of the weapons. As you would expect from a Diablo-style game, there are hundreds of slaughter-tools on offer, but all of them turn out to be disappointingly similar - +10 damage and a funny name that becomes unfunny, fast. Weapons are also thrown at you in such quantities that using Deathspank's ability to deconstruct them into cash quickly becomes a requirement for progressing beyond the inventory screen. In one single, simple fetch quest we ended up throwing away two complete sets of armour, as well as five swords.
Meanwhile, the combat system continues to adhere to the same basic action RPG template - it involves lots and lots of clicks, but it eventually gets very samey. As in earlier Deathspank games, it's essentially a matter of clicking on enemies until they die, then clicking on something else, ad infinitum. Hothead has tried to spice things up with a system of enemy-defining elements, so fire enemies aren't damaged by flaming weapons, but we found that it made little difference provided you hit them fast enough.
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Combat is further dragged down by the fact that there's no real penalty to death, so if you mess up (which happens a lot) then you merely respawn with half of your money missing. This essentially takes all the urgency and thrill out of combat because, while enemies recharge their health in your absence, they don't respawn. As long as you kill one foe in every battle, you can just grind your way through without even aspiring to understand the game systems. The only incentive to do well in each battle is to power up for your super-attack, The Power of Justice, which unleashes a context-sensitive special move.
The only factor that stops the violence from becoming a chore in the end is the sheer variety of enemies, which ranges from genetically-altered Gummi Bears through to Leprechaun Mafia. That and the sheer gratuity of humour is enough to make The Baconing an entertaining and enjoyable adventure on the whole, even though it lacks the frenetic moreishness of contemporaries such as Torchlight. In short, what The Baconing lacks in deep RPG systems or kinetic combat, it compensates for with the darkness of the humour. This is the only action RPG we've ever played where we end up avoiding combat and talking to every bystander in town, rather than the opposite.