By: Jess Castro
I love it when a game comes out and the title states exactly what to expect when you play it. I mean, ambiguity is fun and all, but take game names like Sleeping Dogs, Watch Dogs and Nintendogs. What’s happening here? Are the dogs sleeping? Are we watching the dogs or are they watching us? Do any of these games actually have dogs?
See, I don’t have that problem with 505 Games’ latest Xbox Live Arcade title, Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death. Right off the bat, before I even fire it up, I know that there will be a dark skinned, handsome man named Marlow Briggs, who talks some serious shit while distributing beat downs. And I also know there will be a wise cracking Mask of Death, who makes ancient ex-wife and Mayan-sacrifice jokes. Yep, I knew all that just from the title. Now, let’s dive in and see what’s really inside.
This action title is a God of War derivative by all means — toggle between a light (X) and heavy (Y) attack and dish out high combo-count madness. You can quickly evade in any direction using the right analog, block with left trigger, throw spirit daggers with right trigger and grab enemies with the B button. When the baddies are in your grasp, tap A to throw them or steal their essence by further tapping B. Rein total pain with elemental spells by holding both bumpers and a pressing the corresponding face button. There’s also a fair amount of platforming, climbing and swinging via the jump button (A).
Let’s not pretend Marlow and his extend-o-blades of Mayan fuck-off have anything new to offer for gamers. The combat is indeed all too familiar, but to its credit, Marlow Briggs handles quite well. Combos are fluid, consistent and offer the expected amount of variety that a hack n’ slash game should. With four weapons to choose from, each with different range and power, there’s no shortage of deadly moves to pull off. Evading and defense are responsive, though the deflect maneuver seems to have some timing issues. Tap the block button right before a projectile hits you to send it right back at the enemy… well, that’s what happens most of the time anyway.
Briggs can bust all kinds of ass with ancient warrior style, but the guy can’t platform worth a shit. His double jump is pretty limp when not assisted by floaty combo attacks, and he gets pretty slippery near ledges, often tumbling to his embarrassing death. Here’s another cumbersome issue — the B button is used to grab or stomp enemies, but it’s also the interaction button. I’d often find myself swinging on nearby hooks or attempting to unlock items while trying to continue my combo count. Not cool, Mr. Briggs. Not cool at all.
Marlow Briggs goes all in, trying so very hard to hang with the big boys. On a technical level, it actually does a bang up job — big explosions, sweeping epic score, and some solid detail work. The overall image is a bit soft and the textures get muddy, but the lighting effects, animation and frame rate do just fine.
Aesthetically, however, the whole experience is extremely generic. Character design is lackluster and the models are devoid of any emotion or feeling; even though the voice acting is of the highest caliber of ham-fisted cheese. That unenthusiastic look on Marlow’s face in the pic above says it all. He may think he’s all that, rolling in and shouting stuff like “YEAH, THIS IS OFF THE CHAIN!” His face, though, has all the determination of a man deciding which McDonald’s Value Meal to choose from (Editor’s Note: the answer is “none of them.”).
I suppose the game is shooting for a blend of stark brutality and over-the-top cheekiness that falls somewhere between this year’s Tomb Raider and the late ’80s cult classic, Big Trouble in Little China. It comes complete with stylized blood-splashed, bullet-time cinemas, self-aware banter and a big boss man doing a pretty great James Hong impression. (Hell, maybe it really is James Hong. He’ll do anything!) Still, I really wish it went all out because the sights and sounds are neither full-on brutal nor campy. The overall presentation is pretty fun, it’s just not memorable.
On paper, Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death sounds right up my alley. The story starts with a codex translator named Eva Torres, who works in the hot, dank-ass jungle for James Hong, er, I mean Heng Long. Her firefighter boyfriend with the long, thick and veiny arms, Marlow Briggs, stops by for a workplace visit, when it dawns on her that, “Oh, gee. My boss sure does have a lot of assault choppers and armed men lying around. Perhaps I’m not applying my Associates Degree in Anthropology to good use.” It turns out that Long is using ancient tomes and artifacts to move mountains (literally) with evil intent.
When Eva gives Hong her resignation, Long’s lady-guard stabs Briggs with an ancient Mayan scythe (Editor’s Note: this is why you give two weeks’ notice.). Left for dead, a mysterious mask resurrects the fallen lover using his fighting spirit, heroic blood and sweaty, mocha-colored abs (probably). Thus, our vengeful hero sets off on a heated chase to rescue his girlfriend whilst a Party City face prop hovers around and makes with the sacrificial funnies.
The mask carries on, usually referring to Marlow as ChuChu, which is short for Ek Chuah Ix, who, indecently, is not only the Mayan God of Conflict, but it is also the God of Chocolate. (Yeah. No, really. Go ahead, Google that shit. ) In any case, where was this game when I was 12 years old? And how much do you want to bet my cousin Chuy has “Ek Chuah Ix” airbrushed on his low rider?
Anyway, Marlow Briggs is a good deal of fun, simply because of how ambitious it is. You chop up mercenaries and bugs, collect their fallen souls and use them as currency to power up your weapons and spells. Toss in a few QTEs, battle a few giant bosses, rinse and repeat ‘til the end. Sure, it might come off as a poor man’s hack n’ slash, but it deserves a bit more credit than that.
In truth, it’s not any more repetitive than Kratos‘ offerings, plus there’s plenty of Uncharted-esque wall-climbing antics as well as a variety of sub-stages involving gun turrets and fast-paced narrow escapes. It’s a bit linear with very little incentive for exploration, but still, it’s a solid 6-hour ride that rolls at a good pace and keeps the action coming. There are a few platforming segments that will try your patience due to Marlow’s slippery nature around ledges and inability to grab hold of ledge whilst falling. However, frequent checkpoints make the journey digestible.
This title will leave a number of pressing questions in your head. How can these lightly armored guards take a full on ass-whooping with a stone blade when it only took one stab to kill Marlow? Does Long own a helicopter factory (seeing as how he can seemingly afford hundreds of helicopters for you to shoot down)? When building giant rain forest mulch machines, how many names did the engineers go through before they settled on “INDEFENISTRABLE 3”? Is there anything to do with this game after defeating the campaign other than a slim Challenge mode? And the answer to all these questions is a loud, healthy Marlow Briggs’ signature catchphrase, which is “AW, HELL NAW!”
Actually, I don’t think Marlow said that even once in the game, but that’s neither here nor there.
“I can’t be bothered with your silly little Chocolate War God game! I’m playing GTA V!” Screw you! Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is a fun, low-budget gem. You get tons of action and rich gooey cheesiness for a mere $15. It’s a bit short lived, and the platforming kinda stinks, but this is the best “firefighter turned into a sacred warrior by a magic mask” game, by far!