It’s almost guaranteed that if you come up with something wonderful, many will try to copy it, or improve upon it. Sometimes this leads to some really heated, and awesome competition. Other times, we see a laughable attempt at coat-tail surfing, and in the worst cases we end up with flat-out plagiarism. Today’s game really leans toward the former. It takes the base functionality of a modern classic, but changes nearly everything else. It even takes a few of its own chances. It results in something you’ll really want to check out even though it won’t become as memorable as the mold it was born from.
PROS: Controls. Tongue in cheek humour. Variety. Fun!
CONS: Low rent graphics in spots.
WAIT WHAT?: The conversations Marlow has with a mask.
Marlow Briggs, And The Mask Of Death is very much indeed; a God Of War clone. Like the Sony flagship spectacle fighter you go through hacking up thousands of enemies. There are various weapons wholly inspired by those of Kratos. The dual blades are here, the chain whip is here. Even some of the magic spells of doom are here. But that’s really where the similarities end. Because the other 85% of Marlow Briggs is a late 80’s direct to video action film.
Things kick off briskly, as Marlow Briggs meets up with his girlfriend, Eva Torres in a South American jungle. She works for a business doing research on ancient codex wheels, and artifacts. When she feels uneasy about continuing to do translation work for Heng Long, she tries to quit. This only serves to enrage her boss who has Marlow Briggs killed on the spot.
His girlfriend is then taken hostage, and forced to continue her work. Why? Because her evil employer wants to uncover the steps to an ancient ritual. What is the ritual? A means for him to become a dark godlike creature who can take over the world.
Fortunately for Marlow Briggs, it turns out that the weapon he was killed with was magical. It resurrects him as a super powered warrior.
So like any direct to video action star, he sets out to free his girlfriend, kill the bad guy, and save the world.
When I say direct to video action movie, I mean it too. Marlow Briggs is a game that relishes the bit. It doesn’t hide from the cheesy story, or over the top action at all whatsoever. It lives, and breathes everything from Dolph Lundgren to Jean-Claude Van Damme, and never apologizes for it. It just expects you to go with it, and you will.
Because Marlow Briggs, And The Mask Of Death is fun. A lot of fun. Upon closer examination you may notice that the game is not a visual powerhouse. Characters are lower on the geometry, some of the textures are decidedly lower quality, and models lack some detail. But things also look good enough that it won’t bother you. There are some nice bloom effects, here, and there. And the game runs at a pretty smooth frame rate, with little to no hiccups along the way.
It really isn’t going to matter to you anyway. Because the game is going to keep you busy with a lot of things going on. You won’t have much time to be counting the number of shadows on a minion’s costume because you’ll have to defeat him, and around ten of his buddies.
Voice acting is full of the wooden dialogue, and cheese in DTV, and made for TV movies. But in the context of this game it is a very good thing. Everything comes together, and the game’s amazing score complements the action really, really well. It truly does feel like the most epic B-movie turned video game.
Unlike most clones of God Of War, Devil May Cry, or other popular hack, and slashers this game gets something right. The play control. Many smaller developers, and even some larger ones tend to make entries in the genre that never seem to get the feel just right. Either there are noticeable breaks in the action, or a combo will feel sluggish. Other times timing or hit detection will be bad, or just off enough to make for slow, plodding, and unfair moments.
Marlow Briggs doesn’t fail here. Combos flow very nicely, with some smooth animations going along with them. Like the recent run of Batman games, there is a large enough enemy variety, and pizzaz during fights to make mashing X worthwhile. As in the games it cribs from, you can also upgrade your attack power, and spell power by collecting yellow orbs for point values. When these become high enough in number you can go into a pause menu to do this.
Pausing the game will bring up a screen where you can spend your yellow orb experience points to perform your upgrades. Often times you will actually be directed to go into this screen the moment you have enough of them. Each weapon, and spell can be upgraded up to three levels. Doing this buffs the damage output in your attacks.
You can also access a trainer from the pause menu. This lets you practice the various combos with each of the game’s weapons. It isn’t something you need to really do if playing on a lower difficulty setting. But if you are playing on one of the harder settings you may want to learn some of them to keep the waves of bad guys from hitting you.
As you go through the game, you will eventually stumble onto the various weapons, and spells by beating stages. Once you have them you can switch between them on the fly. The scythe is two ended, and is the first one you’ll receive. It does medium speed combos, and is the one that gets you started. The dual blades are a lot faster, and work great when you are being mobbed by waves of enemies.
The chain whip is pretty cool, allowing you to get combos that do hundreds of hits. It doesn’t do as much damage, but it has an insane range. There is also a hammer which is slow, but has a fairly high damage output. In my experience I found the dual blades worked out the best, though other players may prefer one of the other weapons more.
Spells include one that brings about meteor showers. One that brings about hurricanes, and tornadoes. Another one blasts the ground hard enough to pull up rock from underneath enemies. The last one does more with water, and ice. All of these can be upgraded, and they all do fairly large damage on the lowest grade enemies. Larger enemies seem to take different damage levels based on the spell.
You can also possess certain enemies after you do enough damage which makes them either help you out as an NPC or turns them into a vehicle you can control. The latter is especially fun as you can control giant scorpions. Enemy variety is also impressive. You will fight everything from mercenaries, to bird people, to wizards, to killer beetles. The list goes on, and on.
Using spells, and throwing knives also costs mana. This is measured by a blue bar on the HUD, while your health is measured by a red bar. There are red, and blue masks you can collect to refill these bars in the field. Game play is broken up between sections, and eventually becomes a formula countless games already use. First you will have a wave section where you have to beat down waves of enemies.
Completing these sections will lead into some platforming areas where you will climb walls, swing from cables, jump from place to place, and so on. These are pretty fun, and challenging sections in their own right. Many times these areas will task you with some puzzle solving. Again, it isn’t something tossed in “Because game X happened to have it.” Most of the puzzles actually take some thought to work through. They tow the seemingly fine line between “Why bother if they’re going to be this easy?”, and “Why is this so impossible?”.
There are also mini boss encounters, and boss encounters near the middle of stages, as well as at the end of stages. As in God Of War there are also some QTEs you will be tasked with. Thankfully, these aren’t over done in the game, used only during boss battles, or gaining entrance to certain areas.
The game also attempts to keep things from devolving into monotony with a variety of time trial sections where you have to get from place to place as fast as possible, while avoiding traps or other dangers.
It attempts to further mix things up with on rails sections. Some of them involve collecting orbs, as you slide down an obstacle course, while others are turret sections. The turret sections work more in line with games like Sin & Punishment or Star Fox.
There are even two shoot ’em up stages near the third act that while not original, (Think 1942, Sky Shark, or Twin Cobra) are still pretty fun to play. These can also be played independently of the main game once you encounter them during your initial play through. Completing the game also reveals an end credits clone of Gravitar.
Marlow Briggs is also not a very long game either. Which is actually more of a help than a hindrance. Many spectacle fighters, and beat ’em ups can go on far too long for games of their type. In spite of this there is still a surprisingly varied number of settings. Jungles, caverns, industrial foundries, even an icy mountain stage.
A really good player can clear it in a few hours while the rest of us will probably do it in around 8. But what a fun 8 hours it will be. It has cheesy dialogue, one-dimensional villains, and a lot of over the top “Oh come on!” moments. It won’t wow you with its graphics. But it is a lot more fun than you might think it has any right to be. It is every definition of the phrase “Sleeper hit”, and one I highly recommend fans of hack and slash titles look into.
Final Score: 8 out of 10