Review
Bloodforge

By Seán O'Sullivan - May 6th, 2012

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From the very instant that Bloodforge hands control over to the player, it’s clear that something is amiss. Move the left analogue stick in any direction and the onscreen avatar immediately slides in that direction, snapping into his stodgy run animation. If you so much as breathe on the right analogue stick, the camera jerks wildly in the prompted direction. In a third-person action game like Bloodforge, nailing the player and camera controls is fundamental; but it seems that this is not the only lesson of game design that developers Climax have skipped.

The player assumes control of Crom, a walking wall of muscle, who communicates exclusively through grunts and hoarse screams. His limited range of expression may well be because of his displeasure with those pesky Celtic gods, who trick him into killing his wife in the opening moments of the game. This sets the scene for a hack-n-slash adventure not too dissimilar to the likes of God of War, with Crom following the instruction of a creepy shape-shifting bird lady who guides him on his quest for revenge.

Crom is funneled along through hatefully narrow invisible-walls-disguised-as-rocky-paths, traversing an environment as seemingly barren as the imagination that this rote exercise in game design sprung from. The player enters an open plain, multiple enemies spawn in (only a few archetypes at a time) and swarm the protagonist, who proceeds to swing one of four weapons around until they are all reduced to bloody messes.

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The amusing, pointy hats make their ability to puke on their enemies somewhat surprising.

This formula might work if the combat was fun – but it isn’t. Despite the game surrounding the player with enemies, there is no crowd control à la Arkham Asylum. The solution that has been implemented is to give the player total immunity when the dodge maneuver is employed. Combat boils down to wailing on one goon at a time while watching the gathered congregation for one winding up for an attack, then spamming the dodge button until a few more hits can be landed on the next foe. The unwieldy controls mean that Crom regularly steps out of the pig-pile, taking multiple swings (great big ones), aiming his combo at nobody in particular, while the player grapples to steer him back towards something fleshy. There is no style or panache in the combat’s execution – just a constant war of attrition.

Considering 90% the game is about this shoddy style of combat, you shouldn’t need to read on much further to see if this game is worth your while. The rest of the game consists of incredibly cheap boss fights – often with little clear direction on what their weak point is. Nostalgically, the game auto-saves at the start of boss-fights, so if you enter an unfair battle with insufficient health-packs to win it honestly, then you had better set aside a half hour to chip away at that big ol’ health bar by using the woefully inadequate crossbow. Just like the bad old days of videogames!

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What you would get if you combined every bad guy from every B-movie into one entity.

Bloodforge isn’t all bad. The graphics, while regularly over-saturated and post-processed, at least evoke the style of 300 (which the game seems to be paying homage to with its burly character design). There’s a rudimentary upgrade system, multiple weapons, leaderboard support, and a neat ‘Blood Duel’ mode that lets you compare your scores against your friends during the campaign. Also, the game designers seem to have a sense of humour. The second phase to one of the first screen-filling bosses (a staple of the genre) appears to be a prolapsed rectum. As the monotonous fight wore on, I was at least able to keep my brain occupied by not thinking about Goatse.

It is likely that the developers believed that their ambition for this title would buy them a certain amount of goodwill; but the quality bar on XBLA makes Bloodforge’s shortcomings stand out. In the opening scene, when Crom fights his way to a cliff-face, the camera pans out to a shoddily-assembled diorama of a village and forest being razed to the ground. At this moment, the music swells, and “BLOODFORGE” appears on the screen. To any gamer who has played an action game since the Playstation 2 era, this opening fanfare will likely inspire only feelings of apathy; and sadly, once the game starts proper, those will give way to frustration.

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