It’s not been a good day for Marlow Briggs, after travelling half way round the world to visit his girlfriend at the ruins of an ancient Mayan civilisation, only to be killed in order to prove a point. This evil villain demands you meet your end via an ancient staff, leaving it embedded in your lifeless body, and that’s just the opening five minutes.
“Ironically” this staff is also possessed by the soul of an ancient shaman, so for those wondering what Aku Aku’s been up to in the absence of Sony’s Bandicoot mascot, the answer is resurrecting our brazen hero as a “sacred warrior”. Aware that story isn’t its forte (there’s actually an achievement for skipping all the cutscenes), Marlow Briggs relies on constantly feeding a non-stop supply of action and explosions, whilst fostering a buddy comedy relationship between the pair.
Briggs spouts macho one liners in battle, declaring class to be “in session” as he cuts through swathes of enemies. Anyone familiar with God of War or Enslaved will instantly feel at home with the games combat mechanics, though there is little here that innovates the genre. You’ll have to get used to the fact that a moveable camera was dropped in favour of an action dodge, thankfully due to some standout camera work, there are very few moments where this proves to be a hassle. The only occasion being one standout moment involving a group of gap closing enemies, a checkpoint and an exceedingly low health bar.
As you progress through the campaign you’ll unlock new weapons and extravagant displays of magic, commanding the elements to assault enemies. Whilst visually jaw dropping, they have more bark than bite, despite the considerable mana cost. Though frequent pickups mean there are very few moments when your bars will be less than full. Briggs steadfast determination to kill everything in sight by twatting it over the head is never challenged. Regardless of your preferred weapon of choice, resulting most encounters to dodge attack -> pull of combo -> repeat until enemy is dead.
Self-awareness is the games strongest credit, if I took this review as seriously as the game took itself, I’d have set fire to my laptop long ago, leaping away from the explosion with my shirt off. The duo are quick to crack jives at each other’s expense. Whilst quick to commend you in battle, the Mask of Death gleefully awards you the enigmatic title “Kamikal Alixel Xojol,” doesn’t sound too bad until you hear the translation, “dancing death princess.” It’s a shame that a limited script and overreliance on these gags wear their charm thin.
Those looking for a little variety will be happy to know that Marlow’s colleague will chime in when you falter during the more intensive platforming sections. Daring to break the fourth wall, “did you think you saw some enemies down there?” As I met numerous gruesome ends. It wouldn’t be the only time he’d do so either. At one point I found myself dying in combat numerous times, eventually mentioning the bar in the top right corner, sound advice.
The platforming is solid, though invisible walls can make it a chore at times. Again the camera manages to hold up, whilst also getting some fantastic shots of the environment. Rudimentary puzzle sections help break up exploration, though they’re little more involved than pushing buttons, moving blocks and pulling levers. It’s nothing overly taxing, but at least they’re set in some of the brightest and most vibrant environments I’ve had the pleasure of traversing in a while.
At times it borders on melodramatic, creating a drawn-out cutscene that relies heavily on a panoramic camera that free flows the action and lets your mind fill in the blanks. Incredibly well shot, they certainly gel with the over the top vibe, but serve as a massive interlude in what’s otherwise a rollercoaster ride of nonstop adrenaline.
It’s not the only time the game changes pace either, somehow an assortment of absolutely insane challenges have weaved their way into the narrative, awarding a hefty experience boost for those willing to complete these objectives. They vary from running across a bridge being destroyed by falling debris to a brief take on the shmup genre, dogfighting in the skies above. There’s even a minigame hidden within the credits, though admittedly it’s the one I hated most. After clearing them you can try them out a second time, taking a shot at the online leaderboards.
Perhaps the sum of its parts could have done with a touch of polish, but by moving at breakneck speed and navigating from one area to the next with reckless abandon and probably an explosion, Marlow Briggs prevents the action from ever becoming stale. Its fervent pacing is far from a disservice and makes the Mask of Death an adventure well worth picking up.
Wait,What’s this, Marlow Briggs is 50% off on Steam until October 25th, bargain!