US: 31 Aug 2011
DeathSpank was first promoted as the brainchild of Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island fame. He left before the game was released but stated that he had finished all his contributions to the project. When the second DeathSpank was announced soon afterwards, it was revealed that both games were made in tandem, so it may be safe to assume that Gilbert had his say in the sequel as well. But The Baconing is all Hothead Games, and it shows.
The first game was a parody of fantasy games. You fought “orques,” quested for unicorn poop, and hacked up a kindly talking tree, all so you could defeat an evil king in a castle. The second game introduced more modern weapons, but it at least justified them in this fantasy world as the weapons of a grand humans/orque war. The third game, however, opens with DeathSpank overlooking a sci-fi cityscape as it gets destroyed, then suddenly he’s running around a semi-fantasy world again, albeit one with supercomputers and clone machines.
This free form approach to genre allows DeathsSpank to go to some interesting places, like inside the mind of a supercomputer that’s not all that super, but it also feels slightly wrong for the character. The first game had a consistent creative vision. Its monsters, quests, and characters were always meant to be satirical of fantasy, and even the hack-and-slash RPG controls evoked memories of other hack-and-slash fantasy RPGs. The Baconing has lost that consistency, which isn’t a bad thing per se, especially if Hothead wants to move out of Ron Gilbert’s shadow, but it does make the game feel awkward at times, as if the character isn’t supposed to be here. (That said, I do love the cyborques, i.e. cyborg orques, which is easily my favorite pun in the game.)
It doesn’t help that your path through the world is very linear compared to the first two games. You only explore a small swath of land at a time, and once you find the Bacon Fire for one area (the game’s MacGuffin), you move on to a completely separate area. Even all the side-quests are confined to their individual sections of the world, which means there’s very little reason to ever revisit old locations. This isn’t one big world, just a series of smaller maps connected end to end, which makes the game feel much smaller than its predecessors.
Mechanically, this is pretty much the exact same game that you’ve played twice before (assuming you’ve played the previous DeathSpank games). Weapons are equipped to each of the face buttons, and you get an attack multiplier for varying your attacks. When you fill a meter, you can hold down one of the buttons for a super attack. Some quests require you to combine items from your inventory like a classic adventure game, but such quests are a jarring change of pace, since they’re so few and far between.
One of the few changes is blocking. Your ability to block attacks no longer runs out. You can hold up a shield for as long as you want. Previously, when your blocking meter ran out, DeathSpank would bash any enemy nearby, knocking them back. Now you can do this move by simply letting go of the block button, so it can be used more strategically in battles as a form of crowd management.
The new co-op character, Bob from Marketing, is quite fun. He’s a hammerhead shark that shoots lasers from his eyes, can swim underground to escape danger, and can gain health by eating corpses. However, it’s sad that there’s no online co-op, so unless you’ve got someone to play with on the couch next to you, you won’t ever see Bob or Steve the Ninja or Sparkles the Wizard or Tankko the Warrior. It’s a shame to waster such fun characters.
While DeathSpank has never been laugh out loud funny, there’s enough clever wordplay and quests in The Baconing to keep you smiling throughout. The corrupt mayor who gives you a quest to stuff ballot boxes, the mind-controlling barnacle who gives you a quest to spread his spores across the ocean, the leprechaun mob boss who asks you to blow up some protestors’ bus, all of these characters are fun to talk to, even if their settings feel out of place in a DeathSpank game. Perhaps that’s why his name is missing from the title.
While DeathSpank himself is still entertaining, his gameplay is growing monotonous, and the “un-opn” world doesn’t help. The second game at least introduced a sailing aspect, which didn’t change anything fundamental about the game, but it was a nice change of pace. The Baconing has nothing new like that. Sure, you can sail some more, but we’ve already seen that. Maybe next time Hothead should change more than just the setting.