PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Crimson Alliance

Crimson Alliance delivers so many genre platitudes that it begins to feel like a poorly delivered joke.


Crimson Alliance

Publisher: Microsoft
Price: $15.00
Developer: Certain Affinity
Platform: XBLA
Release Date: 2011-09-07

If I could tell you a story cobbled together from fantasy hack 'n slash cliches, it might sound remarkably like Certain Affinity’s Crimson Alliance. Released this past September, the Xbox Live Arcade dungeon crawler features four-player coop and more than enough undead creatures to bash, stab, and ignite over the course of a few afternoons. You have, of course, done this all before. Alliance delivers so many genre platitudes that it begins to feel like a poorly delivered joke. While mechanically sound, the tedium that you must sift through to enjoy the experience can turn even the most ardent fantasy fan off the genre.

Our story begins in a mystical land where a bewitching seductress with vague motivations uses her sexual powers to seduce a wizard and become some sort of necrotic magical fascist. Years later, the bearded wizard with only vague recollections of his past seeks revenge with a smarmy female rogue and a gruff and muscular mercenary who charmingly refers to the old man as “caster.” The motley crew travels the devastated land, exploring dungeons and ruined castles and slaying the hundreds of nasty critters that they find inside.

You can play any of the three heroes, each of whom ostensibly offer a different play experience. The wizard, naturally, fires flaming projectiles from afar while the beefy melee fighter stays up close. Play each of the three classes for more than a few minutes though, and you will quickly realize that they all play essentially the same: attack, stun, attack, dash out. The rogue and the wizard in particular seem archetypal variants on the same character. Freezing and shattering hordes of enemies as the wizard can be satisfying, especially during difficult scenarios full of traps and items that mix-up routine combat, but these moments are fleeting.

Of course, what would a dungeon crawler be without hidden treasure? In addition to freely available collections of gold coins and loot boxes, each class can open secret entrances to find rewards often catered to their class. Thus, completionists will want to take at least two friends with them on their adventure. Unfortunately, having more players join a battle may just remind you of the monotony of each character’s abilities. With four players, at least two will be the same character, and all of them will behave in the same basic fashion. Also, when joining matches with heavily powered players, the screen is suddenly awash with rainbow spasms of magic abilities that obscure enemies and are more likely to arouse seizures than excitement.

Alliance’s item system is one of its only redeeming qualities and interestingly one of its only unique design elements in an otherwise vapid collection of tropes. Characters do not level traditionally but improve their powers solely through the equipment that they wear and that they wield. Some purchasable merchandise comes with interesting magical effects. One of the wizard’s orbs, for example, can change enemies into potentially explosive boxes. Others attack enemies on their own or reward kills with health. Players can also find consumable items on the battlefield, from throwing axes that ignite groups of enemies in flames to shanks of meat that attract monsters for a short period of time, just long enough to toss a flaming explosive barrel at their huddle. Offensive turrets and health pools also add a splash of variety to an otherwise monotone combat experience.

For those hungry for a simple hack 'n slash with a cheesy fantasy aesthetic, Crimson Alliance might actually work. Set aside the banal story, the horrendous voice acting, and the unsinpired art design, and you have a few buttons that you can press repeatedly to watch gnolls and wretches explode. The dull tropes that Alliance relies upon are, after all, familiar enough to feel comfortable. However, an inspired ode to the fantasy dungeoneer you will not find. This is a story best left untold.

4

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.