Some words are so overused by people who write about videogames for a living, that they've become meaningless. Visceral is one, to the point where the Dead Space developers must wince every time they arrive at work. Cinematic is another. Well, brace yourselves, because Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is cinematic.
Not in the traditional way, though: it's not a beautiful game. There are no breathtaking vistas, and no gripping character arc. It's not that kind of cinema. Marlow Briggs is weapons-grade dumb Hollywood. Imagine the opposite of 'Splosion Man, where you control the only thing that doesn't explode.
Briggs slipped quietly into Xbox Live Arcade, and you'd be forgiven for swiping over him. The image in the carousel, after all, doesn't even begin to communicate the sheer number of unnecessary explosions contained within. Marlow Briggs isn't a pretentious game. It knows what it is - a passably competent hack 'n' slash, and a frequently annoying platformer. But the dev has gone out of its way to entertain the player - it's the most enjoyable slice of unpolished, non-amazing competence you'll play this week.
Behind the mask
The story, such as it is: Briggs is murdered at an archaeological dig by a villain who's using Marlow's girlfriend to turn himself into a demi-God. The game finds its personality when the Mask of Death reanimates Briggs. Renaming Briggs by the ancient heroic name of Chu-Chu, they're an odd couple: the Mask contains the spirit of a once-human king, who didn't so much rule over his people as murder them. Briggs is his badass comedy foil, slicing through hordes of henchman (it's visceral, too) as the Mask reminisces fondly about the brutal murders under his regime.
As far as the fighting's concerned, there are plenty of combos that fly effortlessly out of Marlow's weapons, even if there's no compelling reason to use them. The bonus XP for a long chain is redundant, as you're never really short of XP. And beyond one combo that breaks shields, there's no tactical advantage. Their only real purpose of the combos is the same as the explosions, and the dialogue. They all serve to keep you in a forgiving mood, so the extreme lack of polish never grates.
The combat is broken up by platforming, which is comfortably the game's weakest part, but only occasionally awful. The occasional puzzle gives you time to breathe, and there are the usual turret sections. Look, this isn't an original game by any means. It won't go on to win any awards, and it won't be discussed by men running their fingers through their long, philosophical beards. It's like exploding candyfloss - empty but enjoyable calories. But even so, there are far better and more elegant games that you won't remember quite so fondly as Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death.
If you're a combat snob, or prone to rage-quits, maybe give this a miss. But Marlow Briggs hits an unexpected sweet spot of Hollywood-style bombastic entertainment.
- Best man-mask banter we've heard
- Impressive scale for an Arcade title
- Put your higher brain functions away and enjoy yourself
- It's unpolished, with the odd glitch
- Weak mini-games and challenges
- The platforming isn't as good as it wants to be