With the release of Crimson Alliance, Xbox Liveâ€™s Summer of Arcade comes to a close. As the swan song for this year, it certainly has an interesting pricing model. It seems to be Microsoftâ€™s first experiment with a somewhat free-to-play model. Basically, you can have a basic version of the game for free, buy the full game with just one class for 800MS Points (you get to choose which class), or get all three classes at the outset for 1200MS Points. You may also spend 80MS Points in game to get 40,000 in-game gold in order to get a head-start on buying some cool items.
Of course, none of this has any affect on whether or not the game is any fun or what kind of game it actually is. Crimson Alliance is an arcade action role playing game, very much in the vein of Gauntlet. The game has three classes (Wizard, Mercenary & Assassin), who are distinct enough, yet all have the same basic gameplay functions â€“ 2 attacks, a stun, and a dash. What is odd is that your characters do not level up in any way. Yes, you do eventually gain one ultimate attack move, but thatâ€™s it.
Otherwise, your strength and character progression is based purely on the items you get. You can replay levels on higher difficulties to try and score more points, which gets you better gold and a chance to find a better item on the level. Another odd thing, though, is that this is not a loot drop game. The only way to find these new items is either through pre-determined items in treasure chests or buying them at the various stores you can visit between levels â€“ hence the option to spend real-world cash for in-game money.
There are no randomly generated missions, everything has been decided already. Although, there is some bonus for exploring the levels as you can find hidden areas that usually have quite a lot of gold in them. There is a decent variety of enemies in the game, especially towards the later levels. The story is very barebones and is delivered between missions by some well written dialogue presented with some fun, campy voice-acting. There are no cinematics, the story is shown by still artwork with a ken-burns effect added to it. Speaking of artwork, Crimson Alliance has a nice cartoony style that suits it well. While the environments could have been filled with a bit more details to bring them to life, this is certainly a nice game to look at.
Where Crimson Alliance really shines or burns is with its co-op. You have up to 4 player co-op either online or on the same couch. Having all these options is great, and I really wish more games would adopt this approach. The problem with the co-op is that it depends a lot on whether you are playing with friends or strangers. Playing alone is fine, but gets boring fairly quickly. Playing with friends can be a lot of fun, but playing with strangers can just be chaotic and boring, especially if you find people with better equipment than you. The problem with this is that they clear through enemies a lot quicker than you and if there is a wizard on your team, good luck knowing what on earth is going on when his fireballs start flying everywhere. Also, the sound bites of everyone's attacks can become really annoying and noisy.
Crimson Alliance is the perfect example of a game that copies a well known formula, but doesnâ€™t add anything of its own. If you have a group of 3 friends you could play with, then I could definitely recommend getting the free version to try out together. Then - if you like it - upgrade to the full game and have a blast. If you are only flying solo or plan on running with strangers online, it is simply not as a good a game when played this way. So like my mother always said, stay close to your friends and be wary of strangers.