Review: The Baconing (Sony PS3)

The Baconing
Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 08/30/2011

It’s hard to believe that this is the third Deathspank game in a year. The first game came out in July 2010, followed by Thongs of Virtue in September of that same year. Now we’re here with The Baconing. If you’ve purchased all three games so far, you’re up to roughly $45 spent on the franchise. With a fourth game promised, that means with the release of that one, you’ll have paid as much as a full disc release for what amounts to an episodic RPG. If you’re a fan of the series that’s no problem. However, with Thongs of Virtue , you could really feel the loss of series creator Ron Gilbert (who now at Doublefine Games with fellow Lucasarts point and click adventure game alumni Tim Schafer). Because I was less than impressed with ToV, I was a bit hesitant to play The Baconing. After all, it was even more removed from Gilbert than the second. Still, my optimism won out, hoping that ToV’s lackluster performance was merely a stumbling block and that this third game would be a jump back in the right direction for the series.

Was it?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The Baconing takes place soon after the end of Thongs of Virtue. Deathspank has conquered all evil and now he’s pretty bored. In a moment of weakness, Deathspank tries on all five Thongs of Virtue at the same time. The sheer insanity of this act creates The Anti-Spank an evil gigantic duplicate of Deathspank who seeks to destroy all of creation. Deathspank must now go an extremely linear journey full of padding in order to destroy all five thongs in a “bacon fire” – the hottest fire of them all.

Yes, that’s the entire plot in a nutshell. I was disappointed that out of all three games, The Baconing had the least subquests, and the ones that were here were just extremely long padding. Even then, it took me roughly seven hours to 100% the game. Another disappointment.

The game tries to continue the same sense of humour and weirdness that the first Deathspank had, but by this point, the jokes have grown flat and stale. I had the occasional chuckle, but nothing like in the first game or something like the Sam and Max series. Most of it just fell flat for me. Valhalla is a country club? Barnacles mind controlling islanders? Sailing in a sea of poop? Meh? The fact the attempts at comedy fail pretty severely is a really big sign that Deathspank and Hothead Games needs Ron Gilbert to make this remotely funny. I like a good dick/fart/poop joke as much as the next guy, but I just didn’t find much of the game funny. It felt hard pressed for a laugh and even lame at times. The game did pay attention to its own continuity however and so you’ll see a lot of familiar faces, albeit in new roles, within The Baconing.

The game ends with yet another “…To Be Continued” bit, which is irritating as the series needs to end. It really does. Three Deathspank games in a year, which each less entertaining than the one before is a sign that Hothead has beaten this horse to dead. What’s here is serviceable, but the linearity, brevity and the noticeable downward spiral in the comedy leaves the entire game feeling like a cash grab attempt rather than something of quality.

Story Rating: Poor

2. Graphics

As The Baconing uses the same exact engine as the previous two games, it will be no surprise that a lot of the game looks just like its predecessors. Background and enemy visuals are reused regularly and since I wasn’t especially impressed with the graphics in the first game, I can’t say I was too happy about seeing the same demons, orphans and villagers that have been in every game since the beginning.

Now that’s not to say that everything is recycled. You’ll see new characters like Ganeesha, Odin, Thor, The Midgard Serpent and more. As well, it’s nice to see every bit of armour and weaponry has its own distinct appearance, both in the setup screen and while playing the game. Still, 85-90% of the visuals have been recycled from previous games and the new characters aren’t that interesting. It was nice to see some new character renders, but I’d have liked to see a step up in the quality of the backgrounds and monsters – especially with the downturn of the story quality.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

The aural aspects of The Baconing are easily the best part of the game. A good portion of the music and sound effects are recycled, but that should come as no surprise considering everything else in the game has been rehashed as well. Michael Dobson does a great job as Deathspank once again, and he’s really the highlight of the game. I’ll always think of him as Dylan from Hamtaro though. You’ll also see that the Midgard Serpent talks like Mushmouth from Fat Albert but with the voice of Jim Backus aka Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. I’m not really sure why they who came up with this combo or WHY, but it is somewhat amusing. Many characters from previous games reappear, complete with their original voice actors, and everyone does a wonderful job as always.

So the music is mostly rehashed, but enjoyable, while the voice acting is top notch as always. I do wonder how this game would fare without the voice acting however, as what little comedy was here was saved by the talent.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

The Baconing is a pretty generic hack and slash RPG. Each of the shape buttons on the right side of the dual shock correspond to four options while the D-pad on the left correspond to another four. I use the shape buttons for four weapons (melee, ranged, elemental and Justice) and the D-Pad for items and healing. After that, it’s a pretty standard hack and slash game where you attack via button mashing and then either dodge or use your shield (R2 button) to block. There is some noticeable lag with healing potions so don’t try using them when you are swarmed by enemies. You use the X button to interact with certain objects on the screen, but since it’s also a button for a weapon, expect to have a bit of frustration if you are attacking near something you can interact with. This is because the game will ALWAYS choose the interaction over an attack. The simplest way around that is to use one of the other shape buttons when this occurs. Unfortunately, you may not notice it until it is too late.

That’s…pretty much the game. Puzzles are limited to object combining ala point and click adventure games, which shows the game’s roots as a Lucasarts Legacy title. Quests are limited to item collection or “kill x number of enemies”. It’s a very shallow basic action RPG akin to something we’d have seen in the 8 or 16 bit era. Yet people say JRPGs haven’t evolved very much…

The engine has a few issues like the ones I mentioned above, along with a bug where some exploding barrels are invisible. There were several times something that couldn’t be seen exploded, killing me. I had someone watching when this happened a few times and we were like, “nothing was there!” Still, all of the issues are very minor ones and the engine is solid, if not archaic and limited.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

5. Replayability

Like the other Deathspank titles, The Baconing is extremely linear. The subquests all pretty much blur together save for what you kill and where, so once you beat the game, there’s absolutely no reason to ever play this again. You can’t really customize your character differently (just when you get bonuses) and the only real “role-playing” you can do is deciding not to take some subquests. Beating the game does unlock “insane” difficulty, which you have to beat the game on in order to earn a gold trophy, but because the game is so dull and repetitive, you won’t have the desire to sit through it a second time. This is very much a “one and done” style of game, unlike most RPGs which you can come back to and find things can feel quite different due to character customization. The Baconing doesn’t even have that. It’s just a seven hour hack and slash that feels exactly like the previous two games.

Replayability Rating: Bad

6. Balance

I was shocked at how insanely easy the Anti-Spank final boss battle was. In previous Deathspanks there was actual a modicum of challenge to the final battles and boss battles in general. Not in The Baconing though. Whether it was clearing all levels of the Coliseum, fighting the Midgard Serpent or Anti-Spank, I had no trouble whatsoever. It was a cakewalk. Even on the highest difficulty. The only times I died were through stupid exploration or hitting an exploding barrel that I either didn’t see or that didn’t show up on the screen.

The only thing that the difficulty levels seem to do is raise the amount of damage you take and the amount of resistance an enemy has. It doesn’t improve the A.I. at all, which is…mentally impaired at best. Like with all Deathspank games, all you have to do is run around in a circle, shoot your ranged weapon and repeat until dead. Enemies are always slower than you, and even if there is a horde, you can lead them like a Pied Piper and slowly pick them off. That’s how I got by enemies in the Coliseum that were five+ levels higher than me. Slow and steady wins the race. However, the higher level you get, the easier it is to slaughter things with melee combat. At level twenty, you can hack apart a boss without any strategy or thinking. You just button mash away and in less than a minute, the boss fight is over. As such, there is no sense of accomplishment or challenge in this game, from beginning to end.

I was really disappointed that three games that Hothead games STILL hasn’t learned from the mistakes in the previous titles, or even bothered to correct them. Worse yet, with the loss of Gilbert, the game has taken a noticeable turn for the worse. This is the easiest and thus the most boring Deathspank entry yet.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

Third verse; same as the first. The Baconing uses the same exact engine, graphics, interface and everything else from the original Deathspank. The only thing new are a few NPC and boss renders and some new armour skins for Deathspank himself. This wouldn’t be so bad if the games were spaced out with enough breathing room, but three games in a year – all that look, feel and play EXACTLY the same? That’s unacceptable. I’m all for sticking to the same core gameplay for a franchise. Look at Pokémon. but you know what? Each engine is significantly different than the last. The feel very similar to each other, but it’s redone from the ground up with new content and graphics each time. It’s apparent Hothead Games is simply making a quick cash grab here and with a fourth Deathspank game promised, it’s apparent that they just don’t care about servicing their core audience with the same old stuff. This should offend, you the potential purchaser of The Baconing, but sadly, there will be some that happily take this sort of treatment and then ask for more.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Hack and slash games are fun. There’s something about the mindless murdering of your opponents and the simple but addictive game play that makes it hard to put a controller down. It’s like Contra but with leveling up. Unfortunately, since Deathspank is a bare bones action RPG, you don’t really get the customization of your characters as you would in something like Dungeon Siege III. For those that want to quibble the size of the games, remember that Deathspank is up to its third game. You could buy three mediocre bare bones hack and slash titles or one extremely well made one that offers up to four player co-op. Give me that any day over a series who is retreated itself for the third time and it’s not even a year.

Look, take a look at other episodic games like those by Telltale. The three seasons of Sam & Max. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People.Tales of Monkey Island. Telltale gets it. They give you episodic content but each episode is noticeably different from the others, both in terms of characters, story and puzzles. The core is the same, but everything else is noticeably different, making each bit feel fresh, new and FUN. Hothead doesn’t seem to get that. They’ve given us the same game three times in a row and it feels stale. Hell, it IS stale. This game only took me seven hours to beat, but I couldn’t play the game more than an hour a day because it was the same old, same old I’ve encountered in the previous two games. I honestly feel that people that are desperate for a Western RPG hack and slash will take what’s here a lot better, but the entire time, I found myself thinking that this was time I could have spent on Disgaea 4 or the new Bloodrayne.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

You know, it’s funny. A little over a year ago I was super excited for the original Deathspank and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m a Lucasarts legacy slut it appears. Although the original wasn’t as good as say, Costume Quest, I found Deathspank to be an above average game. Now a year later, I had to force myself to finish The Baconing The question is why? Is releasing three games in a year where 90% of the content is exactly the same that bad? Well, yes. Because it comes down to, “Why would I buy XYX when I already have the same exact thing already?” It’s newer, but it’s not shinier or updated. It’s not filled with new and excited content that the previous games were lacking. It’s just…the same thing but with jokes that have either become stale or have simply run their course.

From what I’ve seen I’m hardly alone in this opinion. The Baconing has received noticeably lower score and far more criticism than DeathspankThongs of Virtue. Hothead just put out too many renditions in too short a time without even trying to make improvements. I’m sure there is still an audience out there that will appreciate The Baconing for what it is, but it’s a fraction of the audience that the Deathspank franchise had when it began only a year ago. That’s not a good sign.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

If Hothead games had spent the time refining the engine and fixing the bugs from the previous two games, that would have been something. If Hothead Games had added new content, improved the visuals or changed something at all to make The Baconing stand out from the previous two titles, that too, would have been something. But they didn’t. Instead they just did sloppy rehash and sloppy rehash and now the franchise, the branding and (potentially) their reputation suffers as a result. The BaconingDeathspank game. At least for a few years anyway.

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Bad
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Medioce
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Bad

Short Attention Span Summary
The Baconing is a wonderful example of the old adage about squeezing blood from a stone. In roughly a year, Hothead Games has put out three Deathspank titles, all with the same engine, visuals and enemies. They all offer the same fetch quests and standard button mashing hack and slash bits. The only difference is that by now, the joke that was Deathspank has become worn out and dull. Is it really worth $14.99 to play what amounts to the same game for the third time? That ends up being $45 for a serious case of Déjà Vu. Yuck. Instead, look to something like Sam and Max (or anything by Telltale Games, really) if you want to experience mini episodic gaming done right.



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