At first glance, you may get the impression that Bloodforge is merely a button mashing gore-fest that lacks depth, creativeness, and polish, and you’d be right. Bloodforge presents us with a forgettable, uninteresting hack ‘n slash title that, while having an interesting visual flare, falls short in every other aspect. Inspired perhaps too much by the God of War franchise, poor design choices cripple what could have made for a decent Xbox Live Arcade release.
Bloodforge tells the story of a retired warrior named Crom, a delightfully flat and shallow character who even whilst living a quiet life with his wife, still wears a large deer skull as a mask. Perhaps the women of yesteryear found this attractive, or maybe this is to cover up the horrible lip syncing animations, since nearly every character you encounter throughout the game wears some sort of mask, and those who don’t don some sort of headgear seem more fitting for a poorly dubbed 1970s Godzilla film. The game starts out with Crom’s quiet morning gathering food and is abruptly interrupted by a group of baddies attacking his home. Long story short, through some sort of sorcery, you murder your wife by mistake. Crom then swears revenge on those responsible for the attack. Sound familiar? The storyline is a bland, predictable tale that we’ve all heard before, even with a few so-called twists along the way.
The music and sound effects of the game are done well; even if the music is that of a generic gladiator affair, it suits the game and the action on screen. The voice acting on the other hand is all over the place, with some actors preforming well, especially for an arcade title, while others are borderline embarrassing; Crom in particular does little more than snarl and shout. The dialog for the most part seems poorly written and the performances, while not the worst, suffers none the less.
The visual style of the game I found to be my favourite part. Mixing desaturated colours of mostly blacks and greys, with the high contrast red from the gallons and gallons of blood you will see shed throughout the game. Sadly the appeal of the art design will soon fade, becoming less and less interesting as you behead an enemy for the thousandth time, devolving into little more than a dull reminder of how nearly each area looks like the last. The muddy and blurry textures of the game do little to help the visuals pop, it all feels like an interesting idea that was poorly executed. The character designs however are fairly well detailed and offer an interesting look and style, although they may lose their charm after being recycled over and over again. At times I wondered how the game would look if done more in accordance with the menu screen, with bold reds and sharp blacks and whites; a clean, comic style.
The most glaring flaw with the game is the camera. With a head-bob effect in almost constant use, it can be dizzying and nearly cause motion sickness. The camera gets stuck behind enemies and various environmental objects more than I care to remember. Never mind the giant Cyclops beast, the hardest foe I encountered in this game was the camera itself.
The controls themselves are the usual hack and slash affair. You are given a light and heavy attack for each of the various weapons you will find throughout the game, everything from basic swords to a large hammer and claw-type gauntlets, although in Bloodforge’s case they feel clunky and unpolished, leaving you with no desire to even attempt any of the various different combination moves you are presented with. You can also dodge with left trigger and of course lock on to enemies. While this would usually be an indispensable ability in this type of gameplay, the extremely unreliable camera renders it almost more disorienting for you than for your enemies. The game also lacks what most would consider a key element in such titles; blocking. The complete absence of this still boggles my mind.
The game also grants you with a crossbow. While this is useful for chaining together attacks, it can also be used to unfairly beat just about every enemy in the game. The reload and firing are extremely quick, along with Crom’s movement speed, so if you get in a jam you can simply run away, pop a shot or two, then rinse and repeat. I always found myself being able to out run or out manoeuvre the baddies with ease. The bow itself does extremely little damage, but when surrounded by six different opponents, it seems they wanted you to use or, at the very least, try this method.
The game offers use of special abilities as well, such as magic summoning and ‘rage’ mode. ‘Blood Magic’ upgrades can be purchased with, you guessed it, blood. You accumulate blood with each foe you dismember and the level of combos you preform. ‘Rage’ mode can be triggered at any point after you have collected enough blood. This mode is a sort of slow motion that allows you to strike faster than your opponents, although this mode becomes a hassle since if you are hit even once, it is instantly stopped and you must collect an entire new batch of blood. The one good thing about this mode is when triggered you can do a super move of sorts and take out the larger enemies with one blow, which when attacked traditionally takes what feels like an eternity.
The gameplay is a linear sequence of battles with areas being closed off and forces you defeat a set number of enemies to progress onto the next blocked off area which just repeats the last. The boss battles do add a bit of variation to the gameplay, but unfortunately they ultimately result in slowly chipping away at the boss’s health while memorising the patterns, with most battles ending in painfully unfulfilling QTE sequences. Not to say the gameplay doesn’t hold some enjoyment, it can just grow boring and repetitive extremely fast, and with the dull visuals and set pieces, it leaves little drive for the player to continue.
The online features consist of leaderboards and score challenges you can send to your friends and others. Consisting of mostly rehashed storyline, I feel most players will try this mode once and never touch again. Replaying single player levels and attempting to achieve the best possible score and time seems like more of a masochistic activity in Bloodforge than it does something that people would actually enjoy. The game also offers a horde-like mode in which you can challenge friends by beating various waves of enemies. Another mode ‘Blood Duel’ tracks how much blood is spilled during each level, allowing you and your friends to one-up each other by yet again, replaying the single player.
All in all, Bloodforge feels like a love letter to the God of War series written with an oversized Sharpie marker. Clunky and unpolished controls mixed with a nearly broken camera make a somewhat enjoyable hack and slash adventure frustrating and monotonous, and with its 1200 MSP price tag, it’s hard to justify a purchase.