Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade only
Bloodforge is the gaming equivalent of an unrelenting, pummelling black metal album. Even the name “Bloodforge” sounds like a metal band, a metal band who would probably put out a challenging concept record based around the visceral exploits of someone just like Crom, the beefcake horned skull-wearing agent of vengeance whose murderous rampage forms the basis of this tremendously exciting XBLA title.
It isn’t particularly sophisticated, and won’t last you for very long, but what you do get for your Microsoft Points is a shot of brutal, stylized violence, straight into the eyeball. Remember when Bart and Milhouse got all excited over playing fictitious gore-fest Bonestorm? Or how uppity the “Powers-That-Be” got over Groening’s inspiration for said gaming parody, Mortal Kombat, back in the day? What about Thrill Kill, the massively overrated, and ultimately unreleased bloodbath that eventually saw the light of day as a Wu Tang Clan game, of all things. Well this bad boy makes those examples look like Camberwick Green.
All good massacres happen for a reason. Despite wearing a completely insane enormous skull helmet thing at all times, we are led to believe that barbarian Crom had traded a life of warmongering and sword and sandals frontage to settle down with his missus and kids. This plan goes completely out of the window the day he is awoken during a hunting trip by a vision showing his village burning down. Still wearing his fruity headgear, Crom rushes home in a panic, to find his home is indeed ablaze, and the whole place is under attack from a horde of ne’er do wells. Busting into his home, which has been turned over by enemies, Crom dispatches what he believes to be one of the invaders, with extreme prejudice. However, here is the twist, it was all an illusion all along! Set up by the evil villain of the piece, Arawn, our hero has in fact just been tricked into executing his old lady. Obviously, this pisses him off a bit. Rather than contacting the relevant authorities and handing himself over to the rozzers, Crom instead gets himself tooled up, and, with the help of his demi-god pal Morrigan, decides to embark on an incredibly violent, very shouty, claret-soaked revenge mission.
Revenge comes in the form of six third-person hack and slash levels, with a boss at the end of each one. Crom can access a number of different weapons and magical spells to help him defeat the numerous enemies that swarm around him. A sword is used to literally hack people from neck to nuts, a huge war-hammer can be swung to devastating effect, and an awesome pair of Wolverine-like claws are employed to carry out quick-fire and of course very bloody combos. As if this triumvirate of melee weaponry wasn’t enough, there is also a crossbow that is used to shoot targets in the distance, much the same way as Kratos uses the bow in the God of War titles, an obvious inspiration for Crom’s hard-assed romp. Each weapon comes with its own extreme close-up, psychotic finishing techniques. Lopping someone’s head off is tantamount to a run of the mill, basic attack where Crom is concerned. No, this guy is a serious connoisseur when it comes to ending lives. Some of the “finishers” are virtually works of blood-spilling art; my particular favourite involved the horned beast first removing the head of a foe, before plunging his mitts inside their prone, flayed body cavity in a gruesome rummage for organs. Beautiful.
Naturally, given the moniker, the game is all about blood. Lakes of it. In fact there is seldom a passing moment when the beautiful, washed out monochrome art style, reminiscent of recent gems like Limbo and The Dishwasher, isn’t spattered with dancing crimson rivulets of spilled blood and guts. It looks astonishing. The game rewards your blood-letting too, being absorbed as an in-game currency and also as a means to fill the obligatory rage meter. Once full you can unleash ‘Berserk Mode’, which is as crazy as you can imagine. The more blood you absorb, the better upgrades you can purchase, to upgrade your spells and allow you to do cool stuff like freeze enemies during combat, or bring spectral demonic allies into the fray who assist you in a variety of gory vignettes.
At 5-6 hours long, this isn’t a huge game, and it does become repetitive at times, with constant onslaughts of enemies dispatched in a similar manner, a simple roll manoeuvre to evade attacks (there is no block function), and only rudimentary branching paths through the fairly linear levels. Sometimes you will find items to restore health and suchlike, but most of your time will be spent button mashing your way through waves of enemies. The camera can be a bit wobbly, but for me it simply added to the maniacal nature of Crom’s pursuit of justice via intestinal torture and disembowelment. It is simple, yet the striking graphical style, brilliant deaths, great volume of shouting (Crom can scream and shout with the best of them) and horribly gruesome bosses more than make up for this.
In addition to the single player campaign you can also challenge online buddies, albeit indirectly, by competing for the best scores on particular levels, or the most blood spilled. There is a Gears of War “Horde” style mode too, with increasingly difficult levels to conquer.
VERDICT: As well as being a gorgeous looking game, this Unreal engineered title is undeniably exhilarating. Not since the classic Fatalities of Mortal Kombat has slicing and dicing been so much of a hoot. It shows just how far the marketplace has come, for a mere few quid you can experience a game which although narrow in scope, gives full price titles a run for their money.