The Xbox Live Arcade title, Bloodforge, may literally be the bloodiest game of 2012. But it takes more than gore and style. Put your favorite Scandinavian death metal CD in the stereo and crank it up to 11 and a half. We are going to make it rain blood.
Set in a world of Celtic myths, Bloodforge tells the tale of Crom, a barbarian warrior. Crom is tired of war and taken a wife to settle down as best as he knows how. After a successful day of hunting he sits back to rest before going home. His rest slips into sleep where he has a vision of the Celtic god, Arawn, calling Crom a killer and attempts to slay him. Jerking awake, Crom realizes something is very wrong. He races home to find his home on fire and wife being menaced by Arawn's minions. Crom tells his wife to run into the house as he quickly kills the minions. Once done, he goes in search of his wife. Inside an injured minion comes at him and he thrusts his sword through its body. As the minion dies it wavers. An illusion fades and he finds that he has just killed his wife. Crom sets out for revenge on Arawn. Along the way he is aided by (and subtly manipulated by) the mysterious Morrigan, a masked goddess.
Controls and Gameplay
Bloodforge, a third person action hack and slash game, has a fairly straight forward control scheme. Three attack buttons (light, heavy, and distance) that can be combined into different attacks. In fact Bloodforge encourages combos by not only rewarding you with more blood (the currency of the game), it also gives you a grade at the end of battle section based on how well you performed.
As you kill enemies you build up your blood meter. Once its filled you can unleash your Rage which switches everything into a slow-motion battle, letting Crom have the speed advantage for a brief amount of time. Crom can also gather runes from small altars scattered throughout the game that allow him to call upon god like powers briefly.
The attacking can be as technical as you want. You can study and practice combos or button mash your way to victory. Bloodforge adds Blood Duels and Challenges. These allow you to challenge friends to either beat your score in sections of the main game, or beat waves of enemies respectively. To get the higher scores players will want to master the combos.
Graphics and Sound
The visuals of Bloodforge are striking and stylish. A strict color pallet of black, white, and red that gives it a noir fantasy look. All the characters and settings look like they just walked off a Molly Hatchet cover. Crom himself reminds me of something artist Frank Frazetta would have created.
Sound-wise Bloodforge is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is a thundering orchestra with occasional choir sections that, in some ways remind me of certain opera epics. While it does fit it can be or feel mundane after awhile. The voice talents are good, but get a bit confusing. Crom generally shouts all his dialog. While this does convey his rage, it can make him hard to understand. Morrigan, who helps Crom along the way, sounds like she is Russian. In a game set in a Celtic world her voice sticks out like a sore thumb.
Developer, Climax Studios, set out to do a downloadable title that compares to its on disc brethren. On a visual level they nail it, sound they come close, but the rest fumbles. The story has a "been there, done that" feel and never really gels into anything beyond a very simple tale of revenge.
It's the fighting and camera controls where this game really fell apart. Because you can button mash your way to victory most of the time, there really is not much of a challenge to the game, even with the bosses. The boss and mini-boss battles break down to a "stick and move, rinse, repeat" scheme. The camera, while you have some decent control over it, still gets stuck on the environment or jerked into the wrong place at the wrong time.
Speaking of camera, I have to say that Bloodforge has a very special honor. It is the only game that has made me motion sick. As Crom moves through the world there is a slight camera bob with his pace. At the same time the world tilts and moves like I'm walking on a boat. This gives some great movie-like angles to the visuals, but made me a bit nauseous. I've never been sea-sick, and I have been air sick only once, so this is saying something. It's not a ding against the game, for I may be in the minority on this, it's more of a "Warning, may cause motion sickness."
Dramatic style but lackluster controls bring Bloodforge a 3 out of 5.
Bloodforge is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, and Suggestive Themes by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
Bloodforge is available now exclusively on the Xbox Live Arcade. For more information see the Bloodforge page at the Xbox web site.