|Releasing poison gas is almost always a bad idea.|
Crimson Alliance is a co-operative dungeon crawler for XBLA. Offered for free if you bought all four of this year's Summer of Arcade titles, is it worth purchasing individually?
Visually, Crimson Alliance looks the business. The first few dungeons are appropriately dank, dark and foreboding, with particularly good use of light and shade. As the levels progress, the game starts to move into daylight, and I feel that this is a bad decision. Something of the game's effect seems to get lost when the action moves into bright, open areas. The game's story left me cold, and to be honest I found myself skipping or ignoring any and all cutscenes, being as they are a perfect storm of bad voice acting, uninteresting still images, and a forgettable plot.
The controls can be a little slow to pick up, but you will have learned the basics by the end of the first level. Learning how to chain attacks together takes a little more time, as well as which methods are best applied to which opponents. Compared to other games of its ilk, though, Crimson Alliance is highly simplified and easy to pick up and play. The game is much more action-oriented, and geared towards fast-paced play, rather than excessive inventory organisation.
Crimson Alliance is notably the first XBLA title to include a micro-transaction option, although it is well-executed. Giving players the option to buy gold from the Xbox Marketplace seems a little irrelevant, if probably game-changing, since 40,000 gold costs just 80 Xbox banana bucks. It's worth noting that each gold piece counts as a single gold piece. At the end of a typical level, my girlfriend and I were coming away with perhaps 700 gold. If you don't have an issue with this sort of thing, spending those 80 points at the outset will do give you a significant advantage over the enemy. Higher-value items are going to set you back in the regions of 22,000 gold, and with that in mind, perhaps choosing to spend the 80 points isn't that much of a sacrifice.
After playing through 10 or so levels, your equipment, and related stats, really start to shine. The stats scale determines your individual attacks and overall health, ranging from what looks to be 1 - 20. Anything that's over 10 will be noticeably improved when you use it. As a wizard, I found that my Freeze spell became invaluable once I found an equipment set that boosted it to around the mid teens. Once your characters become fleshed out through these statistics, co-operative play becomes a lot more co-operative, with each character type having a more specific role to play in combat.
In a genre dominated by Torchlight and Diablo, Crimson Alliance is the first multiplayer game of its type to be offered on the Xbox 360. While those first two titles are renowned for their immersive single-player experiences, CA relies most heavily on the enjoyment to be gleaned from its multiplayer. If you're going to be playing it on your own, I don't think I would recommend it. If you have someone willing to accompany you, however, Crimson Alliance will make for an enjoyable few evenings of bashing, smashing, and casting.