If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is one of the most flattering games in recent memory. Thankfully, unlike most B-grade ripoffs of more popular games, Marlow Briggs is actually an entertaining product, thanks to its more than competent imitation of the God of War formula, surprisingly fleshed-out combat mechanics, and a genuinely funny sense of humour. Marlow may not bring the same high-quality flash as Kratos, but at a very reasonable $5 price tag, this game is still worth checking out.
Marlow Briggs is a smokejumper on vacation whose girlfriend, Eva Torres, works as a Mayan translator for a mining company run by Heng Long. When Eva refuses to cooperate, Long has Marlow killed, but he is resurrected by the spirit of King Tepechalic Ix, which resides in a Death Mask. Because he freed the mask, Marlow is now the newest Sacred Warrior, and must use his power to rescue Eva and stop Long's mining operations.
While Marlow has the ridiculous name and cocky attitude of a Blaxploitation protagonist, the tone of the game is closer to that of cheesy 80s action movies. In particular, the game's story borrows heavily from the 1986 John Carpenter classic "Big Trouble in Little China", with Marlow in place of Jack Burton, the subtitular Mask as Wang Chi, Eva as Miao Yin, and Heng Long as David Lo Pan, with the same actor, James Hong, portraying both. Despite the occasional dive into dark and disturbing subject matter, the story gingerly tows the line between a satire and homage of 1980's action films. "Marlow Briggs" feels like a game that's just happy to be here, with a big goofy smile on its face, and never takes itself too seriously.
"Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death" is not an especially good-looking game. Textures are blurry, and the game looks like an HD remake of a PS2 game at parts. That being said, the art direction is rather solid. Despite this, however, the bad graphics actually serve to highlight the ambition at play. Slovenian developer ZootFly has done a lot of impressive work with a small budget. The PC version is decently optimized, even without any real quality options, and some of the game's setpieces, especially boss fights, rival God of War if not in visual fidelity, then certainly scope.
This even extends to the cutscenes. While some of them are fully animated, others use the game's low budget to its advantage. Whenever there's an impressive action scene, the camera rotates around the rigid character models as they go through their paces, in a style that's half-tableaux, half-3D comic book panel. It ends up looking much cooler than if ZootFly had tried and failed to make an impressive, fully-animated sequence.
Unfortunately, Paul Lipson's score is uninspired and frequently recycled throughout the game, which is why I'm using music from God of War II for most of this review. The voice acting is exactly what one would expect from a game deliberately imitating B-movies. Steve Blum in particular sounds like he's having the time of his life as the Mask. Meanwhile James Hong goes for a cold-overacting performance, and Arif S. Kinchen plays Marlow as a sarcastic outsider.
ZootFly clearly understood what makes games like "God of War" so effective, even if they didn't have the budget. And make no mistake: while this game does take inspiration from a few other hack and slash games, its biggest influence is by far the God of War series. It even comes with a light and heavy attack system complemented by magic spells, fixed camera angles, dodging with the right stick, QTEs to open big doors, gratuitous platforming, and puzzles with lots of blocks and cranks. There's even a grappling mechanic and limited flight, much like the Wings of Icarus in "God of War II".
The major difference is that Marlow doesn't have a real equivalent to the Blades of Chaos; he can alternate between a standard scythe, claws that strike fast but do less damage, a whip that's good for crowd control, and a hammer for slow, powerful strikes.
The combat is often fast, fun, and satisfying, though it's not without some issues. Blocking can be clunky, especially since there's little distinction in the enemy's tells between what attacks are blockable or unblockable without trial and error. While there is a parry system, it only works on projectiles. The lack of feedback on melee blocks means that I was usually left to dodging attacks, and Marlow didn't alway dodge the way I wanted him to. There's also a lack of what's called "stickiness", an aim assist feature in some hack-and-slash games that lack a lock-on button which makes attacking moving enemies slightly easier. "God of War", for instance, uses a decent amount of stickiness, but "Marlow Briggs" seems to lack it entirely, which can be particularly frustrating when dealing with mini-boss enemies like the Professional or Flamewielder, or even big-but-fast demonic enemies like the Berserker. The game takes a bit of a shortcut in scaling up the difficulty in later levels, by adding Posssesed enemies that are just harder versions of the other enemy types. Lord help you if you haven't fully upgraded Marlow's arsenal by the time you fight a Possessed Berzerker.
Thankfully, the level design and pacing are quite good. Combine the combat mechanics with a glide, grappling hook, block puzzles and the odd bit of double-jump platforming, and the game has enough variety to fit the action/adventure mold it seeks to imitate.
"Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death" is the little action game that could, though to quote the Russian proverb, the marvel is not that a bear dances well, but that it dances at all. Much of Marlow's novelty stems from its mere existence, showing that even smaller teams can pull off a bombastic action game with proper resource management and clever problem-solving. It may not provide much replay value, but "Marlow Briggs" is a good title that's worth the small investment.
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2 posts • Page 1 of 1
It was free on xbox as it was a pc and 360 game. On the whole it is good fun and your review entirely encapsulates that.