by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
With triple-A games costing ever more, budget outings like Marlow Briggs are getting more and more attention. As they get more attention, their budgets get bigger and the quality of budget games gets higher. This is, in my opinion, a very good evolution as budget games and indies are the only ones experimenting with ways to further our beloved medium with new and creative ways to blow our minds interactively. Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death blew my mind but not in a good way. It blew my mind in a “I think I need to lie down and rest for a moment” kind of way. It blew my mind out.
You play Marlow Briggs, an American fire-fighter who flies to Central America to visit your girlfriend who works as a translator of ancient texts for a wealthy Chinese man. When your girlfriend tries to quit her job as she begins to understand the destruction that the knowledge translated by her is causing in the hands of that maniac, said maniac decides to kill you with an ancient weapon found in one of the ruins to change her mind. That was a big mistake as you wake up imbued with ancient powers and a death mask whispering in your ear. The weapon used to kill you also comes in handy as you slice and dice through hoards of henchmen as you race to save your girlfriend and, if you get around to it, the world.
The bad bits
The game isn’t all bad, but as the most important thing I have to say about it is, I’ll start with that. In the early parts it is completely void of pacing. The first two levels feature fight after fight with some simple platforming and turret sequences in between but as the greats of the genre show, those platforming segments should be quiet time. Your brain can only take so much stimulus before it becomes tiresome. In the first two levels of this game, even during the platforming segments, things are blowing up all around you, the camera is shaking, and you feel extremely pressured to move things along. Any design intern could have informed them that during those segments, they need to get the player into a relaxed state in order to allow them time to think and get their minds working on analysing and solving the platforming puzzle. A moment to relax also serves the purpose of giving the player respite from the barrage of action and make them less likely to start to resent it. That is something Nathan Drake has mastered, and Marlow Briggs hasn’t.
As a classic hack-and-slash action adventure Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death features an on-rails camera, light and heavy attacks, dodging with the left stick, and multiple powers and weapons that unlock along the way. As with most games in the genre, the camera can sometimes be a problem. On occasion, you’ll find yourself running in circles trying to find where to go. Then, of course, there’s the classic “fighting enemies that are out of the shot because you started running out of the scene” annoyance. The fighting becomes monotonous after a while and, even though you do get more weapons and powers as you progress, the first two weapons are the only ones that feel good to use. After I received the whip with the blade on the end (which suffers greatly from bad handling, especially in its heavy attacks) I kept wishing I could change back to the previous weapons. Some fights feel way too long and suck the energy and excitement out of the game, such as the tediously long turret sequences and the scorpion fights.
The good bits
Now onto the good part. The story isn’t half bad and the humorous banter between the mask and Marlow made me chuckle on multiple occasions. The voice acting is actually pretty good, the setting is absolutely beautiful as you fight your way through the colourful forests and the mask reminisces about the good old days of eating human hearts served by the victims’ spouses. The game does have some major plot holes, however. Marlow’s girlfriend leaves him notes as he chases her and, in the harvester level, each talks about how she is being taken from ruin to ruin to translate different hieroglyphs and texts. It only takes you ten minutes to get from one letter to the next, so it’s pretty obvious that she is on the harvester the whole time.
Throughout the carnage, you will gain experience by killing enemies, completing challenges, and punching small yellow whirlwinds. Health and Mana can be replenished by picking up red and green masks in the environment and experience boosts are picked up through yellow masks. The yellow masks and the tiny whirlwinds look very similar to one another, however, so you will often start punching a mask mistaking it for a whirlwind. This could easily have been rectified by altering the colour or making the whirlwinds look a bit different. Cheap, elegant solutions that would have made a big difference in the over-all experience.
Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is an action packed, brain-dead, budget thriller and if you are looking for a cheap release for all that repressed adrenaline, you will definitely be able to find worse things to do with your money. If, however, you are looking for a challenge to your intellect or a test of your skills, look elsewhere. The only thing Marlow Briggs will challenge is your patience.
Aesthetically pleasing setting, good voice acting, humorous banter.
Constant stimulus becomes irritating fast, plot holes, camera angles hide enemies, disappointing weapon progression.