Better than expected but worse than it could have been, Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is a fast-paced hack and slash that’s the gaming equivalent of fast food. Everybody loves some fast food in shiny packaging now and then, even if it never seems to satisfy for long.
It’s a familiar story: boy meets girl, girl translates ancient Aztac tablets for evil supervillain, evil supervillain’s sexy assassin kills boy, boy is brought back to life by wisecracking mask spirit, boy kills everybody.
Accompanied by the eponymous Mask of Death,Marlow Briggs pursues his killers and his kidnapped girlfriend through a variety of deadly locations. The formula treads the well-worth path of alternating between jumping/timing puzzles and combat. Liberally and excessively sprinkled with explosions, Marlow Briggs is best described as the gaming equivalent of a Michael Bay movie. Your mask sidekick provides constant sarcastic encouragement and is a reasonably amusing comic sidekick, who takes great delight in the constant deaths suffered by both Marlow and his enemies.
The writing unfortunately is a bit hit-and-miss. While the story sprints from one combat scene to the next with tongue firmly in cheek, some of the humour falls flat and the game frequently stumbles from poking fun at bad action movies to outright emulating them. Thankfully, Marlow Briggs isn’t the sort of game you play for its deep analytic narrative on existential crises.
Combat is fast-paced and Marlow Briggs has a range of weapons and spells at his disposal. For the most part, almost every fight can be won by button mashing, but the arsenal of combat styles available give the player plenty of opportunity to mix it up and tailor your slaughter. Hordes of enemies line up for a taste of Kukulkan’s Fang, Marlow’s dual-bladed staff and weapon of choice. There’s enough variety in both enemy types and levels of difficulty to keep things from becoming monotonous.
For a cheap game, Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death has some surprisingly detailed visuals and remarkably smooth and appealing combat animations. While textures are quite blocky up close, the detailed world environments of South American jungles and the skyscraper-sized bulldozing machines that destroy them are actually quite striking. The game’s constant camera movement imparts a feeling of constant action and shows a remarkable level of visual direction for the game’s price tag.
Unfortunately said camera movement creates significant difficulties for exploring the environment and spotting details. A familiar issue with console-developed games, it means that discoverable secrets aren’t actually hidden per se, rather just left slightly outside of the pre-determined visual range. Marlow Briggs could be standing literally ten metres from a power-up, staring straight at it, and the player wouldn’t know it’s there. The sporadic camera is coupled with controls that are mapped to the player’s view, not Marlow himself, which means as the view changes so must the buttons you use to move in a given direction. It’s not a deal-breaker, but without any ability to manually control the camera it is an unnecessary annoyance.
When all is said and done Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is an entertaining casual game, but lacks the challenge and charm to keep the player engaged for any length of time. If you want to switch your brain off for a half hour to chop up a hundred baddies and set off twice as many explosions, Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death will fit the bill nicely. It’s just a shame the developers stuck to a tired and overused formula, because there’s clearly potential for a much better game hidden in there somewhere.
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