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Crimson Alliance

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Certain Affinity
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action/ Fighting/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

The thing about retro games is that they don't get updates, don't change. It's one thing we love about them, but it means there's only a finite amount of new content in the retro catalogue. The game that most closely resembles Crimson Alliance from a gameplay perspective is the classic Gauntlet. Exploring with a company of heroes, hacking your way through dungeons in search of treasure, there were few multiplayer games in the arcade that offered as much fun. The update that Crimson Alliance offers starts with detailed characters and backgrounds. Equip new armor and watch your character's appearance change; likewise with weapons. Effects during battle also change depending on your equipment, and there's lots of stuff you can buy to trick out your character.

The top-down perspective is a bit like Gauntlet but there's a rich 3D environment around you to explore. Secret areas can be found with diligence, and enemies can appear from all around you at any time. Another game we were reminded of, while playing Crimson Alliance, was last year's revival, Lara Croft: Guardian of Light. Like that game, Crimson Alliance has a cast of evil characters large and small, plus a fair amount of territory to explore. There isn't as much variety as we'd hoped for between levels, but if you like crawling dungeons, you'll find plenty of distraction here. The cut-scenes that move the story forward are the raciest parts of Crimson Alliance, where the game earns its solid "T for Teen" rating, and they attempt to stitch together the storyline around the three playable characters.


The three characters available for play are a perfect trifecta from the history of dungeon crawling, far beyond the days of Gauntlet. Mercenary, Assassin, and Wizard are the three classes available to play, each with unique qualities and suited to specific gameplay styles. If you like to get close and personal with enemies, the beefy Mercenary is your best choice. He uses heavy armor and weapons. The Assassin is a hot, mouthy girl who wields twin blades and moves with blinding speed. The Wizard is a specialist in ranged attacks, capable of stopping enemies in their tracks or smiting them with magic. Each of these characters can be played solo, but Crimson Alliance really comes alive during the co-op campaign. Whether you're playing online or in a local match, this is the game as it was meant to be played.

In a rather unique approach for the console world, Crimson Alliance is playable for "free" if you're willing to accept some limitations. The idea is that you can play through a good deal of the game with any one character, or a very limited amount of the game with other players. You do get the feel for character creation, and for the playing style of each before you're required to buy a "class pack" that opens the full experience. The "all-class" version is really equivalent to the full game, assuming you want to do more than just keep playing the same character over and over again... If you're the thrifty type, there is the option to buy a single character and then grab a quick in-game purchase for 80 Microsoft Points that instantly makes you very rich. It's one way to gather lots of good equipment and fend off the baddies, but you can earn plenty of cash battling with a friend. The "quick cash" approach is a nod to solo players, but multiplayer is by far the best way to experience Crimson Alliance.


There are some moments, especially in the early segments of Crimson Alliance, when you'll be overpowered and taken out by enemies. As you figure out how to get the most out of each character, you'll be much less likely to die. Even when you do fall, you'll only end up going back to the last checkpoint you passed in the current level. A few things that help make the ride easier are the availability of health items scattered through levels, plus pick-ups that you can use to defend against enemies or heal yourself and your partners. Each time you successfully complete a level, you earn gold and often unlock a new merchant location. Purchasing weapons, armor, and consumable items helps to keep one step ahead of monsters and bad guys, but the best defense is a good offense. Learning how to use your character, how to take advantage of your unique abilities, is your first best strategy for winning. Beyond just learning your own strengths and weaknesses, it's important to understand your partners' abilities. The Wizard can slow or stop enemies long enough for the Assassin or Mercenary to destroy them. All characters possess special attacks that charge as you destroy enemies, that are useful when the odds seemed stacked against you. There are even puzzle challenges in Crimson Alliance, some that can only be solved by multiple players.

Game Mechanics:

The controls are fairly intuitive, and don't mistake Crimson Alliance for any kind of platforming title. There's only ever one way to go, not counting secret areas. The options for controlling your character are limited to moving in all directions along the floor, or dashing and attacking. You can block powerful attacks, and trigger special attacks of your own using the controller's face buttons, and tap the shoulder buttons to use items collected in the level. The Left Trigger allows you to pick up and throw found objects, a more effective strategy when the projectile is explosive and being thrown into a large crowd. All the controls feel smooth, and are simple to understand, but the timing is everything. Learning how to attack, combining close and ranged tactics, and how to slip away in defense are critical skills. Each character functions a bit differently, but the controls are identical. It's a nice, accessible control scheme that rewards button-mashing equally with precision controls.

Gauntlet fans will immediately get it, and should grab a copy of Crimson Alliance as soon as possible. The only downside is the lack of depth and variety; things tend to get a little predictable after a few levels, but developer Certain Affinity is already prepping us for the next expansion, so this should be addressed soon. As a party game for those of us looking for something other than sports, dancing, and karaoke, Crimson Alliance is the perfect antidote.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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