Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is a third person hack and slash, action adventure that is probably the closest thing to God of War on the PC. It is fantastic game in general, let alone the budget price. It has over the top action, which means plenty of explosions and crazy moments like Marlow hanging from a helicopter and he needs to dodge left or right. The game plays great, the graphics are amazing. The camera will zoom out for you to see beautiful vistas, foreboding caverns and giant industrial complexes. There is a scope and scale to this game. You can be so tiny in a grand complex and you feel it. The game really shines with its gameplay diversity. You won’t just be hacking and slashing. There are fun turret sections, plenty of not too difficult platform traversal, climbing, swinging, running from boulders, pushing objects, sliding down areas, working turnstile levers and even playing a top down vertical scrolling shooter. These other elements bring a lot of diversity to break up the brawling.
The story is simple and so bad its good. You’re Marlow, visiting his girlfriend in a remote jungle, so she can quit her job working for an evil madman bent on immortality. To show her he means business, he kills you right then and there to kick off the game. Marlow gets killed with a magical artifact and the mask of Death resurrects him. So now with crazy magical powers, Marlow must save his girlfriend. The mask will guide Marlow along the way. There is a lot of humor between Marlow and the mask. Its not a comedy game, but has dabs of humor here and there. Marlow Briggs knows how implausible the situation is and doesn’t always take things seriously. The mask is there to aide and taunt Marlow when he dies. To show the game’s humor, the antagonist is named Heng Low. He makes some great announcements throughout the game, such as, “all personnel, go grab a gun. There’s a nice reward for killing Marlow Briggs. You can use that reward to pay for the weapon rental.” Oh and “All employees are fired, please avoid flaming death traps and bottomless pits on your way out.”
The core game play is simple. You can move, double jump, weak attack, strong attack, grapple, block, roll in any direction with the right analog stick, use magic by pressing two buttons and change weapons with the D-pad. Marlow will get four weapons throughout the game. Each weapon has a different speed, range and damage, but for the most part they are pretty much the same. When he attacks he’ll swirl around, causing beautiful death. Its visually appealing. There are four spells to earn. A fiery meteor shower in a circle, earth spikes in a straight line, frost to freeze a radius of enemies and a storm. Every enemy gives you experience to upgrade your weapon and magic levels. It seems like every spell depletes all your mana. Luckily each dead enemy brings you health and mana. There is plenty of mana, health and experience around each level. You just need to hold a button to absorb it, so if an enemy is around, they can keep you from getting them. Enemies can be grappled and thrown, but more interesting, they can be converted, making them fight for you! Your block can reflect projectiles if you time it right and you have magical projectiles of your own.
It is all a nice system, made even more enjoyable by a wide cast of enemies. The standard soldiers don’t use guns, just machetes since this is a hack and slash. Rocket launchers that need you to reflect. Riot troops that need to have their shields knocked away with specific attack combos. Bugs that can be easily squashed. There are plenty of mini bosses that show up in the game. First they get their own fight, but then they appear later as common enemies. When most of the mini bosses get weak, you can hop on and control them. Not like the conversion, but rode. You can ride a giant scorpion and control it to kill enemies. You can ride giants the same way. The visual is better than the actual fun. I could kill the enemies a lot quicker without being on top of slow lumbering giants.
Speaking of giants, then there are the game’s big bosses. The bosses so big that you’re as tall as a single eye. Each big boss has many parts and they’re quite memorable. Its all simple pattern recognition though so its easy enough once you figure out the pattern. The only problem is that you don’t do much damage. At the end there is even a quick time event or mash the grapple button.
You have NO control over the camera. It is always carefully placed and follows you well enough. I only had a problem with that once or twice in the whole game. The load times are hid. I didn’t notice one at all unless I came back to a save. Dying has a really quick reload time to the point its just a quote, then you respawn from the last frequent checkpoint. Its so nice to be back in the action.
To keep things interesting, there are challenges in the game. Things like you’re sliding down a hill and need to move left and right. The challenge is collecting all the experience orbs! Don’t collect them all? You can restart or just keep playing. You can kill all the helicopters in the turret section or the town down shooter section. It adds an extra level of challenge to what would be an easy game on normal (medium) difficulty. Even though the game stays the same level of difficulty, the later areas just take longer. Bigger enemies take more damage. Puzzles take longer.
Other elements in the game have players jumping between three mine carts to avoid obstacles. Floating with angels wings between platforms. Swimming through a swinging guillotine river. Climbing wall vines, killing worms. Inching with Marlow’s back to the wall to avoid either falling or gears. Clinging to cliff sides. Dodging flaming wrecking balls. Turret shooting the pistons on a giant lava scooper as you ride around a cart. Getting chased by helicopters. Seeing giant scorpions get crushed by huge boulders completely unscripted. Escaping under a door by rolling just before spikes crushed the enemies in the room. Fighting enemies on a helipad as it flipped and flew through the air. Seeing the giant facility Marlow is in was really mobile with treads.
It all feels like a high budget game in a lot of ways, but lacking in a few, especially the cut scenes. There aren’t many animated cut scenes, but the majority of the scenes are fly around of scenes. Its like bullet time. You’ll see a still frame circling around Marlow as he’s hacked through a flame throwing soldier. As the camera swings around, it will reveal a helicopter. Then Marlow leaping from the copter, only to swing around and show Marlow slashing through an insect. I’m happy that the cut scenes are the worst part of the game, especially since they’re skipable. They spent the time in the animation, character models and gameplay.
The game is well worth the $5 price tag it currently has. I am shocked this game doesn’t have a cult following or more popularity. Even with a 7 hour run time and not too much frills for any replay value, I think this could stand shoulder to shoulder with God of War. The diversity really kept me engaged. Nothing overstayed its welcome. 7 hours was the right time. Its best to leave players wanting more. Odd now Steam says that I only played 5 hours. Oh steam.