Game recommended by Boyden ‘Sneaky‘ van den Berg – thank you!
With The Baconing, I did something which I usually never do: play a sequel without having played the previous games before. In my attempt to comprehend a work of fiction in its entirety, I usually try to begin at the beginning, even if it implies enduring the horrible isometric view of Landstalker before enjoying Alundra. It allows me to fully appreciate the improvements and the changes from one game to another. It also helps contextualizing the episode within the series. As for The Baconing, I didn’t know it was already the third episode of DeathSpank’s adventures, otherwise I would have begun with the first one, but then my opinion of The Baconing would have been much more severe. The reason is that upon finishing this game, I felt that this was the kind of entertainment which should remain untouched after only one episode, even though it was my first contact with DeathSpank and his crazy world. It is a really peculiar feeling, summarizing this third installment: enjoyable but clearly not meant to be repeated, in the past with the previous games and in the future with potential sequels. Here’s why.
When video game meets Monthy Python.
One of the best feeling one can experience upon playing a brand new game is the perpetual discovery of a new universe, new gameplay mechanics and so on. Unfortunately it is a characteristic which tends to disappear in this era, in which every mainstream game is announced and showed several months before their release. Eventually, after a continuous and overabundant stream composed of teasers, trailers, teasers for the trailer and images, people know almost everything about the software before even launching it.
Since I had no clue on what The Baconing was about, I was genuinely surprised with the whole universe and the general atmosphere of the game. It is definitely the biggest strength of DeathSpank’s adventure: upon entering his world, leave any expectation behind, because anything can happen, and will happen. The Baconing is a marvelous homage to the absurd genre, starting with the story: one day, as he was bored, DeathSpank decided to wear several thongs at the same time. Why? Because he can. This unorthodox way of dressing somehow shakes the whole universe and lead to the creation of an abomination named, you guess it, AntiSpank, whose objectives, besides destroying the world, remain quite hidden. And so, in order to correct his fashion mistake, DeathSpank embarks upon a new adventure through his demented world, in which he needs to find special fires that will allow him to burn the thongs one by one, weakening his enemy before he can defeat him once and for all. Let’s be honest: The Baconing requires a huge suspension of disbelief and a very open mind in order to appreciate it. A story which begins with a bored hero wearing several thongs for the fun? Why not? Upon progressing in the game, this “Why not?” was undoubtedly my most used phrase for describing what was going on, not only into the story but also for the dialogues, the required action, the environment and such. DeathSpank speaking with a cow cut in half? A quest which consists in helping a corrupted mayor to win the upcoming election? Elvis Presley in a residential quarter for retired gods? Why not? The Baconing, in its universe and its craziness, looks like the game Monthy Python could have made if they were into this medium, and it is delightful. It is so absurd and meaningless that I quickly gave up trying to foresee what would happen next and simply embraced the game, in all its delirium.
Next to the story, there are the characters and the dialogues, equally demented. From what I understood, many of the protagonists in The Baconing were already in the previous episodes, so I may have missed some intertextuality in the jokes and references, but the game sure knows how to recycle its content (which is also a negative aspect, more of that later). Every line in the game is purposely made to make the player smile, laugh or grin, depending on its level of tolerance towards absurd and grotesque situations or dialogues. As for me, I was a good audience overall and some lines made me genuinely smile. DeathSpank and his companions are so dumb and ridiculous that soon enough your main goal is not to progress for the sake of progressing and finishing the game but just for the pleasure of hearing another grotesque dialogue and encountering more bizarre situations, and I appreciated that. The Baconing knows perfectly well that its story is insignificant (I honestly couldn’t care less about a hero wearing several thongs), and instead of trying to turn into a serious game, it kept following its policy until the end: burlesque above all, and if you don’t like it, you can go and wear several thongs and see for yourself how uncomfortable it is. Seriously, can you imagine it? Me neither, but thanks to this game, now I can, and I can also picture a lot more.
Crazy world, tiresome gameplay.
Now, after all this verbose paragraphs about the universe, I still didn’t mention the core of the game. The reason is that in my opinion it is the major weakness of The Baconing. The game presents itself as a hack-and-slash, with all the positive and the negative aspects of the genre. I’m still unable to determine whether the parodical aspect of DeathSpank’s adventure is voluntary or not, for I had a mixed feeling when it comes to the actual gameplay, which could be summarized with the following sentence: I find it regretful that what prevents you to enjoy the next grain of madness of the game is the way the game itself is played.
The game, like any other hack-and-slash is composed of combats, quests, looting and dungeon crawling. DeathSpank is relatively versatile at fighting waves and waves of leprechauns, slugs and other monstrous creatures. He can equip up to 4 weapons and 4 more slots are dedicated to various potions, grenades and orbs which help him clearing the map. He also possesses a shield, allowing him to protect himself and bash those who dare approaching the hero too much. Combats are divided into two categories: there is combat without archers and combat with archers. While the former is a simple formality, the latter is a pain in the thong, for DeathSpank was born to fight toe-to-toe, and not running around, desperately trying to recover his health. Allow me to explain this: throughout the game DeathSpank will find a large amount of food which, once consumed, gradually recovers your health bar over time. But any hit taken during the consumption cancels the process, leading to an annoying scenario every time there are archers around. If you are low health, it basically consists in running around the field, and hide behind the terrain deformation until you finish your food and go kill the archers. Ultimately, the process is repeated at the end of each combat: either you have potions and don’t hesitate to use them, or you eat some food to recover enough health and move on to the next combat. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam. In fact, the archers simply make you activate your “dance for the food recovery” faster.
This “rinse and repeat” notion is inherent to the whole hack-and-slash genre, and The Baconing is no exception. However, the game succeeds in proposing some unorthodox quests and smart puzzles which break the routine of grinding and search-and-fetch chores, even though there are too few refreshing moments in my opinion. The backtracking is still strongly present in The Baconing, to the point where some characters turn it into a comedic situation in their dialogues. At this point, I couldn’t determine if it was a parody or not. I’m inclined to think that the game developers were aware that the gameplay leads to nothing exceptional in the end, successfully compensating it with a humorous and derisive vein, and it’s maybe both the strength and the weakness of The Baconing: without its craziness, the game would be arguably uninteresting. For me, it was okay since I didn’t play the previous games, but I understand well the fatigue that people could feel upon playing for the third time that same formula. In the end, The Baconing is lucky enough that I played it as my first DeathSpank’s adventure and not the third, otherwise it would have been much less appreciated. All good things must come to an end.
Concerning the looting aspect, it is merely anecdotal since there exists an option which always puts the best armor and equipment on DeathSpank upon collecting. Globally, the progression is very linear and repetitive: as you advance in the game, enemies and fairly accessible treasure chests drop new gears automatically equipped, creating new set that are often related to the current zone. Apropos, special props for the amusing “Game ending” pieces, which are the best you can find, at the very end of the adventure. A discreet but enjoyable example of breaking the fourth wall. Nevertheless, looting is less a tactical reasoning than an obligatory step. You don’t choose your equipment, unless you want to be inappropriately under-equipped for the sake of raising the difficulty: in fact, you just step on it upon killing monsters. The Baconing could be fairly called ‘hack-and-slash for beginners’. It borrows the action aspect but forgets the strategic one. There is no negative stats in every new piece of equipment, for example. You don’t have to choose between something that would increase your damage but reduce your health bar, and something else that would do the contrary. Everything is always better than before, until you reach the end. But again, the focus is on the crazy world, not on the gameplay mechanics, which explains the lack of depth when it comes to the game in itself. The Baconing‘s atmosphere is both its strength and its weakness. It imprisons it into a peculiar genre, enjoyable at some point but lacking something truly exceptional in the end.
Verdict: play it once
“An enjoyable game, as long as you don’t expect too much. Play it without expectation, and something good may come out.”
My judgment about the game is clearly softened by the fact that it was my first encounter with DeathSpank. I truly lack the experience from the previous games to be really bored with The Baconing. But I understand this point of view, and I think I would have agreed with it if I had played two more adventures like this one before, especially if nothing changes, or so little. The game is worth playing, for its comedic universe and its capacity to constantly surprise the player, but only if it is the first time that you control DeathSpank. Otherwise, tiresome gameplay and lack of depth may result in experiencing a sensation of déjà vu. As I said in the introduction, it is enjoyable, but not meant to be repeated. This delirious world is excellent to explore, and each dialogue is savoury. Despite the characters lacking one way or another something that make you appreciate them in the long-term, their apparitions are always welcome and keep you playing. I also regret that the final boss is completely disappointing and feels rushed and the overall lack of challenge throughout the adventure, but The Baconing brings some smiles, and nothing is more valuable than a smile in a video game, whether it is accomplished after beating a incredibly hard puzzle or realizing that wearing several thongs at the same time bring so many catastrophes. Now you’re warned!
Developed by: Hothead Games
Published by: Valcon Games