If you ask me what I miss the most in games recently, I’d answer, without any hesitation, humor. Not just action games that have crass references to bodily waste, or horror games that inject a few lines of witty, chuckleworthy dialogue into inappropriate situations; I’m talking about games built on a base of humor and charm, those that are funny just as much as they are fun to play. Perhaps the only two companies that consistently do this well are Valve and Tim Shafer’s Doublefine; Portal 2 and Costume Quest might be the funniest games I’ve played in the past few years.
Developer Hothead Games has been attempting the same with their series of games centered on the barely-competent hero DeathSpank; it’s no different with The Baconing, their latest entry into the DeathSpank saga. Problem is, I unfortunately didn’t find it very funny, nor did I find it very fun.
The Baconing is an apparent continuation of the story of DeathSpank: upon seizing the Thongs of Virtue, as seen in DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue, the titular hero decides to try on the thongs for some inexplicably random reason. This creates some sort of evil doppelganger, and in order to defeat him, DeathSpank must venture out to destroy the thongs in the various Fires of Bacon found across the land.
…yeah, the plot is random as all hell, and honestly, with all of the other random stuff going on in the game, I wouldn’t blame you if you forgot it ten minutes into the game. I most certainly did, and humorwise, that’s one of the many facets of why The Baconing feels like a serious misstep in the series. I’ve never found the DeathSpank series truly funny, but the previous two games did give me a chuckle here and there. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve grown out of it or what, but The Baconing did very very little to crack a smile on my face. The characters were beautifully realized and had so much potential (Mutoe specifically deserves his own freakin game), but in terms of actual dialogue, it felt completely random and forced, with no sense of timing or wit at all. A lot of the dialogue was reminiscent of that weird kid in high school who would just yell the most bizarre things in class in the desperate hopes that someone would find him funny and be his friend for at least that one day.
It’s no different with the gameplay. Unlike the previous two games, The Baconing focuses almost solely on action, and suffers exponentially for it. There’s no presence of any off-the-wall puzzles or outside-the-box riddles to solve; instead the gameplay amounts to fetch quests disguised as hack-and-slash marathons. The action is like your typical top-down RPG; you’ll equip some weapons and repeatedly beat on some enemies until they perish and you gain experience and items. Unfortunately, unlike games like Torchlight, there’s no real motivation to constantly fight, except for said fetch quests. Usually dungeon-crawlers provide some sort of awesome loot or treasure at the end, but what often happens in The Baconing is that you’ll spend ten to twenty minutes completing a quest collecting, say, ten bunches of bug poop, only to receive a weapon that’s marginally better, or sometimes even worse, than the one you were using previously.
It doesn’t help that the difficulty of the game can spike inexplicably and for no reason at all; one second you’ll be fighting dinosaurs and have no problems at all taking them down, but the next second you’ll be taking on mountain lions and yetis and getting your ass constantly handed to you in minutes. Half of it feels like you’re not strong enough, while the other half feels as if the combat system is nowhere near deep enough to deal with such a spike in difficulty. There’s no reason that I’m running away from a savage archer, and he’s still able to shoot me cleanly while he’s nearly offscreen. This frustration with the combat is exacerbated once you approach a boss battle, most of which at times can be hair-pulling in difficulty. Spending fifteen minutes slowly hacking away at a boss, only for them to kill you in one fell, cheap swoop is nothing short of rage-inducing. The worst part of all that is once you die, all the enemies’ healths get reset, but your inventory remains depleted, so you’re forced to start from the beginning, sans any of the items you used previously.
Okay, so I’m constantly getting my ass beat; maybe I should go and finish all the utterly mundane sidequests (aka fetch quests). Huh, I’m still not strong enough; perhaps I should go back to the previous town and finish all the sidequests there. That’s when you realize that The Baconing is a game where the sidequests and the fetch quests somehow end up being mandatory due to the cheap nature of the gameplay, and in turn displays just how truly mundane and unfun the action really is. It’s not only a vicious cycle that ultimately ends up working against the game and the player’s desire to play, but also makes most of the game a chore rather than a fun time.
If hack-and-slash fetch quests with totally random humor are your thing, then by all means check out The Baconing. Personally, I found the combat absolutely dreadful, the gameplay structure completely frustrating, and the random, often-childish humor a little offputting, and I don’t know if I’d recommend this game to anyone, especially after such a huge influx of top-shelf games during the season.