2 out of 5
There’s no shortage of rip-offs in video games. This is, after all, an industry largely based on iteration and building on concepts laid down by those that came before. Sometimes developers stray a little too close to their inspirations for comfort, and get branded with the scarlet letter that is the “rip-off” label. I certainly wouldn’t argue with most people’s definition of a video game rip-off, but in the case of Bloodforge, I think an entirely new distinction is in order. Rip-off, as we know it, barely covers this hackneyed hack-and-slash snoozer from Climax Group (Sudeki, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). There is no obfuscation here, no attempt to mask the brazen thievery from Sony’s God of War franchise and Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian series. It is a Transmorphers-level mockbuster of a video game.
How blatant does it get? Well, for starters, the lead character’s name is Crom. Granted, in this case, Climax isn’t so much riffing on the god of Conan lore as the original Gaelic deity that Howard loosely based his god upon. Much as God of War used fixtures of Greek mythology as blade-fodder for its angry hero, Bloodforge pulls figures from pre-Christian Irish and Anglo Saxon mythology for Crom to cut his way through. Not that there’s much of a history lesson here. What Climax does with these figures is even less historically relevant than God of War’s various storylines. Basically, there are gods, and you hate them, so you kill all of them over the course of roughly four hours.
The reason you hate them is nearly identical to the reason Kratos hated his own gods. At the outset, you’re betrayed by an unseen god for unknown reasons and tricked into killing your own wife. Crom, being the shouty barbarian that he is (he shouts everything), immediately sets out looking for vengeance, while a mysterious and sultry witch in a totally not evil-looking mask guides him by telling him things that most certainly are true and totally won’t lead to some absurdly telegraphed plot twist down the road. Certainly not.
At least if you’ve played God of War, you’ll know how this is all going to play out. Gods are slayed in order of least-hated to burning rage of a thousand suns, and in between you murder a gaggle of grunt soldiers and vile-looking creatures while using a few different weapon and magic types. It’s literally the same formula, except employed with almost impressive levels of ineptitude and apathy toward making any of this fun.
The first problem (and there are many) is the combat. Crom has multiple weapons, but none of them are particularly pleasurable to use. The swords, hammers, and hand blades you’re offered are hamstrung by sluggish-feeling combat animations that make trying to use a specific combo or maneuver all but fruitless. Of course, you don’t need to use any of the combos. Just mash on the two attack buttons and periodically dodge out of the way of enemy attackers, and you’ll do just fine. Unfortunately, unlike God of War, which does a decent job of masking its sometimes button-mashy combat with responsive controls and animations that make you look like a bona fide bad-ass, Bloodforge’s combat is just a slog. It’s not fun to look at, and it’s not fun to engage with.
The enemies you’re presented with do little to alleviate this. I’m not just talking about the usual three-hit-kill grunts, but even the big guys. The giant-sized grotesqueries and more tactically minded bad guys are just as one-note as the first guys you kill in the game. Their attack patterns don’t vary in the slightest, and every attack is telegraphed by a big honking animation that practically screams, “HEY, USE THAT DODGE BUTTON BECAUSE I’M TOTALLY GOING TO ATTACK YOU NOW, OKAY?” at you. The only thing that makes later enemies more challenging is that they take forever to kill. That’s it. There is a huge difference between making an enemy tough and making an enemy a laborious chore to kill. Pretty much every bad guy in Bloodforge skews toward the laborious chore category.
To make matters worse–or better, or both, I don’t know–the combat is also just a wee bit broken. You see, in addition to blades, Crom has a crossbow he can use to nail enemies from afar. It’s a bit of a chore to use, in that you have to at least be sort of facing an enemy to fire it off, but the benefit is that it never runs out of ammo. In a game that wasn’t kind of awful, you’d expect your foes to be smart enough to navigate a devious plan such as, oh, I don’t know, running around in a circle forever with only periodic moments to stop and shoot your crossbow until everyone is dead and you haven’t taken a single hit, but in Bloodforge? Oh my goodness no. Most of these guys will just keep running around in a circle right with you, letting you shoot them over and over again until they’re stunned and you can run up and deliver the final, incoherent deathblow.
I say incoherent because Bloodforge’s camera is the worst. This camera, not any of the in-game enemies, is your greatest foe in Bloodforge. It’s bad enough when you’re just running around and the camera starts bobbing back and forth behind you like it’s being held by a drunken film student, but when you’re actually trapped in one of those circular bad guy arenas that you can’t escape until everyone’s dead, just trying to keep the camera at a reasonable angle on whatever it is you’re trying to kill is a severe hassle. And I’m not just talking about using the aforementioned crossbow trick. I lost complete track of Crom in the thick of a group of monsters I was trying to stab so many times that I eventually stopped keeping count. I topped out at 23.
While the camera can shoulder a good bit of the blame for that, Bloodforge’s monochromatic art style doesn’t do much to differentiate what’s on screen, either. Crom’s sole defining feature is an animal skull he wears as a helmet. It’s white-ish, which stands out a bit from the black and brown tatters he’s draped in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stand out enough from the black and brown tatters every other character is draped in. When you’re surrounded by a group, it’s basically just a giant blob of black and brown with spurts of red popping up whenever something gets stabbed.
Even worse, you and your enemies barely stand out against the world which is, yup, you guessed it, frequently very black and/or grey. Usually each individual world will be tinged with a bit of green or blue or whatever to signify how totally different it is from the other worlds, but ultimately none of it pops. There are some decent character designs here (even if they do look ripped straight out of everything from modern Conan adaptations to Frank Miller’s 300), but the entire game’s color scheme is just too bland to make any of its halfway decent art stand out. I get that the game’s artists were probably going for a kind of bleak stylishness, but it just doesn’t work.
Look, it’s not as if God of War is some wholly original property that doesn’t crib from its own mechanical and narrative inspirations. But there’s a difference between “inspired by” and “outright stolen from.” Bloodforge falls squarely in the latter category, and to make matters worse, it can’t even craft a halfway competent action game out of the myriad things it stole from much better action games. You can cobble together all the great ideas in the world, but if you haven’t got a clue what to do with them, then all you’re going to end up with is a creatively bankrupt mess like Bloodforge.