Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: September 20th, 2013
Available on: Xbox 360, PC
Reviewer’s Note: I played the PC version of this game. There may be differences between versions.
I’m not sure how this game flew so under the radar, really. Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is one of the most hilariously wonderful games I’ve played this year. It’s almost like a combination of God of War and Black Dynamite. There’s a lot of good here.
Mask of Death puts you in the role of Marlow Briggs, a smokejumper who’s visiting his girlfriend’s dig site so she try to get out of work. Her boss needs her to finish her translation work on some ancient books so he can use the ritual in them to become a god. Unhappy with her idea of leaving, he kills Marlow Briggs. The good news is that he used a magic spear or something, which somehow revives Marlow and makes him all sorts of pissed off. So now he teams up with the Mayan Mask of Death (or something like that) to get revenge. Does this sound cheesey as hell to you? Perfect. Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death has no issue at all with playing up the cheese factor. Long, the main villain, has no problem getting super hammy and playing up his role as the evil guy. Marlow and the Mask of Death spend the game making fun of each other and bitching about the various things they have to do. It’s pure B-movie shlock, and it isn’t afraid to admit it at all. It’s some of the most fun to be had in gaming.
When it comes to gameplay, it’s pretty easy to compare Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death to the God of War series. You have various weapons and alternate between light and heavy attacks to make combos and fight waves of enemies. Unlike God of War there isn’t an emphasis on grappling enemies and you’ll mostly be using your weapons. You can grab some enemies if the game lets you, but all you can do with them is throw them around or use a conversion spell you get later in the game. Speaking of, you do have access to a few magic abilities by holding down the left bumper and using a face button. The only problem is that these abilities can be summed up as “kill everyone around you” or “kill everyone in front of you”. There is one spell that lets you freeze enemies around you as well, but you’re not going to be mixing magic up with your combos and it’s going to work more as a way to get rid of enemies around you.
But what Marlow Briggs does excel is making every fight exciting. The game sticks to it’s silly B-movie vibe and tries it’s best to throw as many crazy situations at you as possible. Run away trams? Got it. Helicopter chases? They’re here. Spinning death traps? Giant monsters? Lava? May as well throw that all into one fight. The game seems to realize right away that it’s a game and doesn’t want to waste your time by trying to be anything else. Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is always trying to find some interesting ways to mix up the action.
If you get bored of the regular gameplay you don’t have to worry too much. Marlow Briggs mixes it up with turret and SHMUP segments. Sometimes Marlow will hop into a turret and you’ll have to gun down approaching helicopters. These segments aren’t difficult, but mostly serve as a little distraction from the minute-to-minute gameplay. One of the turret segments even serves as a boss fight, having you circle around a giant machine blowing off chunks of it to avoid damage. It’s a fun use of the mechanic and made me wish more of the game did things like that. The SHMUP segments has you hopping in a plane and shooting down other planes and helicopters using your missiles and machine guns. Again, they’re not hard, but they do serve as a fun side segment.
Of course it’s not all combat and explosions. The game contains quite a few 3D platformer elements as well. Marlow has the ability to double jump, hang from objects, climb around them, and later gets a gliding ability. Using these you can get around the environment in the way the game wants you to, and also lets you search around the stages for collectables. Collectables get you extra XP for upgrading abilities, though it never feels necessary because by the end of the game I had all abilities upgraded to max while only managing to find 2 of them.
A lot of the set piece moments also come with optional challenges, usually in the form of either killing all of a specific enemy or grabbing all of the orbs along the way. These challenges are all optional but completing them will get you bonus XP for your abilities. None of them were very difficult, save maybe one or two that required you to grab orbs while avoiding traps or sliding down hills. The orbs are actually smart though, as they serve as a good indication on which way to go when dodging objects. For the competitive you can try to beat each challenge faster than your friends, but this is the only form of multiplayer in the game at all.
There was one problem I had with Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death and that was that the game had a weird tendency to boot me back to the title screen at random when I alt-tabbed. Most of the time it wouldn’t, and the few times it did I rarely lost more than a minute or two of gameplay. Just a warning for those going into it Marlow Briggs isn’t really alt-tab friendly.
Really, Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is one of the most entertaining games I played this year. It was really refreshing thanks to just how silly the game was willing to be with it’s plot and characters, but still go for the crazy set piece moments you’d find in a triple A action game. It doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a game at all and fully embraces it to the best effect. If you have a passing interest in action games, then you should probably look into Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death.