We spent quite some time expecting DeathSpank to come to PC, posting trailers, talking about it, and so on. Then it didn’t. Was it coming out on PC, or not? We didn’t know. We asked around. Did anyone know? We asked the developers. Hothead weren’t saying. We looked under a rock. There was nothing there. Finally, we stood around in Castle Shotgun, shrugging and looking puzzled. What was going on? It looked like we were never going to get DeathSpank. But then last month – lo! – it was finally confirmed for PC. A comedy loot-collect goblin basher from Mr Ron Gilbert seemed like a logical member of the PC club, and it has now put its name on the dotted line. But what does that mean for our game collections or our wallets? I descended into the binary bowel of my digitally downloaded Steam version of the game to find out.
DeathSpank is all about hitting stuff and collecting the loot. Many games are about that, of course, but this one is about doing that in a funny way. Actually the hitting and collecting is pretty much as you’d expect from any game that also contained magic axes and inventory systems, and consequently not all that funny, but it’s swathed in toilet humour, comedy characters, and lovely, silly enemies, from cardboard skeletons, to dragons, to swarms of vicious chickens. It’s beautifully presented in a cartoonish world that curves neatly over an exaggerated horizon, making everything look rather cute. It also bolts on some conversation trees and adventure-game puzzles. Not a bad recipe, eh?
It’s the main character, the macho, condescending DeathSpank, who makes all this work. He haughtily marches about, making quips and performing quests for “non-descript citizens” and other NPCs, all the while gathering weapons, potions and armour. There’s a pervasive theme of poo and underwear, and when DeathSpank dies he is respawns from a “scented latrine”, which also acts as a save point. You might think someone was pretentious and sophisticated as an RPS editor might not find all this nether-humour particularly funny but actually it is pretty funny. The jokes are unlikely to prompt a big league laugh from the balloon of your gut, but they still kept me chuckling and propped up in a state of mild amusement that meant I was happy to keep on playing even after I realised the game mechanisms were basically a bit rubbish.
Rubbish, eh? Well, that’s a bit harsh. They’re adequate. The work fine. JUST FINE. But not brilliantly. For example, while DeathSpank can be equipped with four weapons at any one time, often with different effects of their own, you quickly gravitate towards using the best melee weapon you have and ignoring everything else. Also he powers up his “justice” thinger the whole time, allowing you to let off special moves on particular weapons. A neat idea, except that you almost always end up using it by accident, and not really making the most of it.
The mouse/keyboard controls felt a bit odd, too. WASD doesn’t work as you’d expect for up/down/left/right, strafing you about instead, meaning that you are best off just using the mouse for everything. Left click is one weapon, while right click is another – useful for being equipped to take on ranged enemies. Fortunately, if you do have a 360 pad you can put it to work turning this into a co-op game, with a wizard chum joining up with DeathSpank on his adventures. This, given the Lady Rossignol’s obsession with Diablo-like games, could prove to be DeathSpank’s most important feature.
Ultimately DeathSpank just feels a bit lightweight. Pretty and witty, but starved. There is little to do aside from blast through the (generally easy) quests, and there is little penalty for dying. The adventure and RPG elements amount to a couple of puzzles and some conversation trees that seem to generally land you in the same place whatever you might do. There are some clever, and occasionally oh-too-obvious, jokes locked away in there, and they somehow, just about, make it all worthwhile.
DeathSpank is a decent little loot basher for a tenner. It’s going to be irresistible come the sale.