Charlie Murder Review (Xbox 360)
Charlie Murder was released on the Xbox Live Marketplace on August 14th 2013. The game is a 2D-ish side scrolling brawler with punk rock influences. DeadMan asked me if I wanted a review copy, and I said yes. My first impression of the game was overall a good one. However, I felt the need to spend a good amount of time with the game, to see if the initial charm would last. Here’s what I thought after the initial rush wore off.
The plot of the game follows Charlie Murder, a punk rock band led by a guy named Charlie. It’s clear at some points that for the story you are meant to play as Charlie but fuck that noise I played as Kelly. Charlie was once friends with a guy named Paul. Charlie and Paul were supposed to form a band together, but Charlie formed a band without Paul. Paul then made an “unholy deal” and became Lord Mortimer, front man of a bad called Gore Quaffer. He’s also filled with evil power and goes on a killing spree that includes all of the members of Charlie Murder. After they are miraculously brought back to life, whichever one you decided to play as sets out to stop Paul. As you play through the game, you get to see more and more of the story of what the events leading up to the death of Charlie Murder were. The one thing I must say, is that the world may not have deserved all the things that Paul did, but Charlie Murder certainly deserved some of his wrath. During a playable flashback you get drunk, smash a hotel room and throw a TV out the window, smashing his guitar. That’s a dick move right there. Of course, you also get to see how much the thirst for revenge has corrupted Paul, so you know you have to stop him whether or not your character is a complete douche nozzle.
At times it seems the game is trying a bit to hard to parody popular culture or current events. The internet pirate ship pissed me off terribly. The boss is a fat guy who is trying to hurt Charlie Murder sales by downloading as many of their MP3s as possible. Somebody needs to sit down with Ska and explain how illegal downloading affects sales of a song. Either people buy it, or they don’t. That simple. If I download their songs illegally the internet police are not then going to take away their money. I just don’t see how this was well thought out at all. The “Theft is not a crime” poster was real cute too. Before you get players to ruthlessly stomp out the brains of dozens of internet pirates, perhaps you should consider how many of the players have downloaded songs for free. Another reference that made no sense to me was the whole Saw thing at the end of The Asylum. It was a great level, but the Saw mini-game/reference didn’t fit it or serve any purpose except to make a reference.
The visual design of the game is cool. It keeps the punk rock style while still doing a wonderful job of mimicking an old school gaming look. In terms of characters, one really good choice was made in this game. It’s possible to make wearable items invisible. If you want your character to wear a stupid viking hat, all power to you. If you’d rather have the bonuses of the stupid viking hat, but not change the character’s design, you can do that too. It’s the best thing for pleasing all audiences.
The combat in Charlie Murder has some very good points and some very bad points. Initially, combat styles and movement evolves with your character. This makes it so that fighting the endless hoards of enemies doesn’t get too boring. However, it’s not long before this is thrown completely out the window. After a certain point all you can really do is make your moves more powerful. You’re basically going to be doing the same spam X combo over and over and then curb stomping your enemies’ brains out (Should an Xbox exclusive game really have curb stomping at this point?). If you manage to get some breathing room then you’ll be able to do an overdrive move that ranges from an area attack to Rock Lee’s primary lotus. Otherwise you’ll be spamming one of your tattoo abilities that do area damage and/or affect the statuses of enemies. These have a cool down timer, but you have four equipped at a time, so once you get through them all you don’t need to wait long before one of them is ready again.
The 2D art style/3D gameplay is a bit of a pain in this regard. Often you think you’re aimed straight at an enemy and you unleash one of these awesome attacks only to realize that they were actually a half centimeter off center and therefore did not get damaged in the slightest and now you have to wait until the attack cools down again. The same problem can happen with overdrive attacks and guns. Normally I wouldn’t mind the gun thing except that at some points it’s pretty necessary to use one. When a room gets flooded with machine gun wielding enemies that aren’t fooled into falsely believing they are shooting at an enemy that they are not and will, in fact, hit you with every bullet they fire. Trying not to use guns makes you rather like the guy that brings a knife to a gun fight. Or in this case, the guy who brought super powers to a gun fight only to realize that none of them could prevent him from getting shot.
Every time there is platforming in the game it seems like a sloppy afterthought. After you’ve de-brained room after room of enemies you find yourself at a short set of gaps you need to cross, with a penalty for fucking it up and perhaps another menial task involved, such as flipping switches or breaking things. It’s a good thing that these sections are so short, as the character controls are clearly not made for platforming. Whenever your character lands, the immediately slide and move in the direction they are facing. Add in the momentum from the jump and there are many situations where your character simply slides into oblivion. This can be avoided only if you turn the character in the opposite direction at exactly the right moment in the jump so that they slide against the momentum of the jump. I am aware that this happens to a small degree with some true platforming games, I simply lack the ability to describe what makes it terrible here. The other problem with the platforming is, of course, the 2D design/3D gameplay. It can be hard to tell in what direction to jump, how far to jump or even if it is possible to jump for some of the platforming segments because of this.
There are transport transition parts to this game as well. They consist of piloting a vehicle while either throwing objects or firing a gun to deal with enemies. The first of these sequences was fun and seemed like a silly break from the main gameplay. The second, while more challenging, had the same feel. After this point, I started to notice a major problem. While many of these segments were set up well in regards to the actual game mechanics, this was completely undermined by the framing of the sequences. A large focus of the screen seemed to be the backdrop while everything else was sent to the bottom third of the screen. Your immediate thought is likely that this is to cover a larger area, but the scale doesn’t change. Instead, what your character is doing and/or sections of the environment get cut off entirely. This makes playing these segments perfectly nearly impossible. For example, there are two different downhill sequences where you need to use jumps to help you avoid obstacles that will damage you. But because of the terrible framing, once you hit a jump you can’t see any of the obstacles until after you’ve hit them. I spent these segments guessing at where the right place to land was and hoping I’d survive the whole transition. Other sequences had enemies hitting me from areas I couldn’t see or targets I had to shoot but they weren’t even on my screen.
The difficulty curve in this game isn’t exactly a curve as much as it is a difficulty wobble. The game starts out just challenging enough for a newcomer, then gets hard, then you’ve increased in level, so it gets easier again. This pattern carries through pretty steadily until the end of the game. *sigh* This is where things really start to fall apart. The final fight with Paul can be a difficulty brick wall if you don’t summon Shockula. Shockula is a being whose pieces you have been collecting throughout the entire game, if you so chose to do those levels. In order to summon Shockula in the final battle, you must have and equip all five of Shockula’s pieces. This means leveling up your artifact slot so that you can equip all five at once. If you have been focusing on leveling this, which I had been, you can achieve this at level 26 which is a reasonable level to reach at this point in the game without any large amount of extra XP hunting.
I first entered the fight with Paul without the ability to summon Shockula. I noticed there was a set up for a battle of the bands, that gets interrupted. After Paul sliced me to pieces, I thought that perhaps if I summoned Shockula, the battle of the bands would happen weakening Paul to make the fight easier. I quickly gained the XP I needed and went into battle ready to summon Shockula. The result was not what I was expecting. When you summon Shockula, you are able to fight him during the battle with Paul. Shockula is much much weaker than Paul. Beating Shockula counts as beating Paul. I wouldn’t be so insulted at what seems to me to be a way of cheating the most climactic battle of the game if it weren’t for the fact that the game pretty heavily insists that you use Shockula. It tells you where to find the pieces, always tells you to collect them and twice immediately before the battle with Paul reminds you that you should be using the pieces of Shockula. I summoned him with no knowledge of what he does, and once he was killed (it was so chaotic I think Paul killed him) the game was auto saved and I could never do that fight with the same character again.
After the battle with Paul the game is not over. You must then travel to the underworld and fight your way to The Agent Of Chaos. This level is bullshit hard. There is one particular type of enemy that is constantly around that there is just no good way to fight. It doesn’t flinch or stumble when hit regularly, if you are too close it does massive damage, it has a longer reach than most weapons, it is fast, it can time attacks so that your character never has a chance to get up. I tried to hit it with an overdrive attack once and I got hurt. This is a common enemy. The only way to get all the way to and through the final boss would be to grind. As this is not an RPG and has no random encounters, that means playing levels over, and over, and over. Below, I have sloppily drawn my version of this game’s difficulty curve.
The multiplayer is a write-off in my mind. The game is set up so that everything can hurt everything. This includes enemies hurting each other, and players hurting each other. Normally, I don’t mind this sort of setup. The problems arise in two areas. The first being that the screen gets far too chaotic with the number of enemies on screen along with four players. It becomes impossible to attack without inadvertently hitting each other. The second problem is the high number of area attacks that all of the characters do. Some items even cause area attacks whenever a character gets knocked down. This can cause a huge chain reaction of players hurting each other accidentally. Friendly fire simply doesn’t work for this sort of setup.
I just said a lot of bad things about this game, therefore, I will follow up with its very best aspect. It’s not actually an aspect, it’s one level: The Asylum. This level completely throws a curve ball at the player. Without changing any of the player based mechanics, it alters the game completely, however briefly, into a survival horror. This level scared the shit out of me. Some of the things from this level will stay in my nightmares forever. If Ska Studios were to read my review and take one thing away from it, I hope they would take The Asylum’s style, and make a game. If you play Charlie Murder and want to have a really fun but scary experience, go into The Asylum with as little upgrading as possible. That shit is terrifying.
Charlie Murder seemed like a cool idea with some fun combat gameplay. However, by the end it seems like many aspects get abandoned and actual replay value is replaced with a difficulty curve that forces players to replay levels with no storyline reason. The plot is decent but also hammers on the same point rather repeatedly. While the visual style is cool it is not enough to carry the game.
The cool design and fun mayhem of Charlie Murder clashed with the terrible platforming, repetitive combat, and 90 degree difficulty curve to a disappointing end.