Every once and a while there comes a game so revolutionary, so full of ambition and creativity and with such flawless execution that they forever change the medium and shape it for years to come. They are the games that we remember decades after their release, and that continue to be cited as inspiration for new games long since we first revered at their brilliance. And then we have Marlow Briggs.
Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is not a revolutionary game; it does little if anything unique borrowing heavily from games of yore without ever outdoing them in its own right. It’s not the most polish, it’s production values are noticeably low, and has some truly aggravating design decisions. But none of this matters because despite being formulaic and shallow Marlow Briggs is unquestionably a blast to play. If ever there was such a thing as a B-game this is it, and what ridiculous amounts of fun it is.
As the curtain rises we find Marlow Briggs, aka “the man with large hands”, arriving to visit his archaeologist girlfriend on a digsite she has been working at lately. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, the operation is in fact being run by a maniacal psychopath possessing godlike magic powers and an army of mercenaries to back him up. Marlow doesn’t like this, but before he can take three step towards the door he’s sent on a one way trip to Xibalba and his girlfriend kidnapped. Cue flashing lightning and a talking mask and Marlow is reborn as the sacred warrior, hero of prophecy destined to save the sacred land that has been disturbed by the militias presence.
It should be noted that all of this plays out in the span of about 60 seconds, at which point you are tossed straight into the action. This isn’t a game that takes itself seriously; not remotely. The plot is absolutely absurd and the dialog cheesy beyond compare, but Marlow succeeds because it knows it’s silly and revels in being as self-aware and goofy as possible as it jumps from setpiece to setpiece with little regard to exposition or the mounting continuity errors. This is a game that wants you to laugh with it not at it, with excellent (for what it is) writing and spot on delivery that made it impossible for me not to enjoy myself, grinning the whole way through.
When Marlow and the Mask aren’t cracking jokes they’re smashing in skulls. It’s impossible to ignore so to put it bluntly: this is a God of War clone. Right down to the distinctive way you open chests- er, collect skulls, it plays identically to Sony Santa Monica’s lovechild but that really isn’t a bad thing. While it isn’t as refined as that series, this is a comparable action game with some highly satisfying combat and impressive bossfights. It’s nothing new, but it works well for the game and more than solid, with my only complaint being a large amount of overpowered enemies and occasionally getting locked into an animation.
Mixed together with the melee arena combat are a plethora of action movie moments such as shooting down helicopters with a mounted turret, and some light platforming and puzzle elements. The variety is great and helped alleviate much of the monotony that otherwise would have occurred from a strictly combat focus through the 6-7 hour campaign.
While it won’t win any graphics awards, this is actually a rather decent looking title. The environments in particular have a lot of detail put into them, and when the camera pans out for a vista it’s a gorgeous site. For a budget title it’s pretty impressive, but what I thought was most clever was how instead of using costly animation for the cutscenes, the majority are instead done as freeze frame 3D stills that the camera then slowly sifts through, using dynamic angles and purposely placed obstructions to allow for the scene without you actually seeing them do it. It’s a neat idea and I have to applaud the developers for their ingenuity, even if it’s a little jarring at times.
I’m not sure how many more ways I can say it at this point; Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is plain uncomplicated fun. In the same way a dumb summer blockbuster is enjoyable, Marlow doesn’t need to be original or perfectly polished to be entertaining. It’s a nonsensical adventure that I think almost anyone could enjoy if they can give it a chance, and quite frankly is some of the most fun I’ve had with any video game in a long time.