The Baconing

When DeathSpank first arrived in Xbox Live download queues, it was a refreshing reminder that videogames can occasionally crack not-terrible jokes. But with its novelty and the Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion) pedigree now long gone, The Baconing is simply a third, sizzling slice of meta goofing wrapped around a hack ’n’ slash filet that’s gone a bit off. 

By unwisely donning all the thongs of virtue at once in the second DeathSpank game, DeathSpank summoned a villainous anti-Spank, who’s wreaking incredible destruction across Spanklandia, while also being almost entirely absent until the final two minutes of gameplay. Bit part though he has, he can’t be defeated until the thongs have been consumed in various far-flung cracks of doom. 

Where the first title was set in an off-center fantasy world, the second and third have been more freewheeling in their environments. Cosmetically, the game has to remain in constant motion to distract from how static everything else is. From an early “Cyberflunk” stage to a late-game retirement community for underworshipped gods, players’ strategies won’t evolve much beyond shield-bashing (a first for the series), chugging potions, and charging up that Justice meter to unleash screen-clearing attacks. 

This is a loot-heavy game, but treasure-hunting feels like pointless hoarding when the goods are visually exciting but effectively redundant. When equipping that new plate mail is automatic—even accidental—The Baconing can lapse into a game of action-RPG dress-up. Still, while the visuals are a bread-crumb trail leading players through middling chain quests, at least those crumbs are decidedly tasty, thanks to the bold 2.5-dimensional visuals that perfectly carry across the series’ silly, self-aware tone.

Poking fun at rote questing doesn’t excuse you for it, though, and The Baconing is content to imbue bland fetch tasks with a couple gags and some bloodthirsty cosplayers, then call it a day. And by the end of the eight-hour main quest, the cracks in the game’s combat system have started to yawn wide: Ranged combat is deeper than in DeathSpank: Thongs Of Virtue, with hunks of land serving as cover from which to rain down grenades, shoot arrows, or target convenient oil drums. Melée, however, is slippery and imprecise. A few cheap shots will be enough to send players back to the nearest spawn point. Fortunately, punishment for death amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist, and in spite of some drawbacks, the destruction of cyborque hordes is still satisfying enough to let players overlook the superficial leveling system and dearth of combat options.

This is the third DeathSpank title in a little over a year, so it’s only natural that Hothead Games’ hustle is flagging. But questing and combat problems aside, there are some truly inspired environments here, like the interior of an obsolete super-computer and the home of a literally nuclear family. Those, combined with more tip-top voice acting courtesy of Michael Dobson, are enough to give some punch to this parody, even if the joke’s starting to wear a little thin. 

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