Post modernism is a funny thing, sometimes it’s incredibly subtle, there’ll be a nod or a wink to the inspiration behind a game or scene, a sly little Easter egg tucked away. Other times it’s about as subtle as a brick to the face. Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death deals in the latter pretty much wholesale and makes no apologies for what it is, a post modern God of War clone.
You play as the titular Marlow Briggs: a fire fighter on holiday in South America visiting the dig site of a Mayan temple which his girlfriend, Eva, is working at. However, despite the obvious signs; way too many armed guards, a complete lack of care with the artefacts and most of the excavation being done using giant drilling machines and dynamite, Eva and Marlow find out a little too late that Eva’s employer; an industrialist named Long, is actually bat shit insane and wishes to gain the powers of a god via an ancient Mayan Ritual.
Once Eva finds out what Long is up to and attempts to quit her job translating a series of codices, which just happen to contain all the information Long needs to fulfil his dark designs. After a brief altercation in which Long mentions Eva’s contractual obligations and her lack of motivation, the pantomime villain has Marlow murdered by one of his cronies in front of Eva with a big, important looking, double-ended scythe with a death mask hanging from it.
After everyone leaves, the mask, home to the spirit of a long dead Mayan King, uses its powers to resurrect Marlow, turning him into the Sacred Warrior, imbuing him with the power of the gods. Armed with the artefact that killed him and looking like the ill conceived lovechild of Shadowman and Kratos, Marlow and his new pet possessed mask set out to stop Long and save Eva in the process.
It’s a suitably farfetched and simple set up to an incredibly tongue in cheek action game. Save the grad student, Save the World.
The only problem is that although all of the information I just gave you is accurate, the game’s storytelling is somewhat ham fisted and you don’t find out anything about Long’s plans for world domination and immortality until much later on.
Instead in the opening cinematic we are treated to Eva and Marlow going to talk to her dodgy looking boss because she’s upset about the state of the dig site, she threatens to quit and things turn ugly pretty much instantly, Marlow ends up with a scythe to the gut and Eva gets dragged off to go and do the job she was paid to do in the first place.
The whole thing is over in a couple of minutes. Bish bash bosh now onto what everyone came here for, the mass slaughter of anyone and everything that gets in your way.
Being a clone, the controls are nigh on identical to God of War, attacks a are a mix of quick jabs and heavy hits with plenty of dodging handled by the right analogue stick although I’d be more inclined to compare the combat to another scythe swinging GOW clone: Dante’s Inferno. As weapons feel weightier and the action is not quite as balletic as Krato’s with his death dealing poi blades , although it is just as enjoyable.
As you progress through the game you’ll also unlock three additional forms for your scythe. A whip which acts in a similar manner to the combat cross from Lords of Shadow, a pair of daggers, and a ruddy great hammer.
Each weapon needs to be successfully employed to overcome the games numerous, although relatively generic, baddies, including the usual hired goons, giant insects, scorpions and super natural beasties such as wraiths and giant armoured warriors.
If you find yourself coming unstuck you can always use the games elemental powers which, as you would expect, are fire, ice, earth and wind. They all worked pretty much as you would expect and every last one of them once levelled up are pretty much a death sentence to anything but the toughest creatures in the game.
From what I’ve just written you would be correct in assuming that Marlow Briggs may be a little derivative in the combat stakes, but for some bizarre reason this didn’t impact on my enjoyment of the game at all. If it was just one long string of fights it could have gotten old very quickly. But what saves Marlow from the path of mediocrity is the sheer variety in its setting and numerous, mostly ridiculous, set pieces and boss fights. You’ll ride mine carts, take down helicopters with a very conveniently placed turret, fight through ancient temples and on giant earth movers, battle physical manifestations of Gods and take to the skies in several bullet hell sections reminiscent of 16 bit classic SWIV.
The other thing that saves Marlow Briggs from being a cheap imitator is the fact that, oddly enough, it is completely aware of its status as one. It knows it’s cheesy and it takes every opportunity to make fun of itself through a fantastically silly script. Marlow remarks on how the placement of weapons, hollers stupid one liners when unleashing attacks and magic and is all the more silly and entertaining for it.
But the real hero of the piece is Steve Blum (Spike from Cowboy Bebop) as the Mask of Death, his glib and often times laugh out loud commentary throughout the game is the complete antithesis of Marlow’s mostly straight laced action shtick. Best described as a much surlier version of Crash Bandicoot’s Aku Aku he taunts and takes the piss out of Marlow at every available opportunity; referring to Marlow as Chu Chu, proclaiming him the Mayan god of wasting everybody’s time if you stand still for too long and chiding you if you miss a jump by asking you if you’d seen an enemy down there.
Rounding off the melodramatics is James Hong as the megalomaniacal Long, playing the kind of insane blood thirsty pantomime villain that every big action movie needs, in a very similar manner to his role in Big Trouble in Little China, which Marlow Briggs takes ample inspiration from.
It’s a barmy blend of violence and self deprecating silliness that rolls along at break neck speed lasting about eight hours, it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome by a second and never gives you time enough to get bored either proving the old adage that something doesn’t need to be original to be entertaining. As such I would definitely recommend giving Marlow Briggs a spin if you fancy a break from GTA V.