It starts so well. Production values that crush the boundaries of what's possible in an XBLA game. A big, muscular angry man hacking other muscular angry men into pieces. Huge, screen-filling Cyclops. Witches who turn into Ravens. Which made me think the following: could this be the riotous bit of brainless action sate my digital bloodlust desires? I'm certainly not one to turn my nose up to a bit of shouty meatheaded thudwittery, and Bloodforge was shaping up to be best thing to happen to Celtic lore since Rangers went into administration.
And then came the pain.
The arduous, glacial, mind-numbing pain. The relentless, grinding, hack-and-slash monotony that turns good games bad and bad games unplayable. Within an hour, Bloodforge had turned from a laugh riot into a London riot. You play as Crom, the Celtic god from Conan fame, who's on a mission for vengeance after he's tricked into killing his wife. Sound familiar? That's because Bloodforge is like a wholesale lift of God Of War, with Greeks exchanged for Celts and gameplay exchanged for misery.
Yes, while the opening salvo suggests a pacy adventure with chunky combat, soon all cutscenes, variety and wit are replaced by endless barneys against enemies that take hours to kill and a camera that feels like a bargain bin version of Gears Of War.
The combat itself is grimly repetitive, with the typical light and heavy attacks, a smattering of combos and a dodge that reacts a good half-second after you hit it, and the level design is equally mundane. Essentially, you're fighting through corridors, albeit ones with no roof and the occasional dead end. In your way are an army's worth of enemies, all of which are indistinguishable from Crom in the heat of battle. So you're left struggling to work out where the hell you are as you roll around this blood-soaked ashen world, praying that this next wave of baddies will just bugger off and die so you can plod on to one of the bosses.
Oh yes, the bosses. To avenge his wife's death, Crom is instructed to topple a handful of gods who seem to be happy minding their own business, but who's going to argue when given orders by a woman who's also a crow? These deities range from screen-filling Kratos-botherers to insult-spewing spindly irritants, and they're universally terrible.
Some just rely on obvious hit points and telegraphed attack routines - fair enough - but others are truly horrible, spiteful creatures who force you to break the game just to succeed. Remember back in the nascent years of 3D gaming when you'd exploit a glitch or AI gap to beat an enemy that was otherwise broken? That's a big part of Bloodforge. Circle strafing a boss for 20 minutes while taking potshots with a crossbow does not a good game make.
As the story dwindles even further, Bloodforge ramps up the enemy numbers to compensate, making every few inches another coma-inducing struggle. I spent the whole game dangerously close to zero health, because respawns only award you with a quarter-filled life bar, for reasons only known to the Celtic gods themselves - and they're not talking. Every battle is not only boring, it's also puts you perilously close to having to do it all again. In Dark Souls, this is a searingly tense game mechanic. Here it's just stupid.
The most frustrating thing of all, though, is that Bloodforge could so easily have been better. No one would begrudge the tepid level design and repetitive gameplay if it wasn't so arduous+. If Climax had halved the number of opponents, lowered the difficulty ever so slightly and let you respawn with a full health bar, Bloodforge could have been good throwaway fun.
There's no fun to be had here, though. Bloodforge feels like work; a dreary Tuesday morning filled with meetings and admin, where your boss yells at you, your computer keeps turning itself off and you accidentally kill your wife. Roll on the weekend.
Version Tested: Xbox 360