The God of War series has a certain polish that Marlow Briggs and The Mask of Death just can’t match, but I love Marlow Briggs, warts and all, for carving its own B-movie identity.
I sing a song of Marlow Briggs, a console game doomed to die/Yet, resurrected on PC as a gem for $4.99.
Marlow Briggs and The Mask of Death is an unabashed God of War ripoff that features button-mashy action, power-enhancing orbs, and combo trees. The only difference between Marlow Briggs and its inspiration is the Mesoamerican setting, evil corporate tycoon hunting for an all-powerful artifact, and the protagonist—a beefy, Terry Crews–like character who’s killed and resurrected by a Mayan death mask that grants him magical revenge powers. It’s video game schlock through and through, featuring a cackling villain, punny banter between Marlow and his death mask, and more explosions per hour than perhaps any other character-action title in video game history. Sounds fun, right?
Yet Marlow Briggs and The Mask of Death currently holds a 5.5 MetaCritic User Score from Xbox 360 users and a 7.1 User Score from PC users. Now, I’m not someone who holds MetaCritic aloft as the ultimate, unwavering video game consensus, but the sharp differences between how Marlow’s perceived on the different platforms is likely tied to how the game’s priced on each. After all, perception sometimes has a greater impact than reality.
The Price of Happiness
On Steam, Marlow Briggs is $4.99; on Xbox, it’s $14.99, a common price for a downloadable console title. But when a game attempts to cross into God of War’s territory, it needs to come correct. As much as I detest the God of War series, I admit that it has a certain polish in terms of presentation that Marlow Briggs just can’t match-gorgeous cut scenes, wild battles that take place on monstrous Titans, a tremendous sense of scale, and a general production that shaped what gamers would come to expect from a AAA character-action title.
Marlow Briggs, on the other hand, has heavily recycled enemies, graphics that dance between ho-hum and pretty good, some stiff animation, and “cut scenes” that are essentially still images that get the pan and zoom/bullet-time treatment—probably to keep the game within its development budget. I can understand why people may have gone into Marlow Briggs excepting a Kratos-like adventure, only to experience buyer’s remorse.
Still, I love Marlow Briggs, warts and all, as I do Ninja Blade, another PC-Xbox 360 game that just qualifies as good. To be fair, that’s probably due to the fact that I bought Marlow Briggs for a mere 99 cents during a Steam sale a few years back. When a game is just a buck, your expectations are near zero. Yet, like a good $5 Canon Films flicks that you’d find in a Best Buy bargain bin, Marlow Brigg’s perceived weak spots give it an endearing charm.
Dead Man Walking
Marlow Briggs, the protagonist, is a firefighter who accompanies his girlfriend, Eva Torres, to a Mayan archeological dig. Her boss, a weasel named Heng Long, needs Eva to decipher ancient codices. When Eva refuses because Long’s company is ravaging the land, Long kidnaps Eva to force her to unlock the path to an ancient mystical power and kills Marlow with a scythe adorned with the Mask of Death. Marlow is resurrected by the Mask of Death as The Sacred Warrior and is given the power to kick ass with magical abilities.
Note that all of the above happens with the game’s first five minutes. Seriously. Time it when you get the chance.
To be honest, the upfront exposition dump works in the game’s favor, as it gives the Zootfly development crew ample room to unleash wild action. Marlow Briggs is relentless in its actioning, delivering huge explosions, the ability to fight gun-toting humans as well as supernatural monstrosities, and the occasional first-person and third-person shooting section. Marlow Briggs has virtually zero downtime, pushing you from one setpiece to another at breakneck speed, with the occasional puzzle to test your wits. There’s plenty of platforming, too, in dark factories and lush jungle environments.
Marlow Briggs’ world could easily become stale, but the game employs cool camera angles and wacky ideas to break up the monotony. For example, there’s a scene early on where the woman who kills Briggs lassos his ankle with a whip. That’s not particularly special in of itself, but she’s riding in a helicopter. As a result, Marlow’s pulled into the sky and the game enters an upside-down mode where you see things from the hero’s point of view. This sequence’s gameplay is simple; you dodge left or right to avoid smashing into trees and mountains. Still, you can’t help but appreciate the fun ideas on display.
The happenings are all done with a wink and a nod from the creative team. Initially, I thought the cheese was unintentional until I heard the villain spout his playful dialogue. At one point, the big bad kindly asks his employees to destroy everything as they clock out for the day in order to slow Marlow’s pursuit. In addition, the Mask of Death continually roasts Marlow throughout the adventure. If you fall into a pit during a platforming section, the game asks you if you spotted enemies down there in the most sarcastic voice possible.
Sometimes, Marlow Biggs has a level of silliness that I don’t believe was intended. For example, you’ll encounter giant scorpions early in your adventure. You can kill them, of course, but if you want to take things to the next level, press the B button on your Xbox controller to make Marlow mount an arachnid and use the monster to fight other giant scorpions. Add somewhat jittery animations to the mix, and Marlow Briggs looks like a Ray Harryhausen joint. Once again, I love it.
Buy Briggs, Baby
Make no mistake about it: Marlow Briggs and The Mask of Death isn’t a great video game when you compare it to its obvious inspiration, God of War. Yet if you adjust your expectations accordingly, this $4.99 Steam game has incredibly fun moments, despite its shortcomings, as the game does exactly as intended: It provides highly enjoyable hack-and-slash action while reveling in the ridiculousness of its premise.
So, if Marlow Briggs goes on sale again and hits that magical 99-cent price point, buy a few copies and gift them to your friends. Just make sure they see the receipt, though.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com on August 23, 2019.