Marlow Briggs is the interactive version of the cheesy action movies I loved in the early ’90s, like Demolition Man. Things blow up, not because the plot calls for it, but because it sure would be fun to slow down the camera and watch a thing explode. There are guys with flamethrowers, not because they would be useful at an archaeological dig site, but because carrying a bunch of flamethrower fuel means they’ll blow up very nicely. These are the sorts of design choices ZootFly has made, and I love them for it.
The story is stupid in a way that only a video game story can be. Marlow, a superbly muscular firefighter, goes on vacation to visit his archaeologist girlfriend at work. She’s stuck in the rain forest, deciphering codices and avoiding her evil boss, and a visit from Marlow is just the thing to cheer her up. Unfortunately, her evil boss is really, really evil. When Marlow objects to the kidnapping of his girlfriend, he has him killed with a mysterious scythe artifact because, well, I’m not sure why. It’s not really explained. It looks cool, though, and it allows the titular mask of death to attach itself to Marlow and the two of them go on a murderous rampage throughout the combined dig and ore refinement site.
Explosive window dressing aside, Marlow Briggs is God of War in the modern time. Marlow has light and heavy attacks, multiple weapons, four types of elemental magic and plenty of enemies to get bloody. What sets it apart from God of War is everything else. In the first 45 minutes alone, Marlow will die, come back from the dead, use a couple of zip lines, learn fire magic, shoot down more helicopters than some nations have in their entire air force, fight industrial equipment from a mine car, dodge ancient ruins while hanging upside down from another helicopter and learn how to throw unlimited spirit knives from his hands.
Marlow Briggs is definitely on rails; there are no hidden areas, and no reward for straying from the critical path. That doesn’t matter, though, because the critical path is full of action sequences and fun things to do. The animation is stiff, and the transitions between animation sets is sometimes non-existent, but I can only claim those things as faults after the fact. As I was playing? I was grinning like an idiot at just how over-the-top everything was. And Marlow doesn’t overstay his welcome. I clocked in about six hours, and that felt like the perfect amount of time to spend here. The combat never got a chance to feel stale, and the guilty pleasure never became anything else.
Marlow Briggs could have been a bad game. It could have been very bad. But ZootFly and 505 Games embraced what they had: a cheesy action movie that you get to control. Marlow Briggs is a great palate-cleanser after a longer, more involved game. Just make sure you’re reveling in and embracing the fun instead of picking apart a budget game, because when you peel it back and claim that it’s shallow and stupid, you’re not wrong but you are missing the point. Sometimes shallow and stupid is fun, and this is one of those times.
Pros: Always something new to do, ideal length to play over a weekend
Cons: Animations aren’t great, fixed camera is occasionally problematic