Good god is the brawler genre ever coming back in a big bad way, the dam cracked with Castle Crashers and now we have a deluge of quality RPG/brawler hybrids an 8-year-old me would have killed to have in arcades. Today’s button mashing masterpiece is Charlie Murder which comes straight from the folks over at SKA Studios who were behind the dark and insanely metal Dishwasher series. This is a title that has been floating around in development for a couple of years now and every time I saw it I kept saying to myself “Man, I seriously hope that continues to seem like an awesome idea after it’s released” and while it didn’t come out of the oven without a few flaws it still made me raise the horns up defiantly to the sky, so I’d call that a win.
The premise here is that you are the members of the band “Charlie Murder” an incredibly popular Metal/Punk band and the game starts with you in hell because your rivals, a Death Metal band that’s doing a bit more than just posing, has killed you and loosed a zombie apocalypse on the world. You must now rise up, chase their asses down, and murder them with brutal Rock justice. Beyond that the story is quite vague but I think that works, they leave a lot up to your imagination when it comes to the back story and while they make a lot of heavy allusions with some strong purely visual story telling, the ultimate truth of the matter seems to be left up to your imagination. They also do some fantastic stuff with cut-away segments as well such as ghost laden flashbacks and what I consider to be one of the most frightening video game drug trip sequences ever. Most interesting is the fact that the story both works well for people playing the game solo (especially if you play as the main character, Charlie Murder himself) as well as for those playing with the whole band as the themes translate well to both introspection and discussion, sadly though the gameplay is not nearly as flexible.
When it comes to gameplay philosophy this feels like the opposite of Dragon’s Crown, that focused on enriching the single player experience whereas this game feels all about crafting a perfect multiplayer experience; pity I played through it alone then. Everything in the game seems made to complement other player’s skills; stun-locking foes with Charlie’s screams so that a band mate can follow-up, the ability to grab and throw pretty much everything, and bosses that require a lot of punishment to stun but mainly focus on a single target. That’s not to say the game is impossible or not enjoyable when playing solo, it’s just harder and not as much fun as it should be. You’ll also notice that without other players to bounce abilities off of, the combat gets pretty stale pretty damn quick. While the standard hand-to-hand melee feels okay, the weapon combat is one note at best and the game does want you to do a lot of it. Overall just as a brawler, Charlie Murder doesn’t feel all that fun, thankfully though the RPG aspect of the game is bang on and is supremely rewarding, even on single player.
Basically this game realized what Dragon’s Crown forgot in this category, Loot is king and the player wants it right god damn now. The amount of loot that drops in this game, the variety of effects it can have, and the sheer degree of different visual styles it can take were simply beyond expectation. This same idea goes through to the abilities and magic; a good chunk of passive perks to unlock will keep you climbing levels and a strong set of magic spells (unlocked through tattoos awesomely enough) will make you want to keep punching so you can pop them off and watch the show. Best part is that the gameplay is actually fairly different between the various characters as each represents a different RPG class and has associated spells and perks. Charlie for example is a Berserker and as such he gets a bunch of yelling based buffs and spells and the ability to dual wield. It was a great idea to translate those traditional RPG roles over to a Metal band and it really helps give everyone an idea as to how they should they be fighting. Also worth mentioning is that there is a ton of variety in the gameplay; between classic brawling, gunning down witches will riding on a broomstick, and Guitar Hero-ing your way through some of Charlie Murder’s all time hits (one of which any devotee of the indie scene will clap their hands in glee at) you’ll always have something new coming up to enjoy.
The thing that ties everything together though is the presentation which is very much in the SKA studios style and very similar to the Dishwasher, it has that rough dream like quality that fits the subject matter perfectly. The look feels like what would happen if you animated the sketches on the outside of the notebook any metal fan had back in high school and that kind of darkly anarchic and rebellious feel comes across perfectly. Add on to that some great Metal meets Punk tunes and lots of intelligible screaming to underline everything and you have a game that feels like an awesome nightmare you almost don’t want to wake up from.
I think the overall promise of Charlie Murder was fulfilled; as I expected it was a bad ass Metal adventure with some really well done RPG elements. While sadly some of the basic brawler fundamentals felt a little on the boring side, especially if you’re playing solo, the overall experience is a strong one and anyone who still unironically wears a jean vest will enjoy the absolute living fuck out of this game. In the end I’m giving Charlie Murder a 3 out of 5 stars, I absolutely loved the atmosphere and the RPG stuff was right where I wanted it but the multiplayer focus and lack luster brawler fundamentals definitely put a damper on the experience. That said if you can get a few buddies together I can think of few experiences more awesome then getting drunk and spending a night headbanging your way through everything Charlie Murder has to offer.