The Baconing is the third DeathSpank game. I was tempted to end the review with that sentence, as it really contains all the information many would need to make an informed decision about it. It can be either a wholehearted recommendation or a vitriolic condemnation of the game, depending on who's listening.
For those unfamiliar with the series, however, perhaps a deeper analysis is worthwhile. In that case...
The Baconing (Xbox Live Arcade [Reviewed], PlayStation Network, PC, Mac)
Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: Valcon Games
Released: August 31, 2011
MSRP: $14.99, 1200 MS Points
The main conceit behind the DeathSpank series is that it marries Diablo-style loot-grabbing action RPG gameplay with a story that takes itself far less seriously. DeathSpank first debuted during the summer of 2010. The sequel, Thongs of Virtue, was released only two months later. Now, nearly a year later, Hothead continues the story of titular hero DeathSpank in The Baconing.
While it seems odd that the title is simply The Baconing, it is at least tangentially relevant to the story. DeathSpank attempted to simultaneously wear the six Thongs of Virtue that were collected in the previous journey, which created an evil DeathSpank doppelganger.
Naturally, the thongs would have to be destroyed, but the only things powerful enough to destroy a Thong of Virtue is a legendary Bacon Fire. Even then, the thongs are so powerful that one will extinguish a Bacon Fire, causing DeathSpank to find a Bacon Fire for each of the six thongs.
Although the details are comical and irreverent, it is still a pretty standard RPG setup. Though players won't be searching for the six legendary crystals to seal the ultimate evil, it's mechanically indistinguishable; DeathSpank must visit six distinct areas and surmount some sort of challenge (typically in the form of a boss fight) to gain access to the area's Bacon Fire.
Fortunately, the different environments themselves are varied enough to maintain interest. While the prologue has DeathSpank in a generically futuristic setting, his journey takes him to the inside of a computer, a theme park gone wrong, a seedy casino, and other seemingly disjointed but somehow cohesive locales.
The visual style is unique, with pop-up books being the popularly cited influence. Many of the environmental elements are entirely flat, though they exist in a fully rendered 3D world. DeathSpank himself is a polygonal model, and throughout the journey his appearance will change as he equips new weapons and armor.
As far as weapons and armor, there are plenty of different pieces of equipment to discover, though it's a fairly mindless affair. All melee weapons handle the same, so only the damage stat and element need be considered when choosing what to equip. One of the particularly smart systems implemented in the DeathSpank series is the grinder, which allows the player to instantly turn unwanted equipment into money, without having to return to a town, or even send a pet, a la Torchlight.
Speaking of equipment, a lot of DeathSpank's charm can be found in the flavor text for weapons, armor, consumables, and other items. One small line was written for every obtainable item in the game, and some are worth a smirk or a chuckle.
Combat in The Baconing appears shallow initially, but as the game progresses it becomes clear that simply running into a group of enemies and mashing buttons is a great way to take a quick trip to the last checkpoint. In order to be successful, a bit more finesse is required, with properly timed shielding and projectile reflection. Even so, fighting isn't particularly satisfying or varied; despite a host of different enemy types, most battles play out the same as the previous.
Some weapons (and some enemy attacks) have an element associated with them, but it's rarely clear why certain enemies are susceptible or resistant to certain elements. By the time the on-screen prompts let the player know that his attack is ineffective, it's easier to just hit with a non-element weapon than to open up the menu and switch to a different element. While it's not a huge complaint, it does take away from having possible strategy involved.
Cooperative play is still a bit disappointing, with no online play, and more egregiously, no transfer of stats, items, or experience to a friend's game. The second player now has four different characters to choose from, but it is still the same unrewarding tagalong experience that was present since the original DeathSpank.
For those who need to consider the cost-to-time ratio, The Baconing fares pretty well. For the now-standard $15 price, the game offers around eight to ten hours of gameplay. However, since most of the gameplay involves either average combat or walking between quests, the big determining factor for a potential buyer is how much he enjoys smacking things with sticks and then picking up dropped items. The sense of humor adds a nice touch to a typically stonefaced genre, but it won't be the element that compels players to play through the game.
So, to bring it all back to where we began, you probably already know if you want The Baconing. It's the same DeathSpank gameplay with the same DeathSpank flavor in some new DeathSpank environments. Those who relished the first two games will likely find the same enjoyment in The Baconing, but those who grew bored of DeathSpank last year won't find anything different enough in this entry to justify it. Those with no preconceived notions about the series would do well to try out the demo and extrapolate that same experience to several more hours.