The Baconing

The frying game.

Version tested PlayStation 3

Although it's Ron Gilbert's adventure game legacy that you see in the dialogue trees and the fetch quests, and the tiniest, most primitive shard of Diablo's design shines through in the looting, I like to think that the secret influence on DeathSpank has always been Sergio Aragones.

The Spanish cartoonist has a real legacy at places like Mad Magazine, where he's helped to forge a rich bloodline of brave and idiotic heroes. Like DeathSpank, they have long, bendy legs and barrel bodies, and their faces are contorted with moronic concentration. Like DeathSpank, they spend a lot of time getting things wrong in the name of doing things right.

Mad Magazine's snarky strain of anarchy flows right through the DeathSpank games, in fact, whether the hero's collecting magical underpants or piecing together a dangerously hot Taco to placate a stubborn villager. In The Baconing, the latest instalment, he's burning the fabled Thongs of Virtue one by one in order to defeat a dangerous AntiSpank he accidentally brought to life.

Towards the end of the adventure, our foolish hero takes a trip through heaven and hell only to discover that they're drawn, with lovely comic clarity, as two competing retirement homes. The first's a balmy, if snobbish, country club where Vulcan fixes you some new golfing irons and Zeus hobbles about on a Zimmer frame built from lightning bolts; the second's a dismal trailer trash affair where brutish scarlet-skinned devils rush around clad in orderlies' whites. Aragones and co. would be proud.

It's witty stuff, and the script can't wait to shoot off on strange tangents, but the game's mechanics remain far more traditional. The DeathSpank adventures are achingly conservative action RPGs at heart, and even when the storyline and setting change -The Baconing ditches straight fantasy for a sci-fi feel that involves parodies of everything from Tron to the Jetsons - there's a growing sense of the same-old-same-old creeping in.

That's not such bad news, of course, because DeathSpank always offers tenaciously acceptable content. In The Baconing, the loot still comes thick and fast, combat remains plentiful - although it's still lacking in a genuine sense of connection between weapon and baddie, allowing it to slip into mindless button-bashing when the crowds start to swarm in - and if you set your inventory to automatically equip the best gear, you'll see DeathSpank move through some neat armour sets on his adventure. Gundam models feature early on, and there are also gangster threads, rotting submariner clobber, and the robes and sandals of Greek gods to enjoy towards the end.

Despite the nice themes, though, the game can be strangely uninventive. Levelling up sees you picking between the driest of imaginable perks - do you want to reflect more damage, run faster, or power-up a co-op partner, for example? - while weapons may resemble everything from chainsaws to ice picks, but they quickly fall into melee and ranged categories that they, in truth, bring little flair to.

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