Justice attacks, which are charge-up specials that can unleash huge blows, are a little more dramatic than they used to be, since you can now call in dragon-based air strikes or drill through the ground under your foes. But for the most part you're hacking and slashing with weak visual feedback and little tactile sense that you're growing more powerful as you do so.
Quests, meanwhile, remain the game's true glowing weak spot - and Hothead once again attacks it aggressively for massive damage. There are plenty of signs that the developer's aware of how tedious its endless fetch chains have become and to be fair, there's been a decent attempt at dressing them up in appealing fiction this time around. But whether you're investigating a metahuman murder or trying to become a made man in the Leprechaun Mafia, things still boil down to backtracking between locations, killing, collecting, or killing and collecting.
I suspect that DeathSpank aspires to the heights of the Paper Mario games, where each chapter sees you cast in a breezy new role, pro wrestler one minute, train-bound Sherlock Holmes the next. In reality, though, Hothead's still trapped within the grind. The joy of discovering a new area (The Baconing has pop-up riffs on everything from Vegas to Disneyland's Tomorrowland, the latter complete with a tumorous Mickey Mouse stand-in who just wants to be put out of his misery) is too regularly offset by the unspooling timetables of busywork adventuring that can become so predictable that even the NPCs joke about it.
There have been some nice upgrades elsewhere in The Baconing, mainly in terms of combat. The block move, which could be slightly unforgiving in its mastery, has evolved into a charge-up shield bash which really helps you to create some space for yourself when the battle gets frantic, while enemies are a touch more tactical now, with ranged fighters more likely to stand back and take cover as the melee crowd rushes you. Crossbows can be charged up for super-attacks, which can be devastating if you've got the time to pull them off, and if you fancy local co-op there's now a new character to pick from. His name's Bob from Marketing, and he's your traditional laser-eyed shark. Co-op itself, however, remains a bit of a drop-in, drop-out afterthought.
Nothing sums up the split personality that the DeathSpank games are developing quite as well as The Baconing's finale. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that Hothead's latest screeches to a halt with a drab and uninventive boss battle followed by a genuinely hilarious pitch for the inevitable sequel. Here, in the space of three minutes, you see the entirety of the problem: great comic-strip writing wrapped around so-so mechanics.
The result, as ever, is a fiercely likeable time-waster. But with console download services delivering increasingly brilliant games these days, DeathSpank has yet to make the transition from an entertaining diversion to something that's truly essential.
6 / 10