Developer / Publisher – Carbon Studio
Price – US $14.99 / CAN $18.99 / EU €14.99 / UK £12.99
Release Date – May 25th, 2023
Input – 2 x Touch Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing
Store Links – Meta
Reviewed on – Quest 2
Crimen: Mercenary Tales is a lighthearted arcade slasher adventure game from the developer that made the Wizard series and Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Tempestfall. This swashbuckling pirate game made exclusively for VR comes to Quest 2 and Pico headsets shortly and we have the complete review to see if it’s worth spending your hard-earned treasure on.
Now coming into Crimen, I can’t say I had the highest expectations, for while I really enjoyed both the Wizard titles on other platforms, I found the graphic downgrade for the Quest versions very disheartening. Further adding to my lower expectations was my playthrough of Warhammer Age of Sigmar, which left me bored and severely underwhelmed. Enter Crimen: Mercenary Tales, the next title from Carbon studios, a game that looks to have borrowed heavily from the previously mentioned games, but with a decidedly lighter tone. Things kick off after a brief tutorial and you are left to your own devices in the village pub. Here you will meet a variety of cookie-cutter mercenary types, each with a story to tell. Now I think these characters are supposed to be humorous, but they really aren’t and instead just come off as pretty generic and unimaginative. A quick high five and you are thrown into each merc’s story, getting to live the tale being told. Each of these mini adventures last about 30-45 minutes and take place in a variety of 17th century locations ranging from castles and ancient temples to village streets and forgotten shipwrecks.
The gameplay across all 8 of the game’s mini adventures is much the same, short of a few unique ideas thrown in here and there to mix things up. As such, the bulk of the gameplay here revolves around the game’s melee combat system, which, if you played Carbon Studios’ Warhammer title, you will find very familiar. Similar to Warhammer, enemies will approach one at a time or in numbers, but always towards you. Enemies are armed with a single handed sword same as you and often approach with their guard up to block an outright attack. The idea here is that you must stand your ground, anticipate their attack based on their move set and stance and block accordingly either with a vertical or horizontal parry. This opens them up to attack, freeing you up to flail away. Initially I kind of enjoyed this system, just as did in Warhammer, as it does require a bit of strategy to anticipate and time your parries. This becomes especially true when the game begins to throw enemies at you in numbers, as these minions don’t wait their turn patiently like the old Assassins Creed games and instead will all attack you within very short intervals, and sometimes all at once. Unfortunately the system is filled with flaws and exploits, most notable of which is that your enemies are complete morons and simply go through their attack and guarding animations while essentially oblivious to what you are doing or their minion buddies are up to. As such, enemies can often feel like they are simply coming at you in waves, resulting in some real waggle fests. Add to this the fact that you can sweep attack their lower body which is always unguarded, and dispatching foes can at times feel like make work.
Enemy variety within a single mission and throughout different missions does attempt to keep combat feeling fresh; different enemies have different attack animations. Unfortunately with the exception of a few heavy and some ranged enemy types, almost every enemy type requires you to go through the whole guard, parry and counter attack move set. Mixing up the combat slightly is inclusion of an almost power up system, as random enemies will drop weapons upon death that you can pick up. These weapons can include a bigger single handed melee weapon or something ranged like a pistol or bow and arrow, but their use is limited and often spent after only a few uses, once again leaving you with only your single sword. Now listen, I’m not saying the combat here completely sucks, but it does often feel like a super slasher beat ’em up arcade game from the 90’s. As such, it does make for some bloody, often brainless fun, but I found it wore thin quickly with me.
Thankfully, these shorter missions don’t often overstay their welcome, and combat is broken up by a slew of climbing sections and the odd mini boss or puzzle section. Climbing here was surprisingly meh for me, as I actually found it to have a bit of jank to it that sometimes made climbing a bit of a pain. And surprisingly, because Carbon studios have had climbing sections just like these in all of their games, but the other games did it better. As for the puzzles, these aren’t brain busters and shouldn’t stump you for too long, often feeling like they were made for a younger audience to grasp. Now when taken as a whole, Crimen: Mercenary Tales plays fine. It wants to be a fun thrilling adventure, but it all too often just feels like it’s going through the VR gameplay basics we have done countless times before. It lacks any upgrade system, weapon variety or really any depth to make it very interesting or add any replay value.
Helping things out slightly though are the visuals, as Carbon Studios has wisely chosen to go with a more comic book style of art, which is consequently more Quest friendly as well. Previous Carbon Studio games were always designed for PC first and then scaled down to run on the Quest, and the results were games that came off as mere lifeless shadows of their former glory. And while I’m not thrilled to see Crimen only on mobile headsets, the graphical style certainly makes sense, and being developed for a mobile headset first has ensured much of the perceived lighting in the game is baked in. Level variety is a huge plus for Crimen, taking place over 8 very different environments, each with their own visual style enemy sets and a nice use of verticality in their layout. These colorful comic book styled levels pop in the headset despite not being overly detailed and deliver some decent draw distance with little pop in. Some detail drop off can be seen on the ground only about 20 ft out, but this is commonplace for a Quest game pulling off larger environments like this. All in all I was pretty impressed with Crimen visually, as it knows it’s a Quest game and has been designed to work well within those confines.
As for the sound side of things, the music sound effects and voicework all come together to reinforce the comic stylings that the visuals went for. The Slavic folk inspired musical score perfectly suits the games light hearted adventure stylings and the voicework, while not as humorous as I think was intended, is fine for setting the tone of the games 8 mini stories. The rest of the sound mix is pretty much what you would expect from a comic book adventure. Think Saturday morning cartoons and I think you’ll get the gist.
This brings me to my final thoughts and review score. Crimen: Mercenary Tales is an ok game. That obviously isn’t a very favorable statement for a game, but that’s honestly how I felt coming away from the game. Its core gameplay is that of an arcade slasher beat ’em up and is fun in small doses, but it does wear thin quickly. The game’s other gameplay mechanics often feel more like filler than anything very meaningful and simply serve to break up the monotony of combat. Visually and audio-wise this is a comic book inspired adventure through and through and Cremin is competent in these areas, but still remains pretty generic and paint-by-numbers. Frankly,the game struggles to find its own identity.
There is definitely some fun to be had here, but it’s short lived. Those looking for something light and simple may get more out of this, as might kids, but those looking for a deep gaming experience, look elsewhere.
Carbon Studio provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!