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Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Review: Crimson Spires (PC)


Review by Matt C. 

Bataille, Missouri is a small mining town full of big secrets. Erika Wright is an FBI agent from the city, just passing through Bataille to assist in the capture of an accused serial killer, when her whole life changes forever. A bunch of enormous spires, each adorned with a glowing red cross, suddenly emerge from the ground, surrounding Bataille and instantly killing anyone who tries to pass them.

Six months later, Erika is Bataille's sheriff. She's the only law enforcement professional left, after the town's entire police force was killed trying to blow up one of the deadly spires. No one gets in or out of Bataille, and a weekly train—the source of which nobody knows—is the town's only source of food, clothes, and other goods. Erika's life now mostly revolves around breaking up bar fights, patrolling the town's perimeter to see if there are any new corpses left behind by would-be escapees, and minding August, an alleged serial killer—though he claims he's innocent—who's now a permanent resident in the City Hall's only jail cell.

When she's asked to investigate the disappearance of two Bataille teenagers, Erika initially fears the worst. But a quick perimeter check finds no fresh bodies, sending Erika on an investigation that will slowly unravel at least some of Bataille's many secrets, involving vampires, preppers, cults, and all the prejudices of a small town that has little tolerance for anyone who's different. 


This premise sets Crimson Spires up for a gripping supernatural mystery that'll keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Through its many twists and turns, this visual novel is rarely predictable and frequently shocking, with a layer of human (and vampire) drama to tie it all together. It's a game that, deliberately, always lets some questions linger, using those to weave a fascinating web of competing conspiracies and enigmas that have no clear-cut answers.

It's also a tale of romance. Through her investigation, Erika becomes closely acquainted with many of Bataille's locals, but four in particular: August, the aforementioned killer who insists on his innocence; Julian, one of the enigmatic members of the Bataille family who runs the town from the shadows; Liam, Julian's younger, friendlier brother; and Maddy, a young woman who's trying to turn her life around, and finds an opportunity as Erika's assistant/deputy sheriff (depending on who you ask).

Depending on your choices throughout the game, you'll grow intimately acquainted with one of these people. Steamy romance and grisly mysteries go hand in hand when vampires are involved, and that's something that sits at the heart of Crimson Spires. It's both eerie and sexy, and these are two sides of the same coin. It's the same tradition that's been a part of vampire fiction since at least the days of Bram Stoker, and Crimson Spires doesn't miss a chance to draw that into a compelling romantic mystery.


Much of the appeal comes from the characters themselves. The four love interests in Crimson Spires are deep, flawed, intriguing characters who are fascinating to get to know, and between them, they explore a breadth of the many complicated facets of being human. August is witty and disarmingly charming, who always has a unique philosophical perspective to bring to any situation. But he's also arrogant, and views himself as being far more intelligent than everyone around him, and there's still the question of whether or not he's guilty of the crimes he's accused of—though that only adds to the enchanting air of mystery around him. Julian is cold and distant, and can seem stuck-up, but he's also someone that, despite his secretive nature, seems to genuinely want what's best for the people of Bataille. Julian's aloof nature is a stark contrast to his energetic, happy-go-lucky younger brother, but Liam also has his dark side in a fierce temper and a tendency to hide things from people in a misguided attempt to protect them. Maddy is a cheerful if clumsy sort driven by a desire to help people, but she also carries a lot of the scars that come from growing up gay in a small, conservative town.

And then there's Erika herself, fierce and strong-willed, with a firm sense of justice and a duty to the people she's been charged with serving. She's sharp and always ready to look beyond the obvious, too-convenient answers to find the truth at the heart of the matter, even if that means riling up the feathers of people who don't take kindly to her poking around and have the power to retaliate with force. But despite all this, Erika still has her own doubts about her ability and her place in life. She throws all of herself into her work, in part because it's the only way she knows how to be, and that can be a lonely life.

When these personalities come together—be it as investigation partners, in romance, or in the inevitable clashes that come between folks—Crimson Spires delivers some tense, dramatic moments. It's hard not to grow attached to them, to empathise with each character's troubles, and to want what's best for them. The artwork helps there, too; the detailed comic-style portraits cover a full spectrum of emotion, with the CGs tied to key moments being particularly evocative. 


Crimson Spires also has some light adventure game elements, occasionally giving you a chance to freely explore crime scenes and search for clues. These are, I think, the weakest parts of the game; they're not really deep or involved enough to bring anything to the table that the writing doesn't already do much better. They're brief and infrequent enough to be a minor distraction at best, but I can't help but think this story would have been better told as a pure visual novel.

But it's still a captivating story. Crimson Spires has a web of mysteries that's fascinating to unravel, with a complicated cast that brings drama and humanity to every scene. The love interests are sexy, charming, tragic, and intimidating—traits that all come together to make those romantic moments all the more enticing.



- Matt C.
Contributor

The critic was provided a copy of this game from the publisher.

Review: Crimson Spires (PC)
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