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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: Under Siege (PSN)

So as we all know now, the mighty PSN store is back. That in itself is good news, but even better news is we’re greeted with a gem of a new game on the service that satisfies a previously unscratched itch. That game is Under Siege and it marks a fine start to the PSN’s library of RTS games.

This is not going to end well...

Not that this is a game that you will spend hours pouring over battle maps, micromanaging units and building massive armies. Under Siege has been designed around the short and brutal skirmish, in the process streamlining the controls to work well with the PlayStation Dual Shock (and even better with the Move motion controller), and keeping the strategy down to a minimum.

It’s accessible, but it still feels like you have a great deal of control over your units. They gain levels in an RPG manner, and different units have different special abilities. The key to success in this game is recruiting a force of complementary units, so that their individual skills synergise and support one another.

The most addictive part of management comes at the start of each level. In this 'set up' phase, you’re provided with a number of spaces on the map that you can put down units. What units you put down is largely up to you and how large the warchest that you’re carrying around is. Units carry on from battle to battle, and losses are permanent, but provided you retain at least one soldier from a unit at the end of the battle, it’s possible to reinforce that unit back to full strength before the next battle.

It’s an addictive system because it ensures you look after your veteran units – lose one, and later battles in the campaign start to become very difficult with all that experience down the toilet. On the harder difficulty levels successfully managing your army and keeping everyone alive is absolutely critical.

This isn't exactly a game of swarms, but that does mean it's more manageable

Whilst the story of Under Siege is naff, it’s thankfully kept to brief snippets. What’s more impressive is the sheer amount of content you get in this game – five chapters of a campaign, a reasonably robust online setup (though at time of press there had been no opportunity to play online), and there’s a surprisingly deep map creation mode for the LittleBigPlanetophiles to make their own little scenarios. I say scenario, because this mode includes the ability to direct cut scenes. It’s more than enough to compensate for the weak in-game story; just write your own instead.

It’s a pretty game too, although the screen can get a bit busy at times on smaller TVs to spot hidden treasures or the occasional unit. Character models are well animated, the environment is nicely detailed, and the game flows at a reasonable pace. It’s a bit slower than a PC RTS to be sure but it’s a notch or two faster than the likes of RUSE. Much faster and the controls would become unmanageable for larger skirmishes.

Wouldn't it have been better to stand on top of the cliffs and shoot arrows down?

There is some fine tuning that the game could have used, however. Difficulty is spotty at best – even on the easiest levels it’s all too easy to accidentally wander into a massive enemy swarm because the fog of war is, frankly, too close to your units. And although the best effort has been done to get the controls down, it’ll never manage to be as intuitive as mouse and keyboard for the strategy genre.

But it’s an impressive effort nonetheless, and a warm welcome back for the PSN. Given that everyone gets free PlayStation Plus subscriptions, take advantage of the fact this game is heavily discounted; it’s well worth the budget asking price.

Review: Under Siege (PSN)
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