Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: Confrontation (PC)

Tabletop strategy games being transformed into the virtual world have had a checkered history. When done well, these are fun and fantastic games - Shadows of the Horned Rat for Warhammer and Baldur’s Gate for Dungeons & Dragons springs to mind, but they are vanishingly rare whilst less faithful adaptations (most recent Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer games) do little more than tarnish reputations.

I bring this point up as another excellent miniatures game (though one that sadly went bankrupt) makes the transition to the virtual world in Confrontation. A richly decorated and detailed world, Confrontation is the tale of four warring factions pitted against each other in an apocalyptic climate through the fantasy world of Aarklash.

Essentially the player takes control of an elite group from one of those factions – known as the Griffin squad – and attempts to win the war that will ultimately bring peace into the ravaged world. This noble ambition of underdogs set against the problems off the world is a tried and true format, and on the whole, sounds greatly appealing. It’s a flawed execution however.

One of the biggest challenges that faced was that of fidelity – could the game capture the spirit of the Confrontation world? With a tip of the hat towards the developers who have managed to create an immersive, if convoluted story, I would suggest that they have perhaps attempted to appeal to hardcore fans too greatly. Whilst those who have experienced Aarklash in great detail previously will be more than happy with the generous storyline served in their direction, new players will not feel so welcomed as they struggle to find themselves involved in the game with any real purpose, as the game is surprisingly unable to answer in any great depth the most basic of RPG questions: Who they are fighting, and why they are fighting them. It is a shame, for a detailed and rich storyline is available for those who can actually persevere and perhaps use some Google searches.

The game itself plays out as a mix of Fire Emblem (with units being individually named characters) with real time elements consistent with some beloved older games such as Baldur’s gate/Diablo II as well as current MMRPGS like WoW. In other words, the game developers have played it safe in designing a game along a tried and true method – squad based tactical RPG. Your group will consist of tanks, healers and a ranged units. Whilst in game mechanics such as a pause feature for use at any time mean that managing these different units is strategically possible by oneself (if time consuming), the game is definitely slanted towards a multiplayer community that sadly will never come.

Thankfully, redeeming features involve the fact each character in the group can be individually tailored through the levelling system, and loot is a big part of this game. It is by no means extensive but intelligent usage of boosts will provide a tangible effect on the rather well developed difficulty settings. Most good strategists will be provided with a challenge from this game, though the AI is decent if unspectacular.

Unfortunately the game on a whole feels like it has stepped backwards in time, rather than pushing the envelope when it comes to the online experience. Due to the rather linear storyline, the player is often left scratching their head as they wonder why the developers haven’t paid more attention into making it a co-op experience and putting some energy into basic things we modern gamers expect such as side-questing. As a result, Confrontation fails to provide any incentive to replay it.

The graphics and sound effects, whilst technically well produced are rather outdated. Movement is effective with a sensitive response to use of arrow keys, as well as responsive rotatable camera. Shortcut keys are logical and pausing to plan your next move is a simple process. All in all, handling of the characters is nice and simple. It’s also easy enough on the hardware that less up-to-date machines should be able to run it. Music is standard fantasy fare without being spectacular, and voice acting is somewhat surprisingly competent.

All in all, Confrontation tends to fall in the 'disappointing' category. It had a great deal of potential – especially in the sense that the game it is based on is so great and the world is so complex and engaging – but ultimately falls short due to the one dimensional way players have to interact with the linear storyline. Ultimately there are a few redeeming factors that marks this as a game for the hardcore fans of the tabletop series, but a new player might feel the need to search elsewhere for their fantasy wargaming.

- Owen S





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