Something mostly missing from the PS3’s extensive catalogue is the good old RTS. Hundreds of action games, driving games and RPGs flesh out the collection leaving little room for the humble strategy game – a void that Seed Studios are hoping to settle into with Under Siege.
Not as deep or as reliant upon micromanagement as, say, Command & Conquer, Under Siege is a fantasy-themed RTS that deals with quick, brutal encounters between tight groups of enemies in small-scale levels – and as such avoids the chin-scratching frustration of many of its genre-peers. Admittedly, it occasionally replaces these moments with a kind of white-hot rage induced by the unexpectedly spiking difficult levels, but that’s neither here nor there.
The story is a short, unexciting affair set in a hugely original (note: it’s not at all original) fantasy land smack bang in the middle of a civil war. Given the Japanese-esque tone of the graphics and dialogue (despite Seed Studios being based in Portugal), it’s no surprise when said civil war is punctuated by the invasion of various monstrous regiments who proceed to kill the hell out of both sides. Unfortunately, the (admittedly very pretty) anime-flavoured, comic book-style cutscenes are far too easy and tempting to skip, meaning you’ll likely miss most of the tacked-on story in favour of diving into the much-more interesting battles.
A mishmash of RPG and RTS, gameplay is more about getting stuck in and putting the enemy down than out-thinking your opponent. Your units will level up with every victory, and providing at least one survives a level you can rebuild the squad between missions by spending your hard-earned gold. There are several unit types available including standard infantry, weak-armoured archers with the ability to heal other units and big fat dudes who lug portable mortar cannons around the battlefield to blow down otherwise-impassable barriers. Although Under Siege doesn’t come with the largest selection of troops, it does keep most encounters balanced in every aspect except numbers. The enemy simply have more, in almost every situation – a trick that occasionally feels cheap in that success comes not from outwitting and outthinking the opponent but often in running and kiting. The lack of any resource management compounds the “more-luck-than-judgement” gameplay, resulting in a trial and error approach to most encounters.
Which isn’t to say the game itself is no fun – in fact, the simple approach to unit tactics means you spend no time building bases and foraging for wood, etc, and all your time twatting baddies with swords and arrows. Also, the sometimes-punishing difficulty makes every victory grimly satisfying. Thankfully the control system is intuitive, uncluttered and easy to get to grips with. The option to use the Move controller is welcome but by no means necessary, despite its competent application.
As I mentioned before, the mostly-static cutscenes are bright and vivid with an anime / steampunk vibe reminiscent of the early Final Fantasy games. The rendered landscapes are colourful and detailed, though outside of random exploration there’s little time to linger and admire the scenery. That said, exploration is often rewarded should you decide to go wandering.
The multiplayer aspect is well-handled, featuring a range of options and game modes. The deathmatches are particular fun – if anything faster and more frantic than the solo mode. Also, if you’re up against a living, thinking human, a single mistake is usually impossible to recover from. The requirement for deeper tactics versus the quicker pace of a multiplayer encounter takes the game to another level, and genuinely adds longevity and excitement.
In short, Under Siege is a fast-paced, good-looking, accessible RTS that falls down only due to its sudden difficulty spikes and unremarkable story. The lack of tactical depth is balanced by brutal combat, the lack of variety offset by colourful graphics and relatively small missions. Perhaps best enjoyed as a multiplayer experience, Under Siege is still a lot of fun on your tod – and if nothing else, it certainly helps to occupy the RTS-shaped hole in the PS3’s catalogue.
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