Always wanted to command an army of angry, tiny men as they march off to war, but never quite figured out how to apply for a North Korean passport? Ever played a zombie-infestation game and thought, ‘man, this game would rock so much harder with giant robots and frog men’? Ever figured that a game isn’t worth playing unless it was insanely difficult? If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the above questions then PS3 exclusive RTS, Under Siege might just be for you.
(Disclaimer: to avoid player disappointment I am contractually obligated to state that the tiny men in Under Siege are NOT North Korean in origin, but they are angry and tiny enough to stand in as suitable replacements.)
Under Siege is the very first offering from Portuguese developer Seed Studios, and in all honesty they’ve done a rather good job. An immediate comparison can be made to the Warcraft franchise, though Under Siege differs by using squad based combat. The player fights with small units of warriors that can be upgraded with experience points and bolstered should members be killed in action. These upgrades may only be made in a pre-battle stage and the player is forced to play through the level with whatever units he chose at the start, with no in battle resource management to speak of.
The games story consists of a civil war between two human factions, the oppressive rule of the Citadel and the downtrodden but skilful Resistance. Along the way a horde of robot-controlled zombies show up and wreck everything for everyone, including several other races around the world. Chapters are broken down into batches often very small, objective based levels – you know the drill – “Get there, pick that up, kill these guys, watch that cut scene, move to next stage, rinse and repeat.” It might sound a little dull but it really is a formula that works. The difficulty level on the other hand, even on the lowest rating, is nothing short of brutal.
Like those ill-advised celebrity workout DVD’s, the levels in Under Siege are short, littered with bland dialogue and almost impossible to finish. Its learning curve is equally as painful, with the nicey-nicey intro levels giving way to relentless waves of murderous zombies by Chapter 2. Most players would agree that they want games to be a challenge, but Under Siege becomes rather frustrating with its level of difficulty, especially seeing as there are no waypoints and you can’t skip through the cutscenes should you have to restart.
One of Under Siege’s most noticeable assets is its control system. Enjoyment of RTS games on consoles is often limited by their clunky and restrictive controls, but Seed Studios have done a fantastic job in creating a simple and smooth system that utilises what the Dual Shock controller can offer. Players can create up to four shortcuts on the D-Pad that allow quick access to their most utilised units and a simple combination of buttons activates unit skills and abilities. Double tapping a shortcut moves the camera directly to the assigned unit to help the player navigate the battlefield and there’s even the ability to select the nearest unit in any given direction – helpful when you know where the action’s going down, but not who you have stationed nearby.
Each unit has a skill or ability that can be activated at the click of a button combination and will make your warriors a little more difficult to deal with; Soldiers can taunt enemies into fighting them, allowing your Archers to stay unharrassed, while the Archers can heal all friendly units around them and so on. When a unit levels up sufficiently they learn an additional skill and the key to winning your zombie-laden encounters lies in being able to use all your unit’s skills in harmony. While the skills bring an additional level of layer of complexity to the battles, the selection is a little poor and players might feel a little under-awed by the skills on offer a new unit becomes available.
Speaking of ‘new units’, the choices are few and far between as well, which comes as quite a disappointment. The opening cutscene alludes that the world of Under Siege offers a myriad of variety – frog men, gorilla shaman, zombies and robots! Your brain can’t help but race at the possibilities. Unfortunately though, despite the races being pretty original, there just aren’t enough different units at your disposal and the ones that you get aren’t varied enough in their uses. The problem partly stems from the ‘Rock-Paper-Scissors’ damage system that the game employs, and while it forces the player into some nice tactical decisions, it’s obvious what a limiting effect is has on unit design.
For more imaginative players, Under Siege’s experience reaches much further than its plot line, offering an in depth level editor. As you expect, editors have the option of creating levels using all the scenery and units seen throughout the game and divvying up the map between teams as they see fit. Unlike many editors however, Under Siege offers players the chance to create their own scripted sequences and trigger systems to create more than just multiplayer maps, but single player stories of their own. Seed Studios also made the rather brave decision to allow players to dissect the game’s single player levels and it’s truly a credit to them. It’s rare that a developer completely opens up their work to the paying public and this extra step really does allow players to create levels to the standard other gamers expect. If I were feeling bold, I might say that Under Siege’s editor has the chance to become the Little Big Planet of the Real Time Strategy genre, providing of course that enough people jump on board.
Under Siege really does offer an awful lot to shout about; attractive graphics, decent controls, weird and wonderful races and an editor easily on par with games made for three times as much. Unfortunately though its AI is so hardcore that it even beats itself, with a difficulty level akin to playing Scrabble with Stephen Fry – you hardly stand a chance from the start. Under Siege is definitely worth a go but might be limited to an audience of hardcore RTS fans with plenty of stars on their epaulettes or budding designers who see their names in lights and have enough time to kill to make it happen.