Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders
Exactly eight minutes ago, a developer somewhere in the world woke up with a cold sweat running down their back. “Wait a minute”, they said, “Cheesy guitar music doesn’t sound great in games?!?”
Across the room, an old bearded gentleman was seated on a stool, reading Edge magazine. “Why, of course not. Didn’t you realise?” Startled by this inexplicable figure, the developer didn’t hasten to reply. “Oh, and while you’re at it, please don’t include airships in games for no apparent reason”, he continued, “And what the hell were you thinking when you decided to introduce the story through text?”
“Gggrrgh”, the developer moaned, clutching his forehead. As he gradually collapsed back down into bed, he pondered, “This doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
Oh right, you’re here now. I don’t know who or what that was, but strange things have been happening around here recently. For instance, the other day we got a review copy of a game developed in Korea and it didn’t seem to make much of an impression. We played it for a few hours and then sat back to discuss it, but all we could muster were blank faces, indifference and boredom. Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders looked okay to begin with, well expect for that cringe-worthy music, but it turned out to be both dismal and admirable at the same time. Confused? We certainly were.
You probably don’t care much about the plot, but we’ll skip over quickly anyway. The game is set the war torn continent of Bersia, where no place name is left without a dramatic and historical tone. The Dark Legion and the Human Alliance are squaring off again and it’s your job to pick a side and fight. With orcs (they do get about a bit, don’t they?), elves, an Alter of Destruction, immortal power, legends and great wars, you’ll be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu.
Essentially, Crusaders is a hack and slash game with a big emphasis on tactics and strategy. A world map lets you move around the game world, which then zooms into a battlefield once you contact an enemy. It’s a little bit like the Total War games, only not as convincing or streamlined. Down on the ground, we control a hero via a third person viewpoint, who also has a troop of soldiers around him. Moving a cursor around the battlefield, we can direct them towards wherever they’re needed.
When your troops come into contact with the enemy, you’re set free and allowed to hack and slash your way through the enemy forces. The engagements tend to turn into frantic button bashing affairs and finish when the enemy commander is slain. The controls here are kept simple, but you can’t help but feel that it’s just not as satisfying as something like Dynasty Warriors.
Where the game really brings the tactical element into its own is when it gives you several units to manage. Switching between them with the controller’s triggers, you can direct them about individually, or alternatively use a mini-map to plan your attack more tactically. It’s this commanding role that you find yourself in which gives Crusaders its depth, along with a few assorted RPG elements that have been thrown in for good measure.
The game’s tactical flavour gives it a unique touch, making its hack and slash mechanics more meaningful than similar games. Being able to fight whilst commanding an army has a big draw and it’s a superb idea, but where Crusaders trips up is not in the core concept, but in its implementation. It’s clear that it while it has a lot going for it, it doesn’t possess the characteristics which separate the above-average from the great.
The first major obstacle that you’ll have to overcome is the game’s camera, which sticks to a reasonably level viewpoint. When you’re trying to get an overall feel for what’s happening on the battlefield, this can be a real pain and so you have to rely on the minimap. It’s all well and good being able to command a vast army, but doing so without being able to see what’s going on easily is another thing.
Crusaders‘ hack and slash mechanic is also a little troublesome at times. While the amount of people on screen is commendable, it’s far too easy to get lost in the crowd and it’s not always clear who’s who. The actual fighting is a little too simplistic for my liking and when compared with the likes of Dynasty Warriors, it simply doesn’t feel as satisfying or elegant. Animations don’t link together to create a fluid motion in combat and unfortunately it tarnishes the overall experience.
Talking of graphics, the game’s visuals are well developed and show off the Xbox’s power in some areas, but in others it doesn’t prove quite so good. Crusaders‘ muddy tones work well, but its cutscenes which tell the story don’t flow well and although they look fairly nice, there’s no sense of proper direction. While the graphics largely survive a cross-examination, the sound certainly doesn’t. The voice acting is below-par and verging on the humourous, whilst the music is simply embarrassing. Cheesy guitar tunes do not work with medieval-themed games, trust me.
The A.I. is a little primitive and it takes a long time to get going, but Crusaders‘ main problem is its lack of soul. For a game about epic battles and character relationships, it’s surprising to see how little spirit it has to offer. There’s little to draw you in, to relate to or to pour your emotions out over. It must be one of the most difficult things for games to engineer, but Crusaders does alarmingly poorly when it comes to connecting with the player and satisfying their gaming needs.
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders reminds me of the original N-Gage. It has a severe identity crisis, not knowing whether it’s in medieval Europe, or somewhere quite different where airships, rock music and dodgy accents make perfect sense. It doesn’t know whether it’s a hack and slash game or a tactical masterclass, and although it attempts to combine these, it doesn’t do so convincingly. The game tries its luck at many things, but fails to master any of them. Worst of all, it neglects its duty to convey emotion to the player, leaving them with little but blank, bored faces and an indifferent mind. It might satisfy fans of whatever odd genre this falls into for a while with its included online gameplay, but for the rest of us it’s a definite case of try before you buy. After all, that’s what the old bearded gentleman would suggest.
Six out of ten