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Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Phantagram
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 6 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Ask any gamer what they want from a battle scene, and they're likely to mention “The Lord of the Rings” or “Braveheart”. A few recent RTS's have managed to provide battles of this epic scale, yet few action games have managed to pull off the same feat. And, whether we'll admit it or not, everyone has dreams of being Aragorn swinging Anduril into oncoming horde of orcs and trolls rather than guiding the battle from a distance. In Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes, players will have the chance to do just that: command an army of troops into battle while swinging their own sword in the thick of battle. Imagine Dynasty Warriors with the option of commanding your armies, and you're not far off.

As was the case with last year’s KUF: The Crusaders, KUF: Heroes feels like a big time Hollywood production. Camera angles during cut-scenes are very cinematic, and really help to put you into the action. Environments are large and feature a variety of small details that really help to make the game sparkle. This includes big things like castle environments, and even small things like blades of grass. The only noticeable downside is the painfully short view distance. It's asking too much to want to see TOO far ahead of you (this IS a battlefield after all), but the draw distance is pretty short-sighted and makes scouting out the game's massive maps difficult. Character models also have a very unique look that helps to set it apart from other RTS games.

Sound is lackluster, but gets the job done -- barely. The soundtrack doesn’t fit the onscreen action all that well and feels out of place. The music is okay, but feels really out of place when you consider the game's setting. Sound effects are workable, but are usually drowned out by the music. Voiceovers are the low point of the entire package. The performances are dialed in. Of course, the dialogue isn't exactly Shakespeare either, so that might have something to do with it.


Gameplay:

The original Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders combined the tactics and strategies found in RTS's with the white-knuckled action of a typical action game. While it was met with critical acclaim, the game never caught on with mainstream consumers, at least not in North America. (Crusaders was a smash hit in Korea, outselling North American heavy-hitters like Halo 2).

KUF: Heroes follows the same basis as the original. The "point" of the game is that you're not only taking part in massive, Dynasty Warrior styled battles, you're also calling all the shots by directing troop movements and pulling off other tactical feats while on the ground with your troops. The core of the game revolves around your generals and their armies, both of which can be upgraded through a Diablo-esque training tree. Each army is broken up into squads which have certain specializations. You have your archers, knights, pikemen and even a few magic-wielders. Squad-types are determined by the type of leader they're following and will feed off his/her experience. Powering up a ranged general will influence the archers under his command, and so on. Leaders can also learn special attacks, arm their followers with new weapons and even hire officers who can grant additional abilities to the squads their assigned to. Really, the system sounds complicated on paper and is much simpler once you get into the game.

Once you're past the tactical, RTS-like layer, the action part kicks in. Instead of witnessing the action from the vantage point above the action, you'll take control of one (or more, depending on the scenario) of your leaders as they jump into the thick of battle. Battles take place on massive maps and require you to scout around and plan out battles before entering the fray. You'll have to figure out where the best vantage points are, how to best use the terrain for cover or as an advantage in battle and how to best use your army to defeat your enemies.

The multiplayer aspects of KUF: The Crusaders were some of the best parts of the first game. KUF: Heroes expands on those elements by upping the number of players, thus offering larger scale battles, and including co-op games against A.I. controlled enemies. Leaders and squads are just as customizable online as they are off; so the more you play, the stronger your armies will grow. Online battles can either be laddered, which is a basic free-for-all, or limited by experience so younger armies aren't crushed by the older, more experienced ones.


Difficulty:

The RTS element is also where Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes' biggest flaw comes into focuse. If you're one of the many who didn't play last year's The Crusaders, you're likely to have no clue as to what is going on. KUF: Heroes is a game that is made more with the veteran fans in mind rather than catching a new audience and trying to expand its already hardcore fanbase. It's still accessible enough that newcomers can get the idea of what is going on, but not without some significant learning pains.

Game Mechanics:

Controlling troop movements feels simple, but ends up being much deeper (and complicated) as you progress. Squads can be controlled either by flipping through them with the trigger buttons or by using the mini-map. The first method allows for quick decisions during hectic battles, while the second allows for more exacting movements. Learning how to use each of these methods is vital to success. The system works, but when a mission calls for complicated tactics, it seems to cop out.

Action sequences are flat-out button mashers with some simple combos thrown in. As you take out enemies and complete goals, you’ll also gain SP, which can be used to perform special attacks. Certain button combos will also call your support officers to charge into battle and use their own special attacks.

As stated previously, KUF: Heroes is more or less a game made for the fans rather than the general gaming audience. Though it's still reasonably accessible to newcomers, the lack of extensive tutorials will play some part in how many of those newcomers will make it to veteran status. Once you're there, it's a rewarding experience, but Heroes is better left to gamers who want to take on a challenge rather than those just looking for a weekend experience.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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