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What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Dee Yun Dee Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2007-03-23 05:41:44

We Now Return You To Our Only Joke

I wonder how many "dire" jokes I can write before my doddering mind starts to recycle them.

Anyhow, I wanted to tell everyone about Kingdom Under Fire for the Xbox. Tragically, it's not backward compatible on the 360, as KUF has been one of the singularly great games I've played on the system.

It consists of two parts. The half with depth is an RTT - real time tactical game. I've soured on RTS games over the years, as they tend to boil down to who can dig up resources the quickest, and then bitch slap their opponent. With the exception of a couple standouts, this contest of "who can click most efficiently" doesn't offer much in the way of actual generalship. KUF gives you command over shock infantry, archers, spearmen, cavalry, siege engines, and magic and air units in an interweaving rock/paper/scissor realistic system. In order to succeed, you need to juggle these combined arms to overcome superior enemy numbers. There's also an excellent balance between the human forces and the orcs/dark elves. There is a strategic element of the game, wherein you assign experience points to determine how your troops develop, and purchase gear upgrades, which takes place in "unlimited" time in between battles, as strategy should.

There is one conceit to the tactical system that is extremely unrealistic, however. If your melee troops are locked in combat, you can unload on that fight with as much ranged firepower as you like: arrows, mortar fire, catapult bombardment - and your melee unit doesn't take any damage. There's no friendly fire of any kind - your gigantic swamp mammoth can trample your infantry, but aside from knocking them down for a moment, there's no loss whatsoever. If you can suspend your disbelief over this one element, KUF's field battle system is enthralling.

The other half of the game is a straight up button mashing arcade extravaganza. It's almost exactly like Dynasty Warriors, except it's good. Any time your primary shock unit is engaged, you can take over the main character and lay into that fight with bloodthirsty sword-cleaving joy. It's pretty fun in Dynasty Warriors, but now imagine that plus way more soldiers, that don't hang back, but hurl themselves at each other and you. Now add magic spells flaring, ballista shot pounding in, wyverns dive bombing through as archer fire attempts to bring them down, boar mounted orcish cavalry barreling through - and you're in the middle of this chaos, hunting down the opposing commander to end the engagement swiftly.

This is what awesome tastes like.

KUF can get brutally tough. There was one battle that might as well have been Helm's Deep from Lord of the Rings. You're in charge of defending a wall from a massive, relentless sieging force. You and the wall have to survive until a timer finishes ticking down, until the light of dawn sends your demonic foes to flight. I tried to pass this 10 minute battle over two nights for a total of about four hours of gameplay. Twice I came within eight seconds of succeeding, but either they breached the wall or they simply annihilated all of my soldiers. I tried different tactics and troop deployment to no avail. I began to despair. Each time I got close, I realized that my heart was pounding and I was verbally exhorting my surrounded, dwindling troops to fight on to the last, lest the world plunge into darkness!

When I finally won, with just a splinter of my men remaining, I threw my controller down, shook my fist at my fleeing enemy, and slumped into my chair in cathartic relief. The game had almost beaten me; I was just about ready to give up. Most games have gotten so easy these days, earning a victory that worthwhile was the taste of awesome.

There are a few problems, but they're easily rectified in the options. First, just like Dynasty Warriors, KUF sports a blaring heavy rock guitar soundtrack. Turn it off. Next, the voice acting is atrocious. Switch it to the native language and turn on the subtitles. Interestingly, the developer was a Korean studio, so I was able to understand a significant chunk of the spoken dialogue. The translated subtitles were accurate maybe half of the time; it made me wonder if all those games I've played translated from the Japanese ran that loosely with the dialogue.

Lastly, there are two KUF games: Crusaders and Heroes. If you're interested, pick up Crusaders first. Heroes is a prequel exploring the back histories of your officers, and would probably crush a newcomer with its lack of tutorials. I wish I'd had these games earlier, when my Live account was still on my old Xbox. Multiplayer must've been awesome tasty.


Now Playing - Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce

[Edit: Kingdom Under Fire: Crusaders is now backward compatible on the Xbox 360.]

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