Overall Score 69%
Kingdom Elemental Tactics
Chronic Logic demand attention as the developers of one of the best indie games of 2004: Gish. They have also turned their hands to bridge building simulations and puzzle games in the past proving that they are no one-hit wonder, but Gish remains as their crowning glory and is certainly a hard act to follow. Kingdom Elemental Tactics, our review game this week, marks a new direction for them as they blaze a trail into the real-time combat genre.
Although I have hesitantly labelled Kingdom Elemental Tactics with the RTS icon, it is important to note that strategy does not play a key role in the gameplay. The game is simply a series of loosely connected battles in which the player pits his hand-picked team of warriors against an AI controlled team of bad guys - deathmatch style. The key to winning has little to do with an overriding strategy and more to do with picking the right team for the job for each individual battle, and thinking on your feet.
Units available to the player range from the standard melee and ranged attack characters, to the more specialised necromancers, paladins and druids; 10 in all. Most of these are locked at the start of the game and need to be made accessible by playing through the campaign. The campaign is fairly short in length, yet the level of difficulty is frustratingly high even at the lowest level of difficulty. The player will need to play levels over many times and learn by trial and error the best composition of teams and applicable tactics. I managed to progress through to the later levels of the campaign (all units were available to me) but not able to win a particular battle in over 30 retries.
Upon victory in each successive battle, the player is rewarded with unlock points that can be used to make available a new character type or one of three skills for an already unlocked character. If a battle is lost then the unlock points for that battle only are refunded. I am convinced that certain unlock paths can make the campaign very difficult at best, but perhaps unwinnable, and the only recourse seems to be to start over from the beginning. A skirmish mode is available that presents random opponents at a difficulty level of the players choosing, however these tiers must also be unlocked by playing through the campaign.
It seems to me that the game is an attempt to take elements from real time strategy titles and simplify them to make a coffee break style game where the player need not invest huge amounts of time to play through a few levels now and then. For example, the game can be paused at any time during the battles so that orders can be issued to units at the playerís leisure. Although I did find this a useful feature that allowed me to win battles that I admittedly would have lost, I found that it also detracted from the immediacy and thrill that other real time combat games present. The game does have some pick up and play appeal (the tutorial is amusing and effective), yet it just fails to provide a hook to keep me coming back for more. Kingdom Elemental just feels stripped down too much for my liking. There are no stats kept, nor awards given for time taken, enemies slain or levels passed et cetera. There is only one active profile and no save game management.
The fully 3-D graphics are reasonably good. You can rotate and zoom in on the action easily, although the detail on the models doesnít impress at high zoom levels. Animations and effects are quite good also, and the frame rates observed on both my test PCs were very fluid. The game did not support a widescreen aspect and stretched out across my laptopís display making things look a little ugly. Blood effects can be toggled off for the really squeamish players out there, but if a bit of animated blood is unsettling for you then I would recommend that you give Kingdom Elemental a miss altogether.
The highlights of the game for me were the intermissions between campaign areas. The commentary and voice-over content is hilarious, and Chronic Logic are very comfortable taking aim at some commercial competition and having a good laugh at the whoís who of fantasy combat games at large. The sound effects are great and complement the on screen action perfectly, although due to the repetitive nature of the gameplay they do get replayed far too often.
Itís hard for me to say exactly who is going to enjoy Kingdom Elemental. The more hard core strategy gamers will be better served by something more extensive in terms of character development, plot and customisation, whereas casual gamers will probably be scared off by the hideous difficulty level of the campaign and lack of goodies like a high score table, multiple profiles and trophy room. Although Kingdom Elemental is by no means a bad game, it unfortunately seems to put itself into no man's land in terms of appeal between the abovementioned groups.
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