Kingdom Under Scrutiny
At some point during the mid-nineties, a group of clerks at a Korean mini-mart
got their hands on Blizzard's epic Warcraft II. "What more could you
ever want in a videogame?" the clerks asked each other. Life was bliss for the
clerks. Slurpies and Warcraft were the rule, and they were lawful citizens.
As their ultimate tribute to their favorite game, the clerks decided to make
a game just like Warcraft II, but not quite as good so as not to upset
the Gods of the original. Thus the clerks became game developers called Phantagram,
which begot that which we call Kingdom Under Fire. Hallelujah.
Is this really how KUF came about? I have no idea. But it sure would
explain a lot. KUF is a new real time strategy game that does little
for the genre other than reiterate the proven formulas and suffer from old maladies.
The game is called Kingdom Under Fire because it follows the story
of a kingdom, Burmecia, that is (drum roll) under fire. The fire in this case
comes from an evil entity known as Rick Blood and his dark battles against noble
Curian's forces of light.
Long ago, Rick Blood was named something like Rick Happy. He and his friends
fought a Lich, and Rick died upon delivering the fatal blow. So, his friends
got him a dragon's heart (always a good idea), and the great Rick was reborn
- except now he had the heart of a giant fire-breathing, virgin-eating reptile.
Thus, he changed his last name to Blood.
Then he ravaged Curian's hometown, which is where the game starts off. If
you choose to play the game as the Humans you take control of Curian; if you
choose the devils you begin as Likuku the huge, red ogre.
Those familiar with any RTS in the last ten years will recognize these characters as "heroes." Just like in every other game, the plot depends on the heroes to unfold it and if they die the game ends.
Fortunately the heroes are super strong, and capable of becoming stronger.
In an attempt to make their run of the mill RTS run less like a mill and more
like a kick ass game, Phantagram included some (3 for each race) little dungeon
crawl episodes to break up the otherwise continuous RTS action. Too bad they
took such an intriguing idea and did nothing with it.
Excursions into the dungeon are excruciating for two reasons: 1) If you die
you have to play them over again, and 2) they aren't nearly quick enough or
violent enough to be worth your while. For levels that were clearly inspired
by Diablo (the control is nearly identical,
and the items actually are identical), the action is awfully slow and
tedious. These levels are so boring they nearly ruin the game.
The game stresses the use of heroes, but I hardly used them at all. One human
hero, Moonlight, has a fairly destructive icicle rain spell (where have you
heard that before), but the heroes generally don't turn the tide in a battle
enough to risk putting their necks on the line. Again, if they die you start
over. From the beginning.
In other words, there is no in-game save in KUF. Instead, Phantagram
decided to throw in an Easy difficulty level that throws way less challenge
at the player than the Normal difficulty level. I personally would have rather
had the difficulty of the regular campaign with a save option.
The RTS gameplay is cut and dry. Gather resources, build buildings, resarch technology, blah, blah, blah. If you don't know the drill by now you shouldn't be reading this review.
The game suffers from some pathetic enemy and ally AI. The enemies defend
poorly against flying creatures (the evil race has virtually no defense against
air attacks other than archers), and units have a hell of a time moving down
ramps and along narrow canyons. KUF's pathfinding must be based on algorithms
learned in kindergarten, because my guys went everywhere but where I told them
units themselves are extremely familiar (orcs, ogres, axe-throwers, bird and
dragon riders and nerdy, tinkering dwarves) and pretty boring. I was excited
about some of the units at first, but they turned out to be either largely impotent
against several forms of attack (the Elfin long-bow chicks, for example) or
just units from a different game in new clothes (the vampires, which are basically
The mission objective is always to kill everything and make sure your heroes survive. Phantagram really went all out with the creativity and innovation on this one. Argh. For a game that tries to sell itself as being a unique blend, it tastes terribly bland.
On the up side, the story plays a greater part in this game than I've ever seen in an RTS, with little dialogues at the beginnings of each level (another reason I missed the in-game save) and some decent character development.
Also, the game is pleasantly long. An epic battle that seems to mark the end of the game is only the halfway point in each campaign. While the maps differ little for the opposing campaigns, it's interesting to get both sides of the stories and the opposing forces are different enough to make playing both campaigns worthwhile.
Another plus is the voice acting and sound in general. All the units have
very distinct voices, and while some of them have dull responses, I chuckled
upon being told by a dark elf that we could "do it...together." You naughty
The graphics are standard 2D RTS fare. Even though the units are more detailed
than the now ancient Warcraft II, some of the details are kind of gritty
and most of the environments lack atmosphere.
If you get sick of the single-player campaigns you can fight skirmishes against
the computer or jump online to the 'Wargate' and try to whup up on some other
humans. Wargate's interface isn't the most intuitive I've seen, but it's easy
enough to pick up. Unsurprisingly, KUF's multiplayer is just like every
other game except with fewer options and game-types. I'd pick Red
Alert II over KUF any day.
If the taste of orcs and humans battling on a 2D plain while gathering gold
and other resources hasn't become stale to your senses, then by all means dive
into this feast of rehashed mediocrity. I'm looking for something with a little