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Wrath Unleashed Review

Ben_Silverman By:
GENRE Strategy 
DEVELOPER The Collective 
T Contains Fantasy Violence

What do these ratings mean?

The Wrath Of Archon.

I can't discuss the finer points of the Dutch Stonewall Defense, but I did at one time in my life spend inordinate amounts of time playing chess. Or a version of it, at least, called Archon.

Archon first came out for the Commodore 64, but its great blend of action and strategy soon led to a release on just about every other computer system in the mid-80s. The game took the basic principles of chess and added a fantasy game backdrop in which two pieces meeting was only the start of the battle, which then played out in real-time as an action game. It was chess for kids with ADD and I loved it.

But eventually the game wore thin because the combat was too simple and the moves weren't vaguely as interesting or complex as those in chess. There were sequels, but none added anything new to the formula, and by the 90's the game was all but forgotten.

Except, as it turns out, by The Collective and LucasArts, who decided to breathe new life into this ancient beast by giving it a next-gen facelift and renaming it Wrath Unleashed. On paper this isn't worst idea ever, since the game's inspiration is a good one. However, even a new look and some new moves don't change the fact that once you've played a certain amount of Archon, you don't really need to play anymore.

And you certainly don't need to pay attention to the incredibly bad story. Stop me if you've heard this one before: first there was darkness, then light shone down from somewhere and suddenly a world called Gaia was formed by Earth, Wind, Water and Air, each led by a very serious god or goddess (the latter wearing a thong, of course) who then wages war against the others for control of the land and ultimate power over nothing. It makes even less sense when you play it. Just'wow.

Notwithstanding the retarded plot, Wrath Unleashed improves upon the Archon formula by giving you four sides to choose from, though the gameplay is largely the same. Each side takes turns moving units around on a world map in an effort to take over land and capture key buildings. The first one to acquire a certain number of "temple points' or defeat an enemy god wins.

The strategy is basic at best. The four sides are based in the four unique elements and have nine unit types apiece, though the "pawn' units are the same for all four and one side doesn't really have an advantage over the others. Each unit has different movement abilities; unicorns, for instance, can travel over gaps in the maps, while giants can move great distances but require a clear path. You'll need to secure strategic points like mana vaults and temples to add mana, which powers an assortment of spells, but ultimately, success in Wrath Unleashed comes down to how well you use your units on the field of battle.

Combat occurs whenever two units meet on the same square and plays out as a real-time 3D fighting affair. The stronger units do more damage and have more health, though the specific land terrain can sway the outcome of a battle by giving attack and defense bonuses to creatures that share that land's element type. Still, don't expect to take out a burly Ogre Mage with a weak Centaur.

Unless, that is, you're a decent gamer. The fighting system in Wrath is only a few steps up from Archon. You have two melee attack buttons, two spells and a special ability, but it's not very well balanced as you can win countless matches against hopeless odds by just hammering on the light attack button, strafing a little and defending a bit. The AI is generally weak and the battles often short. Wrath, like Archon before it, just isn't a very compelling fighting game.

But like its forbear, the combination of the simple strategy and simple action can make for some good, simple fun, due in large part to the excellent unit design. All of Wrath's creatures are very cool, appropriately large and freaky, and very well animated. When the enormous Fire Giant lands a punch, it hurts.

Unfortunately, the graphics in general are much less consistent. Aside from some minor technical differences (mainly in the load times), both the Xbox and PS2 versions are identically bland with boring textures; the environments favor drab, solid colors. It's functional, at least, unlike the horrible in-engine cutscenes, which are filled with clipping problems, jaggies, shoddy movements and no lip-synching. You'd think your PS2 suddenly turned into a PSOne or your Xbox into a Vectrex.

The sound is equally lame by way of third-rate voice-acting and ho-hum effects. The roars of the monsters are probably the best sounds in the whole game.

Which doesn't mean much because there isn't much game here. The Campaign consists of 16 levels " 4 per side " and can be beaten in about 7 hours. After that, you can build your own personal army and set up games on preset maps or just dive into the fighting as a stand-alone affair. If you find a few friends you can play the game multiplayer, which is nice, but the absence of any online play on either system steals away some of this thunder.

Ultimately, Wrath Unleashed's biggest problem is that it sticks too firmly to concepts that were fresh twenty years ago, a mediocre strategy game and a mediocre fighting game wrapped up in one mediocre package. Be it 1984 or 2004, that's never a very good thing. Older geeks will appreciate the nod to their past, but those new to the concept are better off learning about Bird's Opening.

C- Revolution report card
  • It's just like Archon
  • Which was a cool game
  • Twenty years ago
  • Not much to the strategy
  • Not much to the fighting
  • Not much to the game
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