Risk: Factions review
Not since Arthur Percival surrendered his 138,708 strong army of Allied soldiers to a Japanese force numbering approximately 30,000 has such poor military nouse been exposed on such a large scale … until now. Risk: Factions is based upon the classic Parker Brothers board game, Risk. The basic concept of the game is simple world military domination, while smack-talking the crap out your opponents and attempting to rob them of any feeling of self-worth.
Games need a minimum of two players, with a maximum of five, but you can set each game up with a mixture of human and AI opponents. Each player takes one of five factions: Humans, Cats, Robots, Zombies or Yetis. In the traditional game you play a board based on a map of the world, cut up into territories and regions rather than the countries. The gameplay is turn-based, with each player taking turns attempting to attack the surrounding occupied territories to build up their own empire. At the beginning of each turn you receive extra soldiers based upon the number of countries and continents you control. A traditional match ends when one player takes complete control, or (unfortunately more commonly) when the last remaining human player disconnects in defeat.
That’s just the traditional rules, however. To crank up the pace a little (traditional games can take up to an hour or more to resolve online) Risk: Factions introduces Factions rules. Factions is introduced in the single player campaign, where your success or defeat relies upon completing various objectives instead of simple domination. There are only five levels, and you’ll play a different army each time, essentially pitting you against the previous armies that you played as. The levels aren’t overly taxing as they’re essentially a slightly longer than normal tutorial setup, in which the player is introduced to a variety of different additions that have been made for this game. The general tone is light-hearted, in between each of the levels there are some hilarious cartoon cut-scenes. On first viewing you’ll probably assume the characters were designed by the Penny Arcade crew, but although these are the same animators who worked on Penny Arcade Adventures, none of the Factions art comes from Mike Krahulik.
Once you have worked your way past the single player campaign, then you enter the area that this game is made for: multiplayer. Having played against others on the same console AND over the internet, there is one truth about this game that is self-evident: I’m not the strategist I thought I was. It is, of course, partially down to luck when it comes to this game; every battle is decided through a series of dice rolls, and if you’re unlucky enough you can see an attacking force of 20 wiped out by a defending force of 2.
However, the new rules do tend to give those that go hard early an advantage. In each game, there are bonuses that one can gain by completing required tasks (ie. holding three continents; taking 10 territories in one turn; kicking Matt in the nuts etc.). The most advantageous of all these are the extra dice, which can give you an additional roll for either your attacks or your defence. Once you have the defensive die, you’ll automatically become the most frustrating player on the board. Matt would regularly cock-block my impending vicotry by sneakily picking up an extra dice and ruining my chances to push forward. He’s a pain in the arse pretty gool guy (-Ed) sometimes. Other bonuses range from extra troop movements to region specific dice modifiers. Certain boards also give bonuses for controlling certain strategic positions, the most overpowered of which would be the Temple, which allows the controlling player to convert any territory and it’s troops to their own team at the beginning of the turn.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this boardgame remake is geared completely towards it’s multiplayer facet. Happily, despite being released six months ago, I am yet to have any trouble finding an opponent online. The beauty of Risk is that it is a great leveller and, as mentioned in the opening sentence of this article, has been the source of some of the greatest simulated military blunders in history. Perhaps because of this, there doesn’t appear to be any great matchmaking system in place, with regards to who plays whom. Aside from how quickly the game can turn, one of the rules specifically made for Risk: Factions is that all one has to do is keep hold of his capital and take hold of three continents to win the game. This game equalises the foolhardy with the brilliant all too easily.
The game does have a few minor drawbacks, mostly surrounding the questionable actions of the computer AI. If you add AI players with your multiplayer games, they typically fall to in-fighting before they can become any concern for the human players. They’re also a little obsessed with owning their own capitals, and seem more than willing to throw all of their troops into fruitless attempts at regaining them once lost. I’m not asking to have it based on Robert E. Lee, but at least not on Sean Penn in I Am Sam. Another disappointment is how short the single player campaign mode is. Five levels that you can complete in 2-3 hours is about half the length of what I was hoping for with a game of this calibre.
Pros: The faction characterisation is great, and lends a personable touch to what can otherwise be a somewhat sterile game. Factions hasn’t messed with the basic original concept, additions to the game have all been positives with no negative impacts … and if you don’t like the new rules you can always find plenty of people to play a traditional match with. Multiplayer works well locally and online.
Cons: A short single-player campaign is unfortunate. “Handicapable” AI.
Overall: This title is exactly what it should be: an enjoyable port of a classic game, with enough updates to keep the attention of the modern day gamer. It’s a brilliant multiplayer game that allows you to blow the crap out of your friends, but with enough strategy/luck to make your victories/losses worth bragging/complaining about. The sense of humour and replay value make it a very solid purchase on XBLA. If you enjoyed the boardgame, or just greatly enjoy having a mental tussle with your friends then I highly recommend this for you. 4.5 out of 5 stars.