Review by Kiriyama_X

"The complete lack of abundant changes and additions makes for a rather unexceptional experience"

Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes

Any Xbox owner who failed to try “The Crusaders” last year missed out on one of the most unique and addictive games to come out in a long while. Although it didn't receive a lot of press, or break any sales records (it was off the radar for the majority of gamers), it did find its audience and praise from critics nationwide. Now a year later “Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes” has arrived, and even though there is still nothing else like them on the market with their addictive gameplay, “Heroes” is not the triumph that “The Crusaders” was.

This is supposedly the sequel, but it's best to think of “Heroes” more like a “Ghost Recon: Summit Strike”, it's more of an expansion pack that a justified sequel. If you played “The Crusaders” you'll be able to jump right into “Heroes”. If you're new to the series, you're in serious trouble because all the tutorials on how to use each unit to counter others and navigate the battlefield have been removed. The gameplay is unchanged, which is both good and bad. Good in the sense that it's still that hack-n-slash/strategy/RPG you loved in the original; bad in the sense that really absolutely nothing new was added to the gameplay, and the majority of faults from “The Crusaders” were not addressed.

“Heroes” puts you in the role of one of seven generals, though you'll need to unlock the majority of them by completing the others' campaigns. The story isn't much to talk about. The campaigns take place in different times through the “Kingdom Under Fire” universe, telling the story of the eternal war of humans against the dark legion of orcs, vampires, and dark elves. The characters aren't really developed, and the storylines never really build to a conclusion or give closure to them; and before you know it, it's over. (“That was the last mission?”) Don't expect the story to keep you driven to progress.

You command your units very much like a traditional RTS game; the difference is once your unit engages another in combat you're put right into the thick of things, fighting through hordes of enemies similar to the “Dynasty Warriors” series. Yet “Kingdom Under Fire” far outdoes the “Dynasty” series because the battles actually feel like battles. All around you are soldiers fighting, arrows flying, the ground shaking from mortars and heavy units rumbling past you. “Heroes” intensifies the combat by making it significantly larger, and it pays off. The battles in “Heroes” are enormous; you can be battling up to five enemy units at once with more charging their way to your position – its hectic and exhilarating. Yet due to the increased amount of people on the screen at once the frame rate really begins to stagger in big battles and it can be almost impossible to see where your character is.

Every kill and unit defeated earns you experience points and gold, which can be used after the battle to level up your units and change their jobs. There's a large number of units to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Cavalry rip through moving opponents but are demolished by Spearmen. Mortars can unleash huge damage on stationary targets but are weak against any melee combat, so there's still enough strategy to be taken into consideration before each mission.

The missions you'll undertake in “Heroes” are unfortunately for the most part pretty weak. The best missions are actually the bonus ones you can participate in outside of the storyline. These are completely freelance missions; you can take whichever unit you please into combat and there are no annoying objectives to follow, just search and destroy. The missions in the storyline are pure “trial & error” scenarios, and can be incredibly frustrating, so much to the point where I have to wonder what in the hell the developers were thinking. One mission requires you to just “run” – no fighting, no strategy, you just run away from any opponent until the mission ends. If this sounds like it sucks, well it does. Another requires you to sneak around an enemy force and attack its leader. If you're spotted, it's pretty much mission failed. Ok, note to developers: STOP ADDING IN STEALTH ELEMENTS. No one wants to play a hack-n-slash with stealth in it. If you want to have stealth in a game, make a damn stealth game, but don't give me 500 soldiers with swords, catapults, cavalry and archers and then tell me to be quiet. Other missions may have an enemy unit that can only be damaged by a certain type of yours. If you didn't bring it along in the mission, well too bad, you're screwed, mission failed. Or if you don't have enough experience points to alter a unit into the one needed, well then you're screwed again. You may have to restart the ENTIRE campaign over.

Another glaring fault is the buggy A.I. There were countless times when I continually had to issue orders to assault an enemy unit and my soldiers either stood there dumbfounded or ran continuously in a giant circle, so much to the point where they seem like they'd be better off in a Three Stooges episode than engaged in battle. Other times I ordered my units to retreat again and again and they instead continued to fight and ended up dying, and this is supposed to apparently be my fault?

As for Multiplayer there have been some improvements, but nothing too groundbreaking. Up to six players can battle one another on various battlefields. That's all well and good but the Invasion mode is far more entertaining. Three players are given various units and must hold off increasingly deadly waves of foes. All the online modes are technically sound but there were some nasty moments of lag in every match I played. A split-screen co-op mode, or online co-op mode, through the campaign missions would've been a far more exciting addition, but what's here is passable enough, just not mind blowing.

From a presentation standpoint, “Heroes” looks identical to “The Crusaders” which means the game still looks quite nice. The characters are nicely modeled and animate well, especially in battle – the soldiers look like they are actually fighting rather than just standing around. The levels range from nice to awful; some are lush with nice weather effects while others (the cave level in particular) look so bad it wasn't even funny. The sound effects are nicely done; on the battlefield you can hear men screaming in charge across the land, and the weapons sound as they should when hitting different opponents, from the clank upon steal to the swift swoosh of slicing through flesh. Once again, the weakest point of the sound is the voice-acting; some characters are passable and some are just downright hilarious. I also didn't appreciate that the old voices of characters who return in “Heroes” have different voice actors, so the once deep voiced, distinguished “Gerald” now sounds like he's 18 with his high-pitched childlike voice.

All in all, as much as I hate to say it, I can't recommend “Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes”, even with how much I loved “The Crusaders” and tried to enjoy this one. The complete lack of abundant changes and additions make for what really seems like a half-assed product. Even though it only had a year in production, that is no excuse for this kind of slack. After all, just look at some of the games that were released within a one year span of one another: “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”, “Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory”, “Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando”. If you were a fan of “The Crusaders” I strongly advise a rental before you fork over $40 for a game that seems far more like an add-on than a sequel. If you're new to the “Kingdom Under Fire” series, definitely check out “The Crusaders” first. If you have a strong enough affinity for it, then by all means give “Heroes” a try, but proceed with caution.

Graphics- 8.5
Gameplay- 6.5
Sound- 8.5
Overall- 6.5

Pros:
- Unique/Addictive Gameplay
- Good graphics

Cons:
- Problems from the unoriginal unaddressed
- No checkpoints
- Terrible trial & error campaign missions
- Hardly any new additions


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/09/05


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